Evaluation tweak

Evaluation flexibility bill passes first test

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/ Chalkbeat TN
Kenneth Woods and his daughters Breanna Rosser (r) and Taylor Woods (r) reviewed 12 powerful words with sixth grade language arts teacher Patricia Hervey.

A measure that would give school districts one year of flexibility in use of student growth data to evaluate teachers was passed 4-2 Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.

Supporters of the measure, which would apply to evaluations in the 2014-15 school year, say it’s necessary because of data gaps that will created by the transition to new state achievement tests. Those new tests will be given in the spring of 2015.

“It will be very hard for us to get reliable data in the early summer [of 2015] for evaluation purposes,” sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, told the committee.

The discussion over Senate Bill 14-165 provided a glimpse at how the political ground has started to shift since the evaluation law, Senate Bill 10-191, passed four years ago with strong Republican support. Two committee Republicans voted against the bill, and some GOP lawmakers this session have been critical of other elements of Colorado’s education reforms, especially statewide testing.

A key element of the SB 10-191 evaluation system requires that half of evaluations be based on student academic growth. (Growth is measured not just by student performance on statewide tests but also by results of classroom, school and district tests. Districts have wide latitude in choosing those tests. Fewer than a third of teachers in Colorado teach subjects covered by statewide exams.) The other half of evaluation is based on a supervisor’s rating of a teacher’s “professional practice.”

District evaluation systems that conform to state requirements were rolled out in every district this school year. But ineffective and partially effective evaluations received at the end of this year won’t count against teachers’ possible loss of non-probationary status.

Evaluation systems are supposed to be fully implemented in 2014-15 under SB 10-191, including the provision that two consecutive years of low evaluation ratings lead to loss of non-probationary status.

Under SB 14-165, schools still would be required to calculate student growth data for teachers. But individual districts could decide how much weight to assign to student growth. A district could keep the original 50-50 formula, or it could decide to base teacher evaluations solely on professional practice and assign no weight to student growth. That provision would be in effect for only a year, and low ratings, no matter how they’re derived, would count against loss of non-probationary status.

The problem is that results from the new 2015 CMAS tests (including the PARCC online tests) won’t be ready until late in the year or early in 2016. That’s because of the need to calibrate and norm the results. That’s too late to use in evaluations that are supposed to be done at the end of previous school year.

Second, because calculation of student academic growth requires at least two years of results, that can’t be done until after 2015-16 test results are available.

The data gap problem also affects the state’s district and school accountability system. A separate measure, House Bill 14-1182, addresses that problem and has passed both houses (see story).

Johnston said the bill also would give districts extra time to refine the student growth part of their evaluation systems. “We have some districts that are ready to go; we have some that are behind.”

Witness Jill Hawley, associate education commissioner, said, “It gives them time to continue practicing on the growth side.” (CDE doesn’t have a formal position on the bill.)

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, testified that the “overwhelming message” from CEA members “is that their districts are not ready to use student growth in teacher evaluations next year.”

Representatives of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Democrats for Education Reform and the Colorado Association of School Boards also spoke in favor of the bill.

Natalie Adams, a Jefferson County parent activist, also supported the bill but had no praise for SB 10-191. “There has been a lot of very bad [education] legislation passed in Colorado, and this is one of the worst.”

Republican committee members also were critical.

Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, proposed an amendment that would have given school districts permanent flexibility in whether to use growth data in evaluations (thereby blowing up a key element of SB 10-191).

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, liked that idea, saying, “This gets it back to local control … instead of us sitting in Denver deciding what needs to be done.”

But Aurora Democratic Sen. Nancy Todd, who was chairing the meeting, ruled Marble’s amendment out of order, saying it didn’t fit under the bill’s title.

The four committee Democrats voted to send the bill to the Senate floor, with Marble and Renfroe voting no. Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, was excused and didn’t attend the hearing.

No price sticker, no vote

Senate Education took testimony on Senate Bill 14-167 Wednesday but delayed a vote because the bill’s “fiscal note” hadn’t been prepared. (A fiscal note is a formal estimate by legislative staff of what a measure will cost.)

The bill is sponsored by freshman Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Thornton, and would create a pilot program under which two groups of alternative education campuses would receive extra funding to develop programs to improve the graduation rates and overall success of their students.

Alternative campuses are schools that serve at least 95 percent students defined as at-risk. Those schools have a special definition of at-risk, including students who’ve been expelled or suspending multiple times, students with criminal records or gang involvement, homeless students and students who have far fewer high school credits than they should for theie age. Such school typically serve high-school age and older students.

There are 81 such campuses in the state, and their dropout rates typically are higher and their graduation rates lower than the state as a whole.

Although the fiscal note hasn’t been written, Zenzinger had an informal analysis done that puts the bill’s price tag at $1.2 million.

Given that the Senate will be tied up next week considering the 2014-15 state budget bill, Zenzinger’s bill may not come up for committee consideration for two weeks. That could put it at the back of line of spending bills being considered this year.

Get more information about alternative campuses on this CDE page, and see the current list of such schools here. Read the bill text here.

Price of entry

Becoming a Colorado teacher could soon require fewer transcripts, more training on English learners

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The rules for becoming a teacher in Colorado are about to change — and officials hope the moves will help attract more math teachers and better prepare educators to work with students learning English.

The changes, which the Colorado Department of Education proposed this week, would also cut down on the paperwork needed to enter the profession and make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to re-enter the classroom after they move to Colorado.

The package of changes also includes a slimmed-down teacher evaluation rubric, the first major revision to the rules under Colorado’s 2010 teacher effectiveness law.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Less paperwork for new teachers. Applicants for a teaching license would no longer have to provide transcripts for every school they attended, only the transcripts for the school that granted them their highest degree. (Many colleges hold transcripts hostage for unpaid debt, even minor ones like unpaid parking tickets.
  • Less paperwork for teachers coming from other states. Experienced, licensed teachers from outside Colorado would no longer need to provide transcripts or prove that their teacher preparation program met Colorado standards.
  • More flexibility about previous teaching experience. Licensed teachers from other states would no longer need to have previously worked under a full-time contract to qualify for a Colorado license.
  • A new credential limited to middle-school math. Right now, Colorado only has a secondary math endorsement, which requires competency in trigonometry and calculus. That’s a barrier for teachers moving from other states with a math endorsement limited to middle school, and some see it as a roadblock for those who feel comfortable with algebra but not higher-level math.
  • Additional pathways for counselors and nurses to get licensed to work in schools.

Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session would remove another barrier for out-of-state teachers. To qualify for a Colorado license today, teachers must have had three years of continuous teaching experience. If those bills are signed into law, applicants would only need three years of experience in the previous seven years.

Together, the proposals indicate how Colorado officials are working to make it a little easier to become a teacher in the state, which is facing a shortage in math teachers, counselors, and school nurses, among other specialties, as well as a shortage in many rural districts.

Colleen O’Neil, executive director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education, said many of the proposed changes came out of listening sessions focused on the state’s teacher shortage held around the state.  

The changes still don’t mean that if you’re a teacher anywhere in the country, you can easily become a teacher in Colorado. Just six states have full reciprocity, meaning anyone with a license from another state can teach with no additional requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States. Teachers whose licenses and endorsements don’t have a direct equivalent in Colorado would still need to apply for an interim license and then work to meet the standards of the appropriate Colorado license or endorsement.

The rule changes also add some requirements. Among those changes:

  • Prospective teachers will need more training on how to work with students learning English. Most significantly, all educator preparation programs would have to include six semester hours or 90 clock hours of training.
  • So will teachers renewing their licenses. They will need 45 clock hours, though the requirement wouldn’t kick in until the first full five-year cycle after the teacher’s most recent renewal. A teacher who just got her license renewed this year would have nine years to complete that additional training, as the requirement wouldn’t apply until the next renewal cycle. Superintendents in districts where less than 2 percent of the students are English language learners could apply for a waiver.

Colorado’s educator preparation rules already call for specialized training for teaching English language learners, but the rule change makes the requirements more explicit.

“We’re the sixth-largest state for English language learners,” O’Neil said. “We want to make sure our educators are equipped to teach all our learners.”

The rule changes would also “streamline,” in O’Neil’s words, the teacher evaluation process. Here’s what would change:

  • The five teacher quality standards would become four. “Reflection” and “leadership” are combined into “professionalism.”
  • The underlying elements of those standards would be reduced, too. Twenty-seven elements would become 17.

Fifty school districts and one charter collaborative have been testing the new evaluation system this year in a pilot program. O’Neil said most of the feedback has been positive, and the rest of the feedback has been to urge officials to winnow down the standards even further. That’s not a change she would support, O’Neil said.

“The reality is that teaching actually is rocket science,” she said. “There are a lot of practices and elements that go into good teaching.”

The state is accepting additional public comment on the rules until April 20, and a public hearing will be held in May. The new rules are expected to be adopted this summer.

Submit written feedback online or send an email to the State Board of Education at state.board@cde.state.co.us.

bias in the classroom

‘Disciplinarians first and teachers second’: black male teachers say they face an extra burden

PHOTO: The Laradon School
A teacher and a student at The Laradon School in Denver work together with tactile teaching tools.

As a first-year teacher, Pierce Bond took on a remarkable responsibility: helping other teachers by disciplining or counseling misbehaving students.

That left him to make tough choices, like whether to disrupt his own class mid-lesson to handle problems in the school’s detention room. “Sometimes you have to make that decision,” he told an interviewer. “Do I stop whatever I’m doing now to go deal with this situation?”

The burden was placed on him because he is one of small share of black men in the teaching profession, posits a study published this month in The Urban Review, a peer-reviewed journal. The study relies on interview 27 black male teachers in Boston’s public schools — including Bond, who like others, was identified by a pseudonym — and found several experiences like his.

“Participants perceived that their peers and school administrators positioned them to serve primarily as disciplinarians first and teachers second,” write authors Travis Bristol of Boston University and Marcelle Mentor of the College of New Rochelle.

The paper acknowledges that interviewees were a small, non-random sample of teachers in one district, and their results might not apply elsewhere. But other researchers and policymakers, including former Secretary of Education John King, have acknowledged the phenomenon, which may contribute to schools’ difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers of color.

“Children of color and white children need to see different types of people standing in front of them and teaching them,” said Bristol. “After we recruit [teachers of color], we have to be mindful about how they are positioned in their building and draw on the things they are doing that are successful.”

In the study, which draws from Bristol’s dissertation on the experiences of black male teachers, a number of them described a similar experience: colleagues assuming that they were better able to deal with perceived behavioral issues, particularly among black boys.

One veteran teacher, Adebayo Adjayi, described how older students were regularly sent into his early elementary classroom, making his regular teaching role significantly more difficult.

“Adjayi recognized that his classroom became the school’s disciplinary room, a holding area, and he had become the school disciplinarian,” the researchers write. “Without considering the type of environment that would most support [the school’s] students who were deemed misbehaving, the fifth graders were placed in the same classroom as the prekindergartners.”

Christopher Brooks, a high school teacher, explained how seemingly small favors for colleagues began to add up. “He first said yes to one teacher who asked him, ‘Can you just talk to so-and-so because he’s not giving up his phone?’ and then to another colleague who asked, ‘Can I leave Shawn in here? He can’t seem to sit still.’ By that time, it had become the unspoken norm that Brooks would attend to his colleagues’ misbehaving students,” the study says.

Brooks says this played a role in how he arranged his day, since he knew he needed to be prepared to receive additional students some periods or solve a problem during lunch.

Other teachers told the researchers the the extra responsibilities don’t bother them.

“I understand it because I know how to speak the kids’ language,” said Okonkwo Sutton, a first-year charter school teacher. “I’ve had a very similar childhood and background as many of them.”  

Some of those interviewed questioned the assumptions behind the idea that they should serve as disciplinarians. Peter Baldwin, a novice teacher, described how a colleague suggested he would be able to help one struggling student by talking “man to man.”

“I don’t think he was just gonna respond to me better than others because I’m me, or because I’m a male or because I’m black,” Baldwin said. “I think because I sort of invested time … we’ve built a relationship.”

There’s little if any research on how this additional work or stress affects black male teachers’ job satisfaction, retention, or performance. But there is evidence that teachers of color leave the classroom at a higher rate and are less satisfied with their jobs than white teachers.

At a national level, the numbers are striking: only 2 percent of teachers are black men. Meanwhile, research has repeatedly linked black teachers to better outcomes — test scores, high school graduation rates, behavior — for black students, and that’s led to national pushes to diversify the predominantly white teaching profession, as well as local programs like NYC Men Teach.

The study emphasizes that the findings don’t apply to all black male teachers, and doesn’t try to quantify the experience of being treated as disciplinarians. But the authors suggest that treating black male teachers that way could be unfair to them, their colleagues, and their students.

“School administrators should work to develop more expansive roles for black male teachers and become more cognizant of how black male teachers are implicitly and explicitly positioned in their schools,” the paper says. “Equally important, administrators should work to develop the capacity of all teachers to support and engage all students.”