educator effectiveness

Jeffco Public Schools diverging from state law on timeline for evaluating teachers

PHOTO: Denver Post file

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.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

Gold standard teachers

Tennessee adds nationally certified teachers but continues to trail in the South

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat

Twenty Tennessee educators have earned a national certification that’s considered the profession’s highest mark of achievement, although the state continues to lag in the South in growing that community.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday released the list of new educators designated as National Board Certified Teachers.

Their addition brings Tennessee’s number of NBCT educators to more than 700, with another 63 pursuing certification. By comparison, Kentucky has 3,600, Virginia 3,400, and Georgia 2,600.

“We know that teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is an honor to celebrate educators who are helping their students grow, while serving as an example of what it means to be a lifelong learner,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Nationally, 5,470 teachers earned the designation in 2016-17, raising the total to more than 118,000 through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The certification takes from one to three years to complete and includes a performance-based peer-review process. Successful candidates must demonstrate a proven impact on student learning and achievement.

In Tennessee, at least 36 school districts offer at least one type of incentive for achieving the certification. The most common is a salary bonus.

North Carolina continues to lead the nation in certification, with 616 more teachers gaining the endorsement last month from the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

Earning their certification in Tennessee were:

  • John Bourn, Franklin Special School District
  • Christy Brawner, Shelby County Schools
  • James Campbell, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Kimberly Coyle, Sumner County Schools
  • Suzanne Edwards, Williamson County Schools
  • Anastasia Fredericksen, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Theresa Fuller, Kingsport City Schools
  • Amber Hartzler, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
  • Jennifer Helm, Williamson County Schools
  • Deborah Higdon, Franklin Special School District
  • Karen Hummer, Franklin Special School District
  • Heather Meston, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Melissa Miller, Franklin Special School District
  • Kelsey Peace, Sumner County Schools
  • Lindsey Pellegrin, Franklin Special School District
  • Andrea Reeder, Williamson County Schools
  • Jordan Sims, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Susanna Singleton, Williamson County Schools
  • Melissa Stugart, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Drew Wilkerson, Franklin Special School District

To learn more, visit the website of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.