Teachers have mixed feelings on evaluations

Impressions range from arbitrary to instructive

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As Douglas County teachers learn their ratings under the district’s new evaluation system, many are crying foul.

Even some who received the top “highly effective” rank say they found the evaluations confusing, time-consuming and poorly explained. It’s consistent, many say, with other changes the Douglas County School District has made in its effort at education reform.

“The board of education was talking about making teachers accountable,” said seven-year Castle View High School teacher Thor Kjeseth. “I don’t think any of us object to that. But we need them to have some sort of accountability for this absolutely failed evaluation process, which has caused great problems with morale and driven a stake between administrators and teachers.”

Kjeseth said he’s enjoyed repeated high performance reviews — until this year.

“I’ve asked for evidence — if my drop is due to data, test scores, parent complaints,” he said. “There’s no data that supports this drop.”

While not everyone shares Kjeseth’s feelings, many do. Teacher after teacher said they’ve felt concerned and overwhelmed by a series of recent district-level changes, with the evaluations a tipping point.

“The instrument for evaluating was given to us without any guidelines and without specific criteria of what we were going to be evaluated on,” said Arrowwood Elementary teacher Tara Holst. “In the 20 years I’ve been teaching, this is the first year it’s been hard for me to come to work. It’s been a very frustrating year with everything that’s been piled on us.”

John Kissingford, a chairman of Chaparral High School’s English department, said the evaluations have “created an inordinate amount of tension and anxiety. As a department chair, I’ve been trying to calm those tensions and focus (teachers) on what’s important. It’s really taken away from people’s ability to focus on kids.”

The evaluations are part of DCSD's pay-for-performance program. Based on self-evaluations, meeting with principals and other factors, each teacher was assigned a rating ranging from “highly effective” to “ineffective.” Pay increases are tied to that rating, and also to a new market-based pay scale.

DCSD developed its own evaluation system, which it says is significantly less cumbersome than the state model. Under Senate Bill 191, all districts are required to adopt either the state’s new teacher evaluation program, or create their own by 2013-14.

Other teachers came away with a different take on the evaluations.

At Legend High School, teacher Tina Stroman said administrators talked to staff about the evaluations repeatedly throughout the school year.

“For me, that was really, really helpful,” she said. “I felt it was a constant conversation and constant work-in-progress. We were probably at an advantage that way.”

Stroman felt her evaluation was fair, giving her a clear understanding of areas in which she should focus further. But she hopes it is not a static process.

“I don’t think anything is in its perfect form anytime it comes out,” she said. “In time, with good feedback from everybody, I think it can only get better.”

Rock Canyon High School teacher Kristi Piccone said the process sharpened her focus.

“I definitely like that there are a lot of criteria because that gives me a lot of places for improvement,” she said. “I have a very open mind when it comes to improvement because I love making things awesome for my students. I love reflection, and I spent a lot of time with it.

“That tool just became something that my evaluators could use to help me improve. I think that’s the best thing I can do.”

But Clear Sky Elementary teacher Pam Pitman said she felt the time required to complete the evaluation was excessive.

“I can spend all this time uploading lessons plans to prove I’m highly effective, or I can actually be highly effective and meet the needs of my kids,” she said. “I decided my valuable time was going to go to my kids.”

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