New statewide teacher evaluations implemented
A rubric stuffed with more than 300 points on which to evaluate an employee’s performance sounds intimidating to any professional.
It’s no wonder a rubric of that size alarmed some teachers in District 51 when it was introduced and fully implemented as part of teacher evaluations for the first time this year both in the Grand Valley and statewide.
The new evaluations, used to satisfy requirements of Senate Bill 191, the educator effectiveness law passed at the state level in 2010, require administrators to spend more time observing and talking to teachers throughout the year and checking to see if they meet expectations on leadership, communication, classroom control, and mastery of their subject matter and how they can meet those expectations. Teachers are rated ineffective, partially effective, effective or highly effective based half on those observations and half on student testing data.
Each teacher, regardless of subject or grade they teach, will get a data score this year based on Transitional Colorado Assessment Program results for their school from 2013 because TCAP data for this year won’t be revealed until July or August. An aggregate, school-wide TCAP score will remain part of a teacher’s data rating for years to come, but the school district is working on ways to gather assessment data for other teachers and subjects as well, according to Leigh Grasso, District 51 executive director of academic achievement and curriculum.
“Only about 36 percent of teachers across the state have TCAP for their grade or subject. The work that has to be done is identifying individual measures for all teachers,” Grasso said.
Not knowing what the rubric would look like or how data would factor into the still-evolving evaluation process made some teachers nervous, according to Fruitvale Elementary Principal Kathy Hays. Nerves have calmed since the first year ratings were handed out in May, she said.
Evaluating teachers takes up time Hays would rather devote to bonding with kids, but she said the conversations she had with teachers about their evaluations were richer this year than in the past. She said the fear of the unknown made the first year slightly stressful for teachers but she hopes future years will go smoother with the anticipated addition of a software system that will make the rubric accessible by tablet and the assurance for teachers that the rubric is focused on helping teachers understand what they need to work on, not what could get them fired.
“It makes it clear if teachers are struggling exactly how to get better. I don’t think it’s something where we’re going to be firing teachers more; now instead of saying, ‘It’s not working out,’ I can say, ‘I checked this and this and here is where you can improve,’” Hays said.
Learning where to improve, not just getting a thumbs-down and a push out the door, is what teachers of all experience levels need, according to Chatfield Elementary teacher Kelly McKay. She said she likes that the evaluations require more evidence of how a teacher is performing and allow teachers to supplement a principal’s evidence with items of their own if the evaluator missed out on something.
“It really is centered on support rather than an evaluation being a ‘gotcha’ because there are meetings along the way, so you should have support from the very beginning,” McKay said.
Growth is what East Middle School Principal Leah Gonyeau wants to focus on with evaluations. But she said evaluations can also help coach teachers not meant for the profession out of their jobs before they get two straight years of ineffective evaluations, when Senate Bill 191 allows a district to revoke a tenured teacher’s non-probationary status, opening them up to dismissal without due process.
“I hate to say it’s about getting rid of teachers, it’s about supporting them and then the teacher has a choice. Sometimes a teacher is ineffective because their heart isn’t in it to do what they need to do, and there is this off-ramp you can show them,” she said.
Central High School Principal Jody Diers said the new process, although “daunting” in the amount of time it takes for administrators to evaluate everyone every year, is less subjective and makes for better conversations with teachers eager to improve. But she believes it serves a purpose for both building up and coaching out teachers.
“If a teacher does what they’re supposed to, we don’t want to get rid of them. We want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to change and grow. That’s what we do with kids. But where do you draw the line?” she said.
Losing privileges isn’t a possibility that should concern teachers who are willing to take the advice given during evaluations and seek professional development opportunities, McKay said.
“If I’m not willing as a teacher to find documentation, to take it upon myself to be open for growing as a teacher, then yes, maybe I shouldn’t be teaching,” she said.
Darren Cook, president of teacher’s representation organization Mesa Valley Education Association, said poor teachers have been coached out of work for decades. He hopes evaluations, and a new compensation model tied to evaluations that the district plans to roll out in 2015, will motivate teachers to keep improving late into their careers.
“I don’t believe we have a lot of bitter old cynical teachers. I don’t believe we have a problem dismissing ineffective teachers, but Senate Bill 191 addresses it,” he said.