Jeffco Public Schools is not following a timeline laid out in state law to gauge teacher performance, calling it a flawed process for taking action against ineffective teachers.
Colorado’s second-largest school district, however, says it believes its practice of waiting longer to finalize teacher evaluations so it can consider the latest state test results is in line with the intent of the state’s educator effectiveness law, known as Senate Bill 191.
The law, which was passed in 2010, changed the way teachers earn job protections. Instead of earning non-probationary status, often referred to as tenure, after three years of employment, the law says teachers must have three consecutive years of effective ratings. Teachers who earn two consecutive ineffective ratings can be stripped of that status.
Jeffco Public Schools leaders said the district “has not, and likely will not, revoke non-probationary status due solely to” Senate Bill 191. No Jeffco teachers lost non-probationary status in 2015-16, the first year that consequence went into effect under the law.
District officials say the law relies on a “cumbersome” multi-year teacher rating system. Spokeswoman Diana Wilson said Jeffco aims to quickly help its struggling teachers improve; 94 of its nearly 5,000 teachers were on a performance improvement plan in 2016-17.
Senate Bill 191 requires that at least 50 percent of a teacher’s yearly evaluation be based on student academic growth. Results from state standardized English and math tests must be part of the measurement of that growth for teachers who teach tested subjects and grades.
But for the past several years, those results haven’t been available until the late summer. The law says teacher evaluations must be completed two weeks before the end of the school year.
“This is one of the more ridiculous elements of” Senate Bill 191, Wilson said.
In an effort to use the most timely and relevant data in evaluating teachers, Wilson said Jeffco adjusted its evaluation cycle. The district delays finalizing its evaluations until the fall so it can use the most up-to-date state test results available, she said.
“We think that’s a more accurate measure,” Wilson said.
Other districts, such as Denver Public Schools, use scores from previous years’ tests as one measure of student growth. Most districts also use other measures, as well, which could include school ratings, results from different tests and individual teacher goals.
Although Jeffco is not following the timeline of the law, Wilson said it’s following the intent.
“We felt the spirit of the law is to fairly evaluate our teachers and have quality teaching for our kids,” Wilson said. She said the district understands what the law requires, “but doing the right thing seemed more important than worrying about the possible consequences.”
Another state law passed in 2013 directs the Colorado Department of Education to monitor compliance. If a district’s teacher evaluation system falls short of expectations, it says the department can, “as a last resort,” require the district adopt the state’s system.
After Chalkbeat spoke to the state department about the requirements of the law and whether Jeffco was complying, Wilson said Jeffco officials got a call from state officials wanting to discuss the district’s approach to the law.
Mary Bivens, director of educator development at the state education department, told Chalkbeat that if a district isn’t complying, state officials “would first ensure district understanding of what they may need to adjust to be in full compliance with legislation and support districts as appropriate” before taking further action. Bivens did not directly address whether Jeffco is out of compliance with the law.