Re-1 teachers worried new tenure law too subjective
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A key objection among teachers to a bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Bill Ritter tying teacher tenure to student performance is what many believed to be a lack of any detail spelling out an objective evaluation process.
“We agree that teachers need to be accountable, and there needs to be a process,” said Megan Talbott, president of the 130-member Roaring Fork Community Education Association, which represents teachers in Roaring Fork School District Re-1.
“But the way this was done was ludicrous,” said Talbott, who teaches at Basalt Elementary School.
The RFCEA joined the Colorado Education Association (CEA) in opposing the bill, primarily on the grounds that it took away a teacher’s due process on the local level.
Colorado has 178 school districts, and each evaluates their teachers in different ways, Talbott said.
“We need a way of making sure the new state evaluations are fair and equitable,” she said. “We are concerned about subjectivity being introduced into the process.”
The RFCEA collected signatures from about 150 Re-1 teachers opposing the bill, which passed on the last day of the legislative session.
It will require teachers to be judged on the performance of their students, and can put their jobs on the line if they fail.
Under the law, teachers will be evaluated each year, with at least half their ratings based on whether their students progressed during the school year. Teachers would only be able to get tenure job protections if their students have improved for three straight years.
Teachers who have tenure now would lose that status and the right to appeal a dismissal, starting in 2015, if their students fail to improve two years in a row. Teachers on the verge of losing tenure would first be able to appeal a second poor evaluation.
However, details about which tests and assessments teachers will be judged on will be determined by a council appointed by Ritter.
The CEA, which has about 40,000 members statewide, backed the idea of forming the council and creating a new evaluation system but objected to the law’s language that spelled out consequences before the evaluation system is in place.
Originally, the bill would have based 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on standardized test scores. But, because Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) testing doesn’t start until the third grade and ends after the 10th grade, it was determined that there needs to be another system.
“Teachers would really like to have an effective evaluation program, but the bill didn’t provide any parameters,” Talbott said. “We’re also concerned that there will be a huge burden placed on districts to come up with a new evaluation system and testing that matches the state’s assessments.”
At a time when Colorado is cutting school spending by about $245 million, the CEA also fears there isn’t enough time or money to do thoughtful evaluations.
Backers of the new law also believe it will help the state win $175 million in the second round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program.
But Talbott questions whether the minimal amount of money that would come to Re-1 if the state is successful in that endeavor is worth the risk to local teachers.
“That was one of the reasons a lot of districts didn’t sign on to the original application,” she said.
Now that the new law is in place, she said the local association will continue to work with the CEA on developing an evaluation system.
“We want to continue to be an effective voice on how it is applied, and what we can do together to make this an effective evaluation,” Talbott said.
Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said she, too, sees the need for a better way to evaluate teachers. The new law left a lot of loose ends, she said.
“We all want to ensure that kids learn, and that there is accountability,” Haptonstall said. “But the devil will be in the details with this new legislation.”
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