New teacher tenure law concerns union chief


Teacher evaluation guidelines

Timeline for implementing Senate Bill 191

• March 1, 2011: Deadline for a council of Colorado educators and leaders to present a list of recommendations for evaluating teacher effectiveness to the State Board of Education.

• Jan. 15, 2012: Deadline for the board to form rules based on the council’s recommendations and present them to the Legislature.

• Feb. 15, 2012: Deadline for Legislature to approve evaluation rules presented by the board.

• 2012–13 school year: A test run of the rules, if accepted by the Legislature during the 2012 session, will be implemented in some schools.

• 2013–14 school year: If the test run is successful, the new evaluation system will be implemented statewide.

• 2014–15 school year: Evaluation system will be finalized statewide if everything is running smoothly, which is when teachers will be at risk of losing nonprobationary status for the first time.

Gov. Bill Ritter will sign Senate Bill 191 into law today, altering how tenure and evaluations work in Colorado schools.

Teachers will have to demonstrate effectiveness for three consecutive years before earning tenure, officially known as nonprobationary status. They could lose that status after two consecutive years of ineffective ratings. Nonprobationary status currently is irreversible.

Valerie Dobbs, head of Mesa State College’s teacher-education department, said most of her students aren’t worried about the new law.

“They say, ‘If I’m a tremendous teacher, I don’t have to worry about this,’ ” Dobbs said.

Still, Jim Smyth, president of the Mesa Valley Education Association, said he worries the bill will hurt teachers’ rights to due process.

Teachers who are asked to leave a position can appeal the decision to an impartial hearing officer selected by the teacher and the district’s superintendent. Under Senate Bill 191, a teacher has to appeal an ineffective rating to a superintendent or a designee of the superintendent’s choice.

“Several years of malicious evaluations” could take away a teacher’s nonprobationary status, Smyth said.

“It’s more than just not losing your job all of a sudden,” he said. Tenure means getting “due process where you have an independent evaluator judging whether you’re being effective.”

Because the new law doesn’t specify how the new evaluation system will work or what exactly will be used to deem teachers and principals effective or ineffective, School District 51 is not sure how its evaluation system will match state guidelines, said Roberta Shortridge, instruction and mentor coordinator. She believes the district has a head start.

Five years ago, the district formed a committee to research and develop a new teacher evaluation system. The system went into effect as a pilot project at some schools in 2006 and expanded into every school this year.

The system uses student-assessment data, comments from students and parents, principal observations, lesson plans, grade books and other factors to determine whether instructors teach in a way that helps all students learn meaningful material and whether teachers communicate well with colleagues and administrators, Shortridge said. The information is used to determine whether a teacher should be fired or placed on one of three probationary tracks with increasing levels of support to help the teacher improve.

As for adjusting the evaluations to deal with changes in nonprobationary status, Shortridge said she’ll have to see how that pans out in state guidelines.


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