New Colorado Law Further Defines Teacher, Principal Evaluations

Published March 13, 2012

A new Colorado law builds on previous attempts to evaluate teachers, setting six standards for measuring teacher effectiveness and making tenure contingent on continued “effective” ratings.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said House Bill 1001 “gives a stamp of approval to a range of guiding rules” from a 2010 law.

“So we’ve been working at this for a while now,” Garcia said.

Widespread Support
HB 1001, signed into law Feb. 15, further defines teacher and principal evaluations, and succeeded in garnering the widespread support its predecessor did not, winning 99 out of 100 votes in the state’s General Assembly.

It establishes that teachers must be rated “effective” for three consecutive years before earning tenure. Teachers who receive “ineffective” ratings two years in a row can lose tenure.

The state department of education is working with nearly 30 school districts that will pilot the evaluation system in 2012-2013.

“One reason why this particular bill passed without much controversy is because people are waiting to see how the pilot goes,” said Ben Degrow, senior education policy analyst for the Independence Institute.  “A lot will be learned from how well the evaluations go.”

HB 1001’s Predecessor
In 2010, Colorado legislators passed SB 199 to begin basing evaluations on how teachers help students learn, not how long they’ve been in the system, DeGrow said.

“In many school districts, 99 or 98 percent of teachers are being rated ‘effective,'” DeGrow said. “There was nothing distinguishing the great teachers from the good teachers and very little distinguishing the good teachers from the poor teachers. The system needed to be revamped.”

SB 199 created the15-member Council for Educator Effectiveness to define teacher and principal effectiveness, develop guidelines for a teacher and principal evaluation system, and recommend state policy changes.

Their recommendations led to HB 1001.

Defining ‘Effective’ Teaching
The new law requires measuring a teacher according to six standards. These include content knowledge, facilitating student diversity, collaboration, self-reflection, leadership, and responsibility for student growth.

The Council worked with specialists, parents, and students to provide detailed support materials for each of the standards such as lesson plans.

The state is also working to develop standardized tests for all subjects and grades, since the law requires student test scores to comprise 50 percent of teacher evaluations. 

“The teachers union, the school boards and executives, among many others, were active and constructive partners in the conversation about how best to evaluate and support teachers,” Garcia said. “We didn’t start out in agreement about everything, but everyone came to the table with a spirit of cooperation and that’s why it earned such overwhelming support.”

Next Up: Appeals Process
An appeals process is still on the drawing board for teachers threatened with loss of tenure.

“It’s a reasonable system that makes sure that teachers are judged fairly and quickly,” DeGrow said. “We want to make sure that the appeal system doesn’t become an excuse not to rate teachers fairly.”

Image by Steven Depolo.