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.

Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.