Teacher-performance bill clears hurdle

DENVER — About a half hour before a midnight deadline, the Colorado House gave preliminary approval to a controversial bill Tuesday that would alter how teachers are evaluated, based on how well their students perform.

Senate Bill 191 cleared the House with the aid of all 27 Republicans, eight Democrats and one unaffiliated lawmaker.

The bill pegs student performance to whether teachers would gain or lose tenure. Teachers whose students improve performance for three consecutive years could gain tenure, but lose it if students do badly two years running.

The bill requires a final House vote later today, the last day of the 2010 session. It still needs a final Senate vote before it can head to the governor.

During debate, Democrats made several attempts to kill the bill to no avail.

Despite opposition from the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, a handful of Democrats who normally support them joined Republicans in considering dozens of amendments, including one that would completely revamp an appeals process before the bill actually takes effect in two years.

That amendment ended a short-lived filibuster among Democrats,  who wanted to add binding arbitration to an appeals process in the bill.

Republicans had agreed to revamping the appeals process, in part, because they also wanted to prevent school districts from trying to implement it before the State Board of Education approves testing criteria under the new performance evaluation system, said House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker.

Some lawmakers didn’t believe testing students or evaluating teachers was the right approach.

“We have little understanding of what makes a teacher good. We know it when we see it, but there are other things we need to keep in mind,” said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder. “If we want to look at outcomes, let’s look at class sizes, let’s look at parental involvement. We could pay teachers better, but we haven’t addressed that. There are a myriad of unknowns about who succeeds and why that happens.”

By 10 p.m., lawmakers had made several other changes to the bill including a provision designed to create incentive programs so that teachers with good evaluations would go to poor-performing schools.


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