Yet another study suggests overhauling Colo. teacher evaluation

If Colorado doesn’t win Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, it won’t be for lack of studies. Last week, yet another “How Colorado Can Win the Race to the Top” study was released by the Colorado Legacy Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Colorado Department of Education.

“Improving Teacher and School Leader Effectiveness:  Designing a Framework for Colorado” follows similar studies by the New Teacher Project and the Piton Foundation (in conjunction with National Council on Teacher Quality), both published this past summer.

The Colorado Legacy Foundation report began by arguing that the most important topic in education reform right now is the concept of “teacher effectiveness.”

Rarely in public policy discussions does a simple concept, like “teacher effectiveness,” rise so suddenly and dramatically to the top of the national and state policy agendas. The importance of the concept is so obvious, much like the idea of evidence-based practice in medicine, that one wonders what else we used to talk about when discussing teacher issues. The idea that teachers should be effective in producing student learning outcomes, and that such teachers should be distributed to all students, not just those in school districts or schools with more resources, hardly seems revolutionary. But, it is now dominating the education policy space.

And, like the Piton Foundation report, the Colorado Legacy Foundation argued that Colorado’s evaluation processes are the biggest barrier to improving teacher effectiveness. Here, the report goes further than those that have come before it, by asking experts to discuss what an effective evaluation tool might look like:

One ideal measure for evaluation purposes is the value added by a teacher to a student over the academic year. [Dan]Goldhaber describes value-added measurement as not only a good tool, but “the only tool right now that actually gives us rigorous kinds of ways of assessing teachers.” Using value-added measures in conjunction with other measures, such as supervisor and peer reviews, allows the more subjective measures to be “checked” by the value-added measure.

Barnett Barry of the Center for Teaching Quality suggests that an evaluation system take into account the extent to which the teacher helps students learn, and how the teacher benefits the school organization by helping to spread his or her expertise to others at the school and beyond…Ultimately, says Barry, evaluation of teacher performance would have several components: evidence of student performance, such as results on classroom-based assessments like Measures of Academic Performance (MAP) and conclusions from classroom observations; self-analysis and reflection using tools such as videotapes; analysis of student engagement, which could be based on student input; peer reviews; and parent input.

Granted, a new teacher evaluation still looks like it’s still in the brainstorming phase. But one thing is clear:  given the state’s enthusiasm for the Race to the Top contest, Colorado teachers shouldn’t expect the current evaluation system to last much longer.

For the full report, head to the Colorado Education News website, where Nancy Mitchell discusses the report’s argument that Colorado school districts have long used “local control” as an excuse to justify inertia.

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Katie Redding

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