Newly Revamped Teacher Evaluation Focuses on the Art of Teaching
Following nearly two years and countless hours of work by a committee of teachers, principals and staff, a newly revamped Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness (CITE) evaluation tool is being unveiled for the 2017-2018 school year. The new revisions to the CITE rubric were approved by the Douglas County School District (DCSD) Board of Education in June.
Some of the most prominent changes to the rubric include an emphasis on culture and climate, language that is less prescriptive and is more open to a variety of teaching styles, and a numeric evaluation scale that values growth over labels.
As DCSD staff and the focus group approached making changes to CITE, feedback was gathered from principals, teachers across the district, and community members who serve on the District Accountability Committee.
“It was really important that we weren’t making change for the sake of change, but that we were truly addressing the underlying issues our licensed staff members were bringing forward,” said DCSD’s Director of Educator Effectiveness, Erica Mason.
“The biggest driver for me was that if you realize something isn’t working and you have the chance to be involved in recreating it or improving it, you go for it,” added Mike Carlson, Co-Principal of Eldorado Elementary School in Highlands Ranch. “This was a really helpful opportunity to bring multiple perspectives to the table to create something that really works for our educators.”
As early drafts of the CITE rubric were shared with principals, Mason continuously collected feedback and reported it back to the focus group.
“We kept hearing ‘this feels good. This is better,’” Mason said.
It starts with ‘Culture & Climate’
One of the first things DCSD teachers will notice is that Culture and Climate has been moved to the first standard on the new CITE rubric.
“We’re valuing culture and climate, we’re valuing what teachers are doing in the classroom and their relationship with students and the community,” Mason said. “As the focus group held conversations about relationships with kids and building positive cultures in our classrooms, we said ‘this is what is really important.’”
Culture and climate includes elements that focus on safety, inclusion and diversity, positive relationships, and student engagement.
“Without culture and climate, the rest of it will not matter,” added Carlson.
Non-prescriptive and clear language
Members of the committee say according to feedback from educators across the system, in the past CITE was too focused on encouraging one specific, modernized way of teaching.
“[The previous CITE tool] compared what a ‘good teacher’ looked like against what maybe a traditional teacher might look like,” said Saddle Ranch Elementary kindergarten teacher Niki Mitchell. “They may have different styles, but both can be great teachers.”
“We’ve tried to capture more of the art of teaching,” Mason said. “It doesn’t matter if you are at an IB school, or at a design thinking school, or alternative education, the new rubric is not prescriptive to one way of teaching. We’ve removed language that may be limiting to teachers.”
Teachers will notice, for example, that the language “World Class Outcomes” no longer appears on the CITE evaluation. While this has been purposefully removed in order to honor a variety of approaches, the higher-order thinking strategies that World Class Outcomes encompassed are still available as resources to schools and teachers if that’s what they feel would benefit their students the most.
“What has been changed through the new CITE rubric process is having those tools directly tied to their evaluation,” Interim Superintendent Erin Kane explained. “As we move forward, we need to engage in a very slow, deliberate and collaborative effort with our teachers, principals, staff, and community to determine the future of our district curriculum. In the meantime, this CITE rubric absolutely focuses on what’s best for kids and on good teaching, without being prescriptive about what exactly that teaching has to look like.”
Additionally, the revised language in the new CITE rubric is designed to have greater flexibility in order to honor the work that happens at the school level.
“We worked very hard to avoid confusing language while also being sure to preserve the integrity of continued expected excellence from our DCSD staff,” said Nancy Mann, Professional Learning Specialist at Castle Rock Elementary. “Our new evaluation tool needed to reflect and clearly be able to document the hard work teachers do every day.”
“I felt that clarity was much needed for the indicators,” added Lauren Dyche, English Teacher at Mesa Middle School. “Creating something with clear and concrete ‘observable’ indicators was missing and voiced yearly by my colleagues! I wanted to help refine the indicators that got lost in translation between teachers and evaluators.”
A growth-based evaluation scale
Labels that have been used in the past on licensed employee evaluations, such as “innovative” and “partially effective” have been eliminated in favor of a purely numerical system, which matches what is reported to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). The focus group says the feedback they received from teachers across the District was that the labels felt artificial and never really captured a teacher’s true performance. They feel a purely numerical scale provides more clarity and transparency. Additionally, the scale is oriented horizontally instead of vertically in order to encourage a strength-based model.
“The feedback we have received says that a vertical scale feels like a knock-down approach, whereas the new scale will show growth as an individual moves from two to three to four,” Mason said.
Continuous improvement and feedback
Mason and other committee members acknowledge the new CITE rubric isn’t perfect. While reaching perfection for everybody is an impossible achievement, continuous improvement is very much a goal for the entire group. That is why the committee will continue working and collecting feedback throughout this school year.
“It truly broke my heart that there was so much unrest and unhappiness within our district the past few years,” Mann said. “I believe that the changes this committee has made to CITE will disallow the ambiguity and angst of the old evaluation tool. The teachers and principals on this committee never forgot that they were speaking for every teacher and principal in the district.
“By making sure our teachers feel valued and respected, we are ultimately taking care of every student in every classroom, every day. And ultimately, isn't that what we are all about?”