One More Year: Districts Take Different Paths as 191 Closes In

It’s almost Turkey Day, and that means it’s time to start thinking about the things we’re thankful for. At the top of my list are my dog, my parents, and pumpkin pie with Cool Whip on it. But while I sit here smacking my lips at the thought of tomorrow’s pie, some school districts are feeling thankful for a very different reason: This year’s reprieve from SB-191’s requirement that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be based on multiple measures of student learning.

This afternoon, Chalkbeat posted an article detailing some of the districts that have chosen to press ahead with SB-191’s requirements along with some others that have chosen to wait. The article is based on a survey of Colorado’s 20 largest districts, which together employ more than two-thirds of the state teachers.

Chalkbeat found that just over half of the districts—including our friends in Douglas and Jefferson County—have decided to forge ahead as originally planned. Some other districts have decided to weight their growth data at zero percent of the evaluation formula, basing evaluations only on professional quality standards. The lone outlier from the 50-0 dichotomy is Mesa, which decided to weight growth data at 25 percent for the year.

So why the difference?

District decisions appeared to be driven by a combination of three factors – a district’s level of confidence in its evaluation system, a desire to refine its systems further, and concern about changing its evaluation system for only one year.

Fair enough, I guess. I can respect the fact that districts are still wrestling with the potential impacts of the new assessment system, particularly after the predictable but still distressing results of the state’s new CMAS tests. And because state tests account for only part of the 50-percent requirement in SB-191, I also understand that many districts may still be trying to get their proverbial ducks in a row in terms of classroom and district assessments. Others may simply want to get another year of experience and thought under their belt before they take the plunge, which makes sense on a basic level.

Still, districts who opted for zero percent should use this year wisely. SB-191 has been languishing in implementation limbo for quite some time, and my concern is that some districts may be experiencing something akin to administrative procrastination. Whether that procrastination is due to general apprehension or the influence of entrenched interests in some districts is tough to say, but it doesn’t really matter on the practical side of things. Inertia rarely helps solve tough problems.

The truth is, SB-191’s evaluation provisions can’t be delayed forever. Student learning requirements are a-comin’ whether districts are ready next year or not. I just hope districts use this year to build great systems that fit their schools and drive both student and teacher success, not to make excuses or avoid tough choices.

Speaking of tough choices, should I go for the pumpkin or the pecan pie? You’re right, I should just have both. Happy Thanksgiving!