Nearing the end of its work, the group that is studying possible changes to Colorado’s teacher licensing requirements remains undecided on a key issue – whether or how to connect license renewal to teacher evaluation.

Sen. Mike Johnston (left) makes a point about teacher licensing while Sheridan Superintendent Mike Clough listens.
Sen. Mike Johnston (left) makes a point about teacher licensing while Sheridan Superintendent Mike Clough listens.

The issue dominated the Tuesday meeting of the 35-member LEAD Compact Working Group, which is trying to develop recommendations about possible licensing legislation for the 2014 legislature.

A subcommittee has been studying the issue since the compact’s October meeting and returned with some suggestions – but not firm recommendations. That sparked an afternoon-long discussion that ended with the subcommittee being asked to do more work.

“We’ll see if we can nudge this forward or not,” said Janesse Brewer of the Keystone Center, who helps facilitate the group’s meetings.

The main group meets again Nov. 20 and is supposed to finish its work during a final session Dec. 2-3.

Linking license renewal and evaluation has been the elephant in the room since the group was convened last spring by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

Johnston, who favors using teacher evaluation results for renewal of teacher licenses, considered introducing such a bill late in the 2013 session but didn’t pull the trigger because of a crush of other legislative business and uncertainty about a licensing bill’s prospects. He and the governor created the panel after the session adjourned for the year.

The panel is also discussing related issues such as teacher preparation, induction programs for new teachers and increasing the number of teacher candidates. But the tie between license renewal and evaluation is the big issue.

The evaluation system laid out in Johnston’s Senate Bill 10-191 creates an annual teacher rating system of highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective, based half-and-half on professional skills and student academic growth. Being tested statewide this year, the system goes into full effect in the 2014-15 school year.

The nine-member subgroup came up with some possible ways to use evaluation results in license renewal. But, “We do not have consensus on this possible compromise,” said group member Sue Sava, director of the Stanley Teacher Prep Program.

Among other ideas, the group discussed creating a new alternative license, under which candidates would be required only to have a bachelor’s degree, pass a background check and pass a content test or have relevant work or academic content knowledge.

The subcommittee discussed limiting such a new license only to hard-to-staff schools, such as in rural districts, and also delaying use of evaluations in license renewals until 2017, after more data is available about the reliability of the SB 13-213 evaluation system.

And, Sava stressed, “There would be no revocation of licenses based on effectiveness.”

“There are a lot of things in this proposal I would have changed,” said Johnston, who was a member of the subcommittee, which held three telephone meetings. But, he said, “I think it’s a strong proposal.”

Several other members of the subcommittee made similar comments, although none wholeheartedly endorsed the ideas.

Several compact members still are concerned about how and when to use evaluation results in license renewals, and that discussion continued for some time. Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, and others argued that SB 10-191 wasn’t intended to be used for license renewal.

Later in the afternoon, Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, floated the idea of tying evaluations only to a new license category – master teacher. (Hamner is chair of the House Education Committee and a key Johnston ally on education issues.) But the group didn’t coalesce around that idea, and that’s when Brewer suggested the subcommittee have another go at the issue.

The group’s work is funded by the Donnell-Kay and Rose Community foundations, and representatives of those two sit in on meetings.

Asked by Brewer to wrap up the day, Donnell-Kay head Tony Lewis said, “I would push hard to think how it [licensing change] affects kids. There are a whole lot of adult issues on the table today.” Commenting on concerns about the validity of evaluation data, Lewis said, “Certainty in data is impossible. … At some point you have to move.”

The group Thursday also heard a presentation by Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project. He argued that different types of teacher preparation – university programs, alternative prep and residency – don’t necessarily produce different results in the quality of new teachers. States should worry less about raising the bar to licensing and more about monitoring the performance of teachers in their first few years of work and removing those who aren’t effective, he said.