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Robust, honest conversations lead to suggestions for CITE improvements

Teachers, principals suggest changes to teacher evaluation tool

CASTLE ROCK – This semester, a group of Douglas County School District (DCSD) teachers and administrators have worked to review the Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness (CITE) evaluation tool and have presented a number of changes to District leadership.

“This committee was open to everyone,” explained Tawnya Houghton, a technology teacher at Northridge Elementary School. “All principals had the opportunity to bring this to their staff and all staff was, in theory, given the opportunity to participate.”

The goal of the committee was to thoroughly review the tool and suggest revisions as part of the continuous improvement process.  

“I used to be a textbook editor. Everything can always be edited, improved and revised. I think [CITE] started out vague and they need to continue refining it to make it more specific for people,” said Nancy Geilen, the World Language Department Chair at Sagewood Middle School.

Everyone in the group brought their suggestions, as well as feedback from colleagues in their buildings.

“We all have pretty strong opinions about CITE,” said Nancy Geilen. “I work at a school where a lot of us have been together since the early 2000s. People have pretty clear opinions about it.”

“This is my second year in the District. It is still relatively new to me,” Houghton added. “I didn’t go into it with anything but thinking, ‘wow, this will be a great opportunity to hear multiple perspectives and be a part of something that will hopefully drive some positive change and help influence some positive forward motion with the document.’”

The teachers involved say the group had a robust and honest conversation, facilitated by DCSD Director of CITE Ian Wells. All viewpoints were welcome, but the overall focus was how to move the process forward.

“It was nice for [teachers] to know that those opinions were being voiced at the District level,” Geilen said. “It was a very open discussion. I honestly feel that there was nothing that people wanted to say that wasn’t said. People were very forthcoming with their ideas and their opinions.”

During the process the committee began by brainstorming all possibilities from changing the language to removing backward planning to adding a 'fifth' rating category.

“The initial list was massive,” Houghton remembered. “We went through and picked things that we thought were doable, in the time frame that we had available.”

Knowing that significant changes to the tool would require approval from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), the team chose to focus on measures that would make the tool better for teachers in time for next school year. The committee is planning on meeting again next September or October to continue the conversation to potentially make larger changes that would need to be approved at the state level.

Along the way, they compared and contrasted DCSD’s teacher evaluation tool to the one used by the state, reviewed each standard of CITE and had in-depth discussions about certain elements within the documents.

READ MORE: DCSD teachers, principals compare, contrast CITE to state’s evaluation tool

“Ian did a phenomenal job. There were times that we would say, ‘ok, are we going to go down this rabbit hole and have this discussion?’  He was great about saying, ‘if you guys want to do it, let’s do it.  If you guys are good to go on, let’s move on,’” Houghton said. “Everyone had an opportunity to speak.”

“There was a very open, robust discussion with all voices heard. It was really nice that everyone who was in attendance got the chance to voice their opinion,” Geilen said.

In some cases, this collaboration even changed viewpoints.

“It was interesting to see people’s perspectives had changed,” Houghton said. “They had come in thinking one thing and through the course of the dialogue it wasn’t uncommon for someone to say, ‘now that we’ve talked about it, ‘I actually think…’ That was exciting too.”

With so much engagement it became clear to the committee that the three sessions initially scheduled would not be enough to finish the work. The team ended up working over the course of several months, coming to a consensus on a number of issues.

The following are being forwarded to District leaders for consideration:

Renaming of Evaluation Categories
It was clear to the team that the names used to identify the different leveled-categories of evaluation were a source of consternation for many within the system. The teachers and administrators immediately went to work to find an alternative to ineffective, partially effective, effective and highly effective, but found that task was harder than anticipated.

“It seemed like that should be something that was pretty simple, because everybody was in agreement that we should change the names. When we got to actually talking about what they could or should be changed to, that turned into an entire meeting,” Geilen said.

The team came up with several options to choose from:



Option 1

Option 2

Option 3





Partially Effective










Highly Effective




Eventually the Superintendent’s Cabinet settled on Innovative (HE), Proficient (E), Transitioning (PE) and Ineffective (I) and the suggestion will be considered by the District Accountability Committee at its June meeting.

Removal of Backward Planning
After lengthy debate, the team suggested the removal of backward planning in the CITE document. The entire team wanted to keep references about purposeful planning, however, to ensure that schools have the flexibility to choose their own "means" to get to the desired "ends" without being so prescriptive.

“There is a lot said about students having voice and choice, but the question was brought up about teachers also then having voice and choice in how they submit their planning for consideration in their evaluation,” Geilen explained. “The people I work with, as well as myself, wanted to see some variety offered.  It didn’t need to just be one format that we were submitting things with, because the one size fits all doesn’t necessarily work with students and also with teachers and how they plan.”

It is important to note that, while backward planning is specifically required within CITE currently, teachers are not required to use any specific form or format.

Expanded Definitions
“There is ambiguity with certain words like consistently or collaborates with students. How does that vary from a kindergarten classroom to an eighth-grade classroom to seniors in high school? We were really looking at what suggestions we could make to ensure that there is some consistency and a lot more clarity, whether it is in examples, choosing different words,” Houghton explained. “The concepts were solid, but in that group we would sit and talk and have a lot of different versions of what we thought that could be—to fit into those qualifiers.”

The focus group is suggesting additional training and/or definitions for certain terms in the evaluation process, including consistently, mastery and collaborates with students.

Teachers hope CITE/Lead Focus Group continues
The teachers involved say they hope the process will continue forward into the future, so that CITE continues to improve.

“It is an ongoing process,” Houghton said. “It is a document that is about refinement and as practices change and research sheds more light into this craft in education—there are things that will need to be changed and it would be nice to have it be a sustainable process, an open dialogue in refinement.”

Even more importantly, Houghton encourages teachers and administrators to keep the document out all year long.

“Ultimately the tool is just that, a tool. If you pull it out two or three times a year, you’re not using it the way that it was really designed to be used,” Houghton said. “Whether you’re a teacher or evaluator, my encouragement would be, rather than it being the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, except when they have to – have it out.”

“When you live in it, it suddenly becomes less intimidating,” Houghton added. “Face it head on and figure out what it is. If you have questions—ask, so you can get clarification and even join the definition process.”

If you have a CITE/LEAD Focus Group member in your building, you can ask them questions or direction them to Ian Wells.

Series on CITE continues
This is our third story in our series about the CITE evaluation tool and efforts to improve it. In the next edition of THINK, we will explore the next steps in the process, including the role the District Accountability Committee plays in the feedback and approval proess. 

If you'd like to catch up on the series, see the links below.

Week 1: Evaluation in DCSD is about more than accountability

Week 2: DCSD teachers, principals compare, contrast CITE to state’s evaluation tool

May 3, 2016 | By rmbarber | Category: Educator Effectiveness

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