Rules Taking Shape On Teacher Evaluations

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4min 25sec

The Colorado board of education will vote this afternoon on a set of rules to guide a ground-breaking change in how public school teachers are evaluated. The new law stirred up controversy last year but reactions to the new rules have generally been positive. Here's a transcript of CPR education reporter Jenny Brundin's story.

Reporter Jenny Brundin: Some call the Great Teachers and Leaders Law, a.k.a. Senate Bill 191, a massive paradigm shift. The law rests on this premise: good teachers and principals are the key to whether students do well. Not surprising – but for the first time the state is saying it can measure how effective a teacher is. And their jobs and pay are going to depend on how they measure up. Here’s Wheat Ridge High School teacher Stephanie Rossi.

Stephanie Rossi: It’s asked something of us that hasn’t been asked of us before. How do you do what you do? And how do you demonstrate accountability with your students?

Reporter: Rossi was speaking at last month’s state school board meeting. The room was packed with many of education’s top players. Bill sponsor Sen. Michael Johnston told the board the goal is to tap into what highly effective teachers are doing, share those skills, and provide training for teachers who are struggling.

Sen. Michael Johnston: We ought to have clear and consistent information for you all, for the state to be able to evaluate where we have real pockets of excellence and what those people are doing to obtain excellence, and it ought to be equally clear to a teacher and a principal, you ought to know clearly, where you stand and what you can do to improve.

Reporter: For months, state education officials and a special council have labored to define what the new law means for teachers and principals. It’s really complex. Here’s some language from the bill.

School board member: Here we are 302-B2 – Element B – teachers demonstrate a commitment to and respect for diversity in the school community and in the world...

There are pages and pages of language like this that board members have slogged through to come up with a set of rules for scoring teachers. They’ll be evaluated on a four-point scale from ineffective to highly effective. A lot will depend on how well their students do in class - 50 percent of the teacher’s grade, in fact, will depend on their students. All this evaluation will take time, of course. And school officials wonder how they will afford to do it. Poudre School District Board Member M.L. Johnson:

Johnson: Senate Bill 191 will cost $1.8 million for just Poudre school district and much of that will be because the principals are going to be required to be in the classroom inordinate amount of time and somebody has to run the school which means we will have to hire an assistant principal for every elementary school.

Reporter: There are still many unknowns. School districts will be free to decide how teachers will be evaluated – by teams of teacher peers, by the principal or other observers. Districts can also set up how they want to score teachers but it has to be at least as rigorous as the state’s system. One of the most controversial changes was that the law makes it tougher to earn tenure - and easier to lose it. Before, teachers with tenure had pretty safe jobs. And now, if they rate “ineffective” two years in a row, they go back on probation. Colleen Heinz, vice president for the Colorado Education Association, says some teachers are nervous about the unknowns.

Colleen Heinz: So if they get one rating of ineffective, will the supports be there to help them improve what they need to improve on? Because if they’ve been a highly effective teacher or a satisfactory teacher under the old system for several years, and all the sudden now they’ve got an evaluation that says they’re ineffective, then what’s different you know, is there something that can be done to support them?

Reporter: While teachers are worried, Wheat Ridge high school teacher Stephanie Rossi says her colleagues are starting to see the positives.

Rossi: It forced great conversations. It forced hard difficult conversations where you had to say to a colleague, why isn’t that working for you? It’s working for me, how can I help you get better? What isn’t working? Why are you losing the kids there? And instead of it being, I gotcha, it was how can I get you to a better place.

Reporter: Rossi says teachers know there’s a lot at stake.

Rossi: Their jobs sure, but a child’s success in the world is at stake, so bring it on.

Reporter: After today’s school board vote, the rules go to the legislature for approval. Then, a handful of schools will measure their teachers to test the new system.

[Photo: CPR]