Local schools transition to new teacher evaluations

What makes an effective teacher?

With classes starting this week in Bayfield and next week in Ignacio, the districts are transitioning to a new state-mandated system to evaluate teachers.

The new system was dictated by the state legislature in 2010 with Senate Bill 191.

According to a fact sheet from the Colorado Department of Education, "The new evaluation system provides principals, teachers, and specialized service professionals with annual evaluations based on both professional practices and multiple measures of student learning... or student outcomes..."

Teacher evaluations are based 50 percent on five categories of professional practices set by CDE:

. Teachers show mastery of the content they teach. They provide instruction aligned with the Colorado Academic Standards.

. Teachers establish a safe, inclusive, and respectful learning environment for a diverse population of students.

. Teachers plan and deliver effective instruction and create an environment that facilitates learning for their students.

. Teachers reflect on their practice.

. Teachers demonstrate leadership.

The other 50 percent of evaluations were left to districts to create, based on measures of student learning and outcomes such as standardized test scores. Starting this school year, that is the PARCC test taken on-line.

Based on the overall evaluation, teachers will be rated highly effective, effective, partially effective, or ineffective.

Districts started using the new system last school year, but the ratings didn't count toward a teacher's job status.

This school year they do. Teachers will be scored on student learning and the results must be reported to CDE, but districts can decide how much weight to give that part of the evaluation this year, from zero to 50 percent.

The CDE handout said, "This flexibility provides districts with another year to refine existing measures and identify or create new measures."

Last week Bayfield Superintendent Troy Zabel recommended zero percent, while Ignacio Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto recommended the full 50 percent.

Zabel told his board on Aug. 12 that the board has to set the percent to submit to the state, but, "We want to make sure we have all our stuff right. Ours is extremely thoughtful, but that means it's complex."

Consultant and retired teacher Becky Smith said Bayfield's system was well received this summer at an education forum in Vail and a school administrators' conference in Breckenridge.

Zabel said, "We're proud of it. A lot of people around the state are interested in what we've created. One reason it's been so successful is we took a team of teachers through the whole process. Having staff so involved is what made it what it was. A lot of districts will take that zero approach. There's a lot of weight to that, so it's pretty critical that we get it right before we hold teachers to it. It can affect their career."

Ignacio school staff were supposed to have a presentation on SB 191 this week, Fuschetto told his board on Aug. 14. Curriculum Director Kathy Pokorney "has been meeting with a cadre of teachers regarding the evaluation percentage. We will stay with 50 percent so teachers get the feel of it," he said.

Board president Toby Roderick commented, "We aren't going to change mid-stride. We're getting on the boat." But he said there are a lot of political issues with the PARCC test. He predicted every school district in the state will see student scores take a hard dive from the previous TCAP test.

PARCC could lower scores across the entire country, Fuschetto said. The PARCC test is reported to be more rigorous than what many students have had before.

Roderick said, "It's trying to make all students the same, and you can't do that."

Fuschetto said new teachers were supposed to be at school on Aug. 18 for sessions on classroom management and expectations. He reported the district has 25 to 30 new employees, including teachers with alternative licenses.

"It's hard to get teachers," he said. "We got very creative figuring out how to fill the positions."

Bayfield Superintendent Zabel said districts all over are having a lot of turnover and have had trouble filling vacancies. He cited Durango, Farmington, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas, Nev.

Board member and retired high school teacher Carol Blatnick commented, "Teachers and education have been pounded on for 20 years."

Zabel said, "We've been hiring all the way up to tomorrow. We've had a really good hiring season, some good people including migration from Durango."