Douglas County school officials say their new teacher and principal evaluation systems are more focused than the state's, and will be easier for staff to use and understand.
Under Colorado Senate Bill 191, adopted in 2010, school districts statewide must adopt new teacher and principal evaluation programs by the 2013-14 academic year. The Colorado Department of Education has created a system available statewide, which it's piloting now in 27 school districts, but the CDE also allows districts to build their own program.
The Douglas County School District opted to craft a plan, also planned for use as a pilot this year, and administrators say they had solid reasons for doing so.
“We were really hoping the state would have a good tool, but it's just not,” said Dan McMinimee, assistant superintendent of secondary education. “It just seemed like way too much, and it didn't seem like it was going to be a fit for Douglas County. Our teachers and principals deserve to have an instrument that is usable and effective, and give them accurate information to develop.”
By comparison, the CDE's user guide for teachers is 105 pages; the district's equivalent, 25.
The district's proposal also is tied to its world-class education targets, 11 educational goals it's setting for teachers designed to prepare students for an international market. Because those targets are unique to Douglas County, the state's system doesn't include them.
DCSD took issue with language in the CDE's document that says elementary school teachers must be experts in literacy and mathematics, as well as all other content they teach. Secondary-level teachers, while not required to be experts, also must have “knowledge of literacy and mathematics, and be an expert in her or her content endorsement area.”
District leaders saw that language as overreaching.
“If I'm a PE (physical education) teacher, and I'm responsible for students exceeding expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, that doesn't seem fair,” McMinimee said. “But I will certainly take responsibility for health and wellness. We want teachers, where it fits, to be those content experts.”
The evaluations are tied to future pay increases, and are designed to motivate teachers to improve instructional techniques and, consequently, student performance. Choosing to improve, McMinimee said, will be every teacher's choice.
“But you're not going to be a teacher in our district if you don't want to get better,” he said.
Despite some teachers' fears to the contrary, the district will find the money to reward its best teachers, McMinimee said. Those increases definitely will go to teachers rated “highly effective” under the evaluation system.
“Our teachers deserve that,” he said. “Moving forward, there may be an opportunity to reward people that are (also rated) `partially effective.' Hopefully there will be. It all depends on money.”
The district is using $4.2 million already existing in its pay-for-performance budget for the one-time cost of building and testing the system. In the future, the $4.2 million set aside annually in the pay-for-performance budget will be available for use as teacher bonuses.
A gradually improving economy also could spell increased education funds from the state.