In the closing hours of its 2010 legislative session Wednesday, the Colorado Senate approved a controversial bill aimed at improving educator effectiveness.
Senate Bill 191, which was strongly opposed by the Colorado Education Association teacher’s union, outlines changes in the evaluation system for teachers.
Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to sign the bill.
Although the union opposed the bill throughout the process, Michelle Conroy, a second-grade teacher and co-president of the Moffat County Education Association, said the associations are more accepting of the legislation after 200 amendments were made to the bill.
“We’re more comfortable with it now that some of these amendments have been made,” Conroy said.
The bill includes several significant changes to teacher evaluations, basing them on student performance, and growth.
Under the new legislation, teachers will remain in a probationary status for three years, and must garner three “effective” ratings before being named to non-probationary status, commonly known as tenure.
Effectiveness will be based on several factors, with student growth accounting for 50 percent of the evaluation, according to the bill.
If a non-probationary teacher receives two ineffective ratings, he or she will be dropped back to probationary status.
Conroy said CEA wants to avoid a teacher’s career and future relying on factors out of their control, such as student achievement on state assessments.
“Teachers and principals never said we didn’t want to be held accountable,” Conroy said. “The issue was the punitive nature of the bill.”
Under the current system, a non-probationary teacher cannot be moved to probationary status, however a teacher can still be terminated using due process.
There is also currently significant district control over the evaluation model.
Superintendent Joe Petrone said the new state mandates can be incorporated into the Moffat County School District’s current model, and that a culture of support and teamwork will remain.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a bill that went through that’s pointing to things we know are right,” he said.
Conroy said the bill “will not destroy Moffat County.”
“We’re going to do the right thing,” she said. “If a teacher is ineffective, we will surround that teacher and make sure they become the best they can be.”
The statewide changes will not occur overnight.
The Governor’s Council for Educator Effectiveness, which was created by executive order, has been tapped to interpret the bill and provide recommendations for the evaluation system for all school districts.
The council has until 2013 to complete its recommendations.
Jo Ann Baxter, Moffat County School Board president and a former teacher of 30 years, was named to the council in March.
She said she saw the first draft of the bill in April after just one council meeting.
“The general consensus was they kind of put the cart before the horse,” she said. “I feel that the legislation got ahead of where the council was.”
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, who crafted the bill without input from the council, according to Baxter, has a background in school administration and teaching.
While the bill’s progression through the legislative system forged a divide among the Colorado Association of School Boards and CEA, trust will have to be rebuilt to move forward in student-centered reform, Baxter said.
Conroy said the bill was short-sighted.
“Senator Johnston had his heart in the right place,” she said. “But, he’s taking one piece and not looking at the whole ball of wax to make improvements.”
Petrone agreed that teacher evaluations are just one piece of a large, complex puzzle.
“It’s something no one has perfected,” he said of improving student achievement. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be moving onward and upward, but these are not straight forward issues.
“We want to get as close to perfect as we can because it’s about the students.”