School board responds to evaluation concerns

Members stand behind system, but ready to improve where needed

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Despite the controversy and protests sparked by the Douglas County School District’s new teacher evaluations, board president John Carson doesn’t believe the program is intrinsically flawed.

“No. I have great confidence in the principals of our school district,” he said of the program DCSD created. “They’re the ultimate deliverers of those ratings.

“Obviously, this is the first go-round. If there are areas that need to be improved, we’ll improve that.”

Nor does he regret implementing it a year before the state deadline for such evaluations.

“We’re not interested in plodding along on important innovations,” Carson said. “We think we have a system that we can build on as we go forward. I think we did the right thing.

“I think it’s a vast improvement over what we had, which was basically a system in which everybody is rated and paid exactly the same, regardless of their teaching skills. We will base everything on performance and results.”

Board members said they were pressed to roll out the system under Colorado Senate Bill 191, which requires new evaluations statewide. It allows districts to create their own evaluations — as DCSD did — instead of using the Colorado Department of Education’s model.

But Senate Bill 191 doesn’t require full implementation of the new evaluations until the 2013-14 school year. The CDE is piloting its Colorado Model Evaluation System for two years before putting it into action this fall.

Instead of piloting its program or waiting another year, DCSD rolled theirs out during the just-concluded academic year.

“The alternative was to take the state system,” Carson said. “You talk about a lack of understanding and bureaucracy — the state’s was much more convoluted and complex. We chose to develop our own. I think in the long run that’s going to be viewed as a very smart decision.”

In the short run, it’s triggered high emotion among parents, students and staff at some schools, and contributed to the loss of several teachers who cite the evaluations among their deciding factors.

DCSD’s system assigns teachers a rating ranging from “highly effective” to “partially effective,” and ties pay increases to those results. Though percentages will vary based on several points, the district says all teachers will get some boost in compensation.

About 15 percent of teachers district-wide received “highly effective” ratings, with the vast majority — 71 percent — rated “effective.”

Results weren’t consistent throughout the district. In Highlands Ranch, longtime Trailblazer Elementary principal Linda Schneider gave 70 percent of her staff “highly effective” ratings, while new Saddle Ranch Elementary principal Ryan Craven didn’t assign that designation to any of his teachers. At least two schools reported a seemingly disproportionate percentage of “partially effective” results.

School board vice president Kevin Larsen said those deviations can’t be ignored.

“The evaluations have to be accurate to make it work,” he said. “It’s absolutely our goal to look throughout the system and say, ‘Were these done with consistency and integrity?’, no matter if they’re high or low. I think in this first year, we have to examine what went well, what can be improved, and make this continue to be a better system going forward.”

School board member Meghann Silverthorn agreed.

“I do recognize this is a not a perfect instrument and we need to make changes,” she said. “I think the lessons learned are extremely valuable. While I don’t think it was ideal, I think the way we did it was basically necessary. Implementing a change in public policy is always a challenge.”

Larsen said he’d like to set up community meetings before the new school year begins to further explain the changes. Carson and Silverthorn said they also are open to such meetings.