Updated: November 9, 2011 at 12:00 am
DENVER — Colorado education officials gave final approval Wednesday to a statewide teacher rating system that could make it easier to fire teachers who don't meet testing standards.
The Board of Education unanimously approved the rating system after months of work on elaborate standards to judge teachers and principals. The standards create a four-tier grading system — "highly effective," ''effective," ''partially effective" and "ineffective."
Educators rated "ineffective" for two consecutive years would lose tenure. New teachers would need three consecutive years of "effective" ratings to make tenure.
The standards won't be in place for many just yet. They will be tested at pilot schools starting next year, and state lawmakers also have to sign off next year.
Under the rules, teachers without tenure would have to be observed twice a year and receive at least once written evaluation report. Teachers and principals with tenure would get an annual written evaluation.
Half of a teacher's rating would be based on student growth, as measured by tests, as required by a law overhauling the tenure system that the Legislature passed after much debate last year.
The final rules don't give local school districts a choice about using the standards. School districts that want to write their own tenure rules would have to show that their standards meet or exceed the state guidelines.
But the final rules include small changes designed to address complaints.
For example, low-rated teachers would have to receive a written improvement plan with specific recommendations about how to improve. The final version requires schools to have a "high-quality, high-performing" staff but doesn't set a required percentage threshold of high-rated teachers. And instead of requiring teachers to use technology in instruction, the final rules require teachers to use "appropriate, available technology," a nod to teachers working in poor districts without much equipment.
Despite the final vote from the Board of Education, the rules won't be in place statewide for years. The state will use the standards at selected pilot districts for the next two school years, and state lawmakers will be given a chance to suggest changes next year. The standards call for more specifics about measuring effective teachers after the pilot period.
Some lawmakers who pushed for the required standards told board members they think the tiered tenure system is fair but holds schools more accountable.
"We have to change the way we've done business in the past and we have to hold all our educators to a higher standard," said Republican Sen. Nancy Spence, of Centennial.