Education Committee to vote on tenure bill

Teachers worry their jobs will hinge on standardized test scores

Colorado Senate Education Committee members are expected to vote today on a bill that could change how tenure works in the state’s public education system.

Senate Bill 191 would continue the current process of having teachers on probationary status their first three years with a school district, meaning the teachers could be asked back to the district or not each of those three years based on evaluations by principals.

The bill would return teachers, no matter how experienced they are, to probationary status if they demonstrate ineffectiveness for two consecutive years. The state board of education would create a definition for teacher effectiveness.

Under the bill, the board would create performance-evaluation standards that all school districts in the state would have to meet or exceed, and teacher evaluations for effectiveness could be used in the decision-making process for laying off teachers if a staff reduction is deemed necessary. An amendment to the bill would give schools three years to implement new evaluations and the new probationary system.

Testimony about the bill began Wednesday, but most comments from the public for or against the bill were heard by the committee Thursday during a hearing that lasted more than four hours.

Most of the testimony in support of the bill came from school administrators.

Teachers mostly testified against the bill. Many worried what would happen to their jobs if teacher effectiveness is based in part on students’ standardized test scores.

“Being an effective teacher is about more than test scores,” said Jenny Campbell, a Cherry Creek special-education teacher. “Not every child should be molded to fit a test score.”

Standardized tests that go beyond “paper-pencil” evaluation of student performance are needed before any judgment of teachers can be based on those tests, said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. Van Roekel said he’d prefer a solution that teachers and administrators can agree on for making sure kids succeed.

“If you really want to change a school, it requires collaboration,” he said.

Student performance will be half the basis for teacher-evaluation grades, testified former Denver mayor and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena, who also is chairman of A+ Denver, an education support group.

“I have confidence it will be balanced and fair,” he said of the evaluation process.

Charlotte Ciancio, superintendent of Mapleton public schools, said making a decision that could last for decades after three years with a teacher can be difficult, and sometimes the finality of the decision leads some principals to recommend not offering a teacher tenure. The bill would take pressure off the decision to take a teacher off probation, she said, and it would offer tenured teachers more feedback than once every three years, which is the current practice in Colorado.

“To imply teachers only need feedback every three years is simply baffling,” Ciancio said.

The Colorado Education Association said in a news release Thursday it estimates more than 600 association members will express opposition to Senate Bill 191 this morning in front of the Capitol. The education committee plans to meet at 1:30 p.m. in the Old Supreme Court Chambers in Denver.


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