High teacher ratings scrutinized

Educators get second review, sparking protest by parents

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Trailblazer Elementary School Principal Linda Schneider says 70 percent of her teachers are “highly effective” under the Douglas County School District’s new evaluation system.

The district questions that finding, and is summoning all the school’s teachers for a second, independent review.

District-wide, about 15 percent of teachers are rated “highly effective,” according to information provided by DCSD, with most — 71 percent — rated “effective.”

Under the evaluations, each teacher is assigned a rating ranging from “highly effective” to “ineffective” that is tied to pay increases. “Highly effectives” could get a substantial raise, while “ineffectives” likely won’t see increases.

News of a second evaluation at Trailblazer upset not only teachers, but parents, who gathered outside the Highlands Ranch school early May 23 to wave handmade signs of support.

“We should be celebrating our highly effective teachers instead of punishing them,” said parent Amy Fain.

DCSD administrators said they aren’t happy either, but stand behind the integrity of their evaluations.

“We recognize this is a difficult process for everybody,” said Christian Cutter, assistant superintendent of elementary education.

Cutter said the district uses a check-and-balance system to flag statistical anomalies, or schools whose ratings appear out of balance. It also is reviewing evaluations at schools with an apparent excess of “ineffective” ratings, he said.

“In the case of Trailblazer Elementary, the principal did not follow the same standard as the rest of the system,” DCSD spokeswoman Cinamon Watson said. “Her actions are simply not fair to the teachers at Trailblazer or teachers throughout the system.”

Schneider said she could not talk about the issue during school hours, and was unable to provide comment May 23. According to DCSD, a panel including 10 principals who also are licensed evaluators first reviewed the evaluations, and the district then called a private meeting with Schneider.

“It was evident based on our panel review that the evaluations were not done according to the rigor and the mandates that an evaluation should be held,” Cutter said.

When asked if administrative staff urged Schneider to re-think her ratings, Cutter said, “Our first level is to always work with the evaluator to build a greater understanding of not only the instrument but the practice and art of teaching. We did go down that path and it did not seem it was going to be a good solution for this issue.”

DCSD said there is no limit on how many teachers can be rated “highly effective,” acknowledging the new evaluation is rigorous but even-handed.

“Each evaluation is supported by a body of evidence, and if the evidence supports a highly effective rating, that is the rating, period,” Watson said.

Trailblazer teachers feel the scrutiny they are under is anything but fair.

“To be told I’m getting a rating based on what someone wants me to have rather than what I’ve earned is offensive,” said Cheryl Murphy, a seven-year Trailblazer teacher rated “highly effective.” “It makes me question, ‘Why am I in Douglas County?’ Is Douglas County truly headed in the direction of what’s best for kids, or are they looking at the bottom dollar?”

“I’m really disappointed,” said teacher Theresa North, another “highly effective.” “I put 100 percent into what I do here. We’ve jumped through every hoop they’ve given us this year. Why can’t you just acknowledge I’m doing a good job? We feel like we are disrespected in our profession. I don’t think I’ve ever seen morale so low.”

Other teachers declined to comment publicly, saying they feared it could endanger their future employment.

“I’m just worried about feeding my family,” one man said.

In the long run, school leaders believe the evaluations will have a positive effect.

“We’re giving (teachers) an opportunity to have a true and accurate appraisal of their effectiveness,” Cutter said. “We do feel that ultimately the feedback that’s given through an evaluation process only makes people better.”

 

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