In 2010, the Colorado General Assembly passed Senate Bill 10-191, now known as the Educator Effectiveness Act. The purpose of the Educator Effectiveness Act was two-fold: first, the act served to enhance Colorado’s third application to access federal Race to the Top dollars (this application was approved), and second, the act attempted to improve the teacher evaluation process.
There has been a lot written about the merits and demerits of teacher evaluations and I feel no need to revisit this lengthy debate and discussion. Instead, I would like to provide the reader with an overview of the Educator Effectiveness Act. This act made the following changes to the teacher evaluation process in Colorado:
Non-tenure teachers: historically, non-tenured teachers (in Colorado vernacular these teachers are referred to as probationary) needed to receive three years of favorable evaluations in order to receive tenure (or to become non-probationary teachers in Colorado). Under the Educator Effectiveness Act this process was changed. A non-tenured teacher now must receive three favorable evaluations in consecutive years in order to become tenured and there is no time limit for a non-tenured teacher to become tenured. In other words, an effective teacher could spend his or her entire career as a non-tenured teacher if the evaluators of this teacher made sure that every third year the individual was marked down to the point that the overall evaluation was less than favorable.
Tenured teachers: again, prior to the Educator Effectiveness Act tenured teachers could only lose the protections afforded them from tenure as a result of egregious acts. Now, if a tenured teacher in Colorado receives two consecutive unfavorable evaluations then that teacher loses his or her tenure and reverts back to non-tenure status. It should be noted that the state has been slow and purposeful in rolling out the implementation portion of the Educator Effectiveness Act, so, to date, no teacher has actually had his or her tenure status revoked. However, when this happens it stands to reason that there will be a lawsuit to follow.
Teacher evaluation criteria: finally, the Educator Effectiveness Act required that the school district created evaluation tool base 50% of a teacher’s evaluation on student growth. Each school district is able to determine acceptable evidence to document student growth, but the results from the PARCC testing are used by most Colorado school districts as a portion of growth indicators related to teachers’ evaluations.
It is under this backdrop that I wish to share a fact that I recently came across. As per Colorado state law, parents have the right to opt out of standardized testing. In fact, the state legislature has spent a fair amount of time this session debating the amount of testing Colorado public school students are subjected to and was looking at reducing these requirements (the effort, despite enjoying bipartisan support, is stalled out currently). So, the legal question that requires greater exploration is focused on parents opting out of testing. What happens if the percent of students opting out of end-of-year testing balloons to a majority of the student body?
This is what I discovered a few weeks ago while visiting an intern-I was informed that at this particular high school over 40% of students opted out of PARCC testing. I was shocked by the number so I checked with other administrators throughout the state and only found one other high school where the percent of students opting out exceeded 30% of the entire student population (this was a sample of convenience and is not scientifically defensible).
I feel we can make some gross generalizations about the parents and students that are opting out of testing – more educated parents, higher socio-economic status, etc. Again, these are generalizations, but if they are accurate generalizations then what will happen to a school’s testing results? It stands to reason that the results will decline, in general. And, here is what I find interesting about this situation –can school district administrators use PARCC testing results to quantifiably establish that a teacher in negatively impacting student growth if 40% of students are opting out of the testing?
In my opinion, the answer to the question is yes – administrators can use the PARCC data, but to rely exclusively on incomplete data (given the percent of students opting out of testing) will prove problematic. I feel there is a double standard at place in Colorado – testing is essential for accountability standards, but not all students need to be tested. Ultimately, this double standard will possibly prove the demise of the Educator Effectiveness Act and tie up limited public funds in litigation surrounding teacher evaluations.
A pre-litigation remedy would be for policymakers to determine if testing is vital for accountability reasons. If testing is deemed vital then all students should be required to test – if it is good for one student then it is good for all students. If, on the other hand, testing is not essential for accountability then do away with it. Why require school districts administer testing and, at the same time, allow certain (educated) parents opt their children out of testing?