Ritter signs teacher assessment legislation into law

DENVER– Governor Bill Ritter signed SB 191, the controversial teacher assessment bill passed at the end of the session into law Thursday. The governor said the bill was the capstone of his administration’s work on education policy and a model for education nationwide.

Bill Ritter

The bill aims to thin the ranks of underperforming teachers. When fully implemented, it will create a new regime of assessments mostly evaluating teachers and principles according to the progress being made by their students. Teachers who fail to meet standards will be placed on probationary status after two years of failure and could be dismissed after three years failing to achieve successful scores. Successful teachers will be encouraged to pursue leadership positions.

Implementation is yet to be worked out and the program will be revisited next year. Lawmakers two years from now will vote on whether or not to continue the program. Ritter said he expected the tests to move away from CSAP one-day testing and toward a program that depends on year-long bench marks.

“This bill is about one thing,” Ritter said. “It is about children.”

Ritter pointed to an executive order he signed in January which created the Council on Educator Effectiveness, part of the effort to win Race to the Top federal funding this year. He said the group has been working toward finding accurate methods to assess teacher performance and said SB 191 put that executive order into law.

“We didn’t do this for the sake of doing it We did it because this is what is necessary to be competitive in a global world,” he said.

Ritter noted the controversy that followed debate about the bill. For the majority of the discussion on the bill. The Colorado Educators Association was staunchly opposed to it, for example. Ritter said that throughout his tenure, the CEA has been behind teacher reform and, though the group only recently came to a neutral stance on the legislation, Ritter said that he felt teachers will come to understand that the new expectations come with greater tools that will enable them to become effective.

“The wisdom behind this bill is not a punitive measure but a way to lift teachers up to a place of effectiveness.” Ritter said he recognized the bill represented a shift in thinking for the teacher’s union but that he and others would be working with them to ensure that everyone was moving in a positive direction.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, a former principle who sponsored the legislation along with Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, both worked doggedly to create the bi-partisan legislation.

“We know that the two most important variables affecting the success of a child are the effectiveness of the teacher and the effectiveness of the principal,” Johnston said. “This bill ensures that every child in Colorado has a great teacher and a great leader, and starts a collaborative, deliberative process for defining and measuring educator effectiveness.

The process by which the state will create the assessment tests will be developed by the governor’s Colorado Council on Educator Effectiveness and is scheduled to be delivered by March 2011 for legislative approval in 2012. The assessment system will undergo a year of beta testing, where various elements will be worked out before the program is put in place. The system is to be fully functioning by 2013.

“This bill is not about getting money for Race to the Top. It is about our children being in a race for the future of our country,” Spence said.

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