Union hopes to extend “hold harmless” period for teacher evaluations while new tests are proven to be effective

The board of directors of the state’s largest teachers union is advocating for an extension of the “hold harmless” period before student performance associated with new standardized assessments are tied to a teacher’s evaluations, Chalkbeat Colorado has learned.

Citing concerns on how teachers and students will adapt to new standards and computerized tests being implemented through the spring of 2015, the Colorado Education Association is “raising the issue with lawmakers and calling attention to the problem,” CEA spokesman Mike Wetzel said.

The problem, as the union sees it, is that teachers will be evaluated, in large part, by student performance on the state’s standardized tests that have not been proven in the field to effectively measure student growth, the state’s most coveted data point.

The teacher evaluations, created by the 2010 Senate Bill 191, are being rolled out this year across Colorado. But personnel decisions won’t be made based on the evaluations until the 2014-15 school year, when teachers who fail to meet a proficiency rating for two consecutive years may lose their jobs.

Students will begin taking new electronic tests this spring to measure their growth and proficiency to science and social studies standards. Next school year, students will take similar tests in reading, writing and math.

Neither draft legislation nor a possible bill sponsor has been identified yet, said CEA spokesman Mike Wetzel.

Last month the union announced a lawsuit seeking a portion of the law that created the state’s teacher evaluation framework be thrown out. The union is also backing a proposed bill, sponsored by Democrat Nancy Todd, that would prohibit districts from putting teachers on unpaid leave if they can’t be placed in schools, but it wouldn’t repeal the full mutual consent portion of state law.

The union maintains it supports teacher evaluations, the new standards and assessments, but critics have called their recent actions obstructionist.

“We hope that the implementation of the evaluation system, Colorado Academic Standards and new statewide assessments will lead to better outcomes for students,” writes CEA president Kerrie Dallman in a yet, unpublished newsletter to union members. “Teachers know that good implementation takes quality training, sufficient technology and resources, and time for teachers to collaborate. Our schools lack all these requirements.”

Dallman goes on to say:

“Simply put, we are asking the state to validate the new assessments and provide teachers and districts more time and training before high-stakes decisions are made about a teacher’s evaluation and career. I want to be clear. CEA is not advocating that we abandon the new assessments. We welcome the opportunity to teach our students in a fully aligned system from standards through assessments.”