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Colorado educator evaluations do not account for disadvantaged school populations

February 6, 2017 Updated: February 7, 2017 at 6:40 am
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Fourth grader Angeli Ruz listens to her teacher during class at Remington Elementary School on Thursday, August 4, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

A first public look at educator performance ratings for teachers and principals in Colorado shows local school districts with top-performing students in general have more teachers ranked as "highly effective."

That's the problem with the new educator evaluation system, some say.

Half of the evaluation is based on student learning and growth from standardized test scores and other measures of academic progress. Thus, "A person teaching at a low socio-economic status school is basically at a disadvantage coming out of the gate," said Kevin Vick, president of the Colorado Springs Education Association, the collective bargaining union for Colorado Springs School District 11.

"The strongest factor in any of those types of standardized measurements is going to be poverty," Vick said. "This system doesn't capture the strengths and abilities of teachers that are able to inspire and move kids forward in an environment that already has so many challenges."

Mike Taber, associate professor at Colorado College and chair of the education department, agrees.

"I know some extremely highly effective teachers working in some of the most difficult learning environments, and the students are learning and growing, but their test scores may not show it," Taber said.

According to data the Colorado Department of Education released Monday, 88 percent of Colorado teachers and 83 percent of principals received evaluation ratings of "effective" or "highly effective."

The rankings are for the 2014-2015 academic year.

Districts must annually evaluate teachers and principals, using either the state's template or their own format deemed better than or equal to the state's.

The material reflects how teachers and principals are doing as a group at school, district and state levels, and is required by a 2010 state law, the Great Teachers and Leaders Act.

The purpose is to help make improvements and provide "regular, meaningful feedback," Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said with Monday's release of the information.

The other half of the performance rating is based on professional practice, which includes how well the teacher knows content, how the teacher establishes a learning environment, leadership abilities and other data.

Critics say the system - which was born out of the state's desire to receive funding from the Race to the Top federal initiative that requires a statewide accountability program - is too arbitrary.

The education system is "trying too hard to hold teachers accountable," Taber said.

"You can't be 100 percent consistent across the measures when you have different people evaluating different teachers," he said.

Taber noted that school districts with more teacher turnover tend to have lower effectiveness ratings.

"The higher-performing schools have teachers that stay longer and have better degrees and those are good ingredients," Taber said. "Teacher turnover can be a real negative on the kids."

The CDE's Anthes said that the metrics are "not intended to be used to compare districts," since the evaluation methods vary by district, but to "lift up our teachers and principals so that all students can achieve their academic potential."

About 4 percent of teachers statewide were determined to be only "partially effective." Nearly 8 percent of teachers statewide did not receive a rating, either because the person was new or a rating was not submitted.

Vick believes the rating system supplies "a further disincentive" for teachers to not want to teach at schools with higher populations of low-income and minority students.

"It is creating a distortion of what it means to be a good teacher, in some respects," he said. "It isn't an environment to make good comparisons because there are so many variables that play into the system, and people make the mistake of correlation and causation."

To view the data, click here.

Teacher Effectiveness (for the 2014-2015 school year)

School district Percent highly effective Percent effective
Colorado Averages 37.74 53.64
Academy D-20 87.23 11.04
Calhan RJ-1 57.14 39.29
Cheyenne Mountain D-12 84.07 14.16
Colorado Springs D-11 30.06 67.07
Edison 54-JT 0 100
Ellicott D-22 18.33 70
Falcon D-49 31.32 57.38
Fountain-Fort Carson D-8 27.98 68.35
Hanover D-28 0 46.15
Harrison D-2 28.03 55.67
Lewis-Palmer 38 87.2 10.98
Manitou Springs D-14 23.66 75.27
Miami/Yoder 60 JT 0 84.62
Peyton 23-JT n/a 72.97
Widefield D-3 31.24 61.35
Cripple Creek-Victor RE 61.1 33.33
Woodland Park 40.16 53.54

Percentages may not add up to 100 percent as some teachers may have been rated partially effective or ineffective.

Source: Colorado Department of Education

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