Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

When Teachers Speak Up - And Policymakers Listen

December 19, 2011

Last year, Colorado passed a landmark piece of legislation (SB 10-191, the EQUITEE Act) that created a new system of evaluation for students, teachers, and schools in the state. This new law promises to shake up the status quo, inspiring innovation in how we teach students and how we prepare and support teachers.

This month, the Colorado State Board of Education adopted regulations to implement the legislation–with some key revisions.

The revisions reflect the informed voices of classroom teachers and represent a unique breakthrough in my career. I have had many successes in my nine years of teaching, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen my efforts have such a long-reaching and concrete impact on the policies that shape my job.

I hope that it will prove to be a strong foundation for continued work of this kind, both personally and for my state.

The basic premise of the law is that all teachers will be evaluated yearly on a variety of measures to determine whether their non-probationary status will be maintained.

As a member of the New Millennium Initiative, a team of teachers working to transform our schools and the teaching profession, I have spent the past year working with a team of Denver-area teachers to research the implications of the EQUITEE Act on classroom practice.

In May, our team of teachers released a formal brief ("Making Teacher Evaluation Work for Students: Voices From the Classroom") sharing our ideas about how this law should be implemented.

I consider myself to be a teacher leader and, unfortunately, have sat on numerous committees that seemed to have little influence. But my work with the Denver New Millennium Initiative this summer and fall was an incredibly empowering experience.

During my public testimony, I spoke about how my unique expertise as a teacher helps me to determine how and when my students are growing. I recommended that the voices of classroom teachers should be heard and honored when creating standards that evaluate teacher effectiveness.

No one is more qualified to comment on a student’s achievement than the person who works with that student every day.

Standardized tests have their purpose as norm setters, but a teacher who knows her students’ unique back stories and learning styles can provide a wealth of information about each student. This information should be included among the data used to measure the success of both teachers and students.

Specifically, we advocated for three important things:

  • A clearer definition of the multiple measures that comprise 50 percent of teachers’ evaluation
  • A strong representation of teachers in the process of implementation
  • An ongoing evaluation process rather than an “event” that happens once or twice a year

The State Board of Education adopted the implementation rules this month. Upon reviewing the final draft of the evaluation standards, I was overwhelmed by how much of the language reflected the recommendations that my team made, in some cases almost verbatim.

I am genuinely excited about the potential for positive change that SB 191 brings to Colorado. In an often sluggish system that balks at overhaul and reform, this is a true game changer.

I am also grateful that policymakers were open to hearing my voice as a teacher. They honored and incorporated the experience and expertise that our Denver New Millennium Initiative teachers brought to the conversation.

I now have new hope that my profession can change—that I (and my colleagues) can be valued professionals.

 
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