DCSD teachers, principals compare, contrast CITE to state’s evaluation tool
CITE/LEAD Focus Group sees big strengths, room for improvement in CITE
HIGHLANDS RANCH & PARKER – A group of Douglas County School District (DCSD) teachers, principals and administrators have been meeting for the past several months to evaluate the District’s teacher and leader evaluation tools and to provide suggestions for improvement. They started the process by comparing and contrasting DCSD’s Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness (CITE) evaluation tool with the one developed by the State of Colorado and used by the majority of school districts in the state.
The CITE/LEAD Focus Group found a lot of similarities between the two documents. This isn’t surprising given the roots both documents share. We will discuss the history momentarily – but first – the two documents share a common purpose and structure.
Both are rubrics, intended to help teachers understand the practices they should be using daily in their classroom.
“We talk about giving kids rubrics, so they know what is expected of them, this evaluation tool lets teachers know what is expected of them,” explained Trailblazer Elementary School Principal Deanne Kirby. “It gives them the blueprint for what teaching and learning should look like in our District and our school.”
“Rubric language is not only important for kids, but for adults too,” agreed Frontier Valley Elementary Principal Kim Seefried. “It gives you clear targets.”
With the passage of Colorado Senate Bill 191 (SB 191), every teacher and principal in Colorado was expected to be evaluated yearly against the state’s Quality Standards, the state’s definition of what it means to be an effective teacher or principal. According to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), the goal was to provide educators with opportunities for reflection, review, professional development and growth.
The law gave school districts flexibility to build their own system, to meet their own needs, as long as it aligns with the state’s teacher and principal Quality Standards. That is the path Douglas County and a small handlful of other school districts chose.
“I don’t think the state rubric really addresses who we are in Douglas County,” Seefried said. “We are different and there are some things where our language should be different.”
For instance, reflected within DCSD’s evaluation tool is our focus on student-centered, sustainable learning, which includes authentic experiences.
As the CITE/LEAD Focus Group explored both the District and state evaluation tools, it was easy to spot those themes in DCSD’s document.
“You can see reflections of things that we felt were important,” explained Kirby, regarding the CITE evaluation tool and the values embedded within. “You have to measure what matters most. If we say that 21st Century Skills and 4Cs and World Class Outcomes matter to us, we measured that.”
She says that it is clear from the expectations set in CITE that DCSD is looking for highly skilled educators; professionals able to take their craft to a new level.
“We are looking for master teachers who understand how to write curriculum, because that is where we are,” Kirby said. “We are asking teachers to take what they know about teaching and learning and translate that into units that they have designed themselves.”
DCSD led the way
Even before the passage of SB 191, DCSD was already in the process of creating a new evaluation system. At the time, District leaders worked in partnership with the union to build a tool that, according to the CITE Executive Summary published in early 2010 “defines the metrics of effective teaching and student results and holds all teachers accountable for continuous improvement in their profession.”
Kirby was involved from the beginning and says teachers and principals were brought together to discuss best teaching practices and how they could be embedded in an evaluation system.
“The original intent of those meetings five or six years ago was, ‘let's’ get some voices around this and really build a strong tool,’” Kirby explained.
The following is an excerpt from the CITE Executive Summary:
The centerpiece of the CITE program is a differentiated teacher evaluation system that fairly and accurately monitors teacher performance against established metrics of effective teaching, including multiple measures of student growth. The evaluation tool defines 21 professional characteristics of teacher effectiveness in three general categories: Student Achievement and Growth Expectations (primary), Differentiated Performance Expectations (secondary), and Basic Compliance Expectations (tertiary). Each indicator describes up to four levels of teacher behaviors and characteristics that demonstrate that indicator.
The CITE program will allow us to make continuing employment decisions (teacher tenure) based on measurable indicators of teacher effectiveness, including student growth.
Implementation of the CITE program includes professional development for teachers and administrators to ensure fidelity and inter-rater reliability when evaluating against the rubric. The training is delivered in a variety of settings, including multiple online modules that can be completed at the participant’s own time and pace.
Once the evaluation process is refined and baseline data is validated, appropriate incentives (Pay for Performance) will be applied:
Individual incentives for incremental gains on the hierarchy of indicators in the evaluation tool.
Group incentives for closing gaps in student performance.
School incentives for meeting or exceeding School Improvement targets.
As explained in our last article, “Evaluation in DCSD is about more than accountability,” the state actually built upon the concepts originally assembled by DCSD teachers and leaders, but eventually, with the passage of SB 191 went further.
As a result, Kirby and other District teachers and staff had to reconnect the District’s evaluation tool back to the one created by the state.
“We were each looking at the different aspects of the tool and we were basically building that crosswalk. ‘Ok, this is what the state tool has, and we know this is the essence of what our tool needs to have,” Kirby said.
In certain cases, DCSD’s tool was already perfectly aligned. In others, the District had to add language to ensure that we met the state’s requirements.
Comparing the state’s tool to CITE
The principals we spoke to from the CITE/LEAD Focus Group say that as they compared the CITE and state evaluation tools there were strengths in both, as well as drawbacks.
Kirby and Seefried say the biggest thing that everyone commented on at first blush was the size of the state’s evaluation tool.
“I find it to be overwhelming and cumbersome,” Seefried said.
“My first reaction was, ‘wow, this is a lot. It was a lot of pages, Kirby added. “It requires a lot of data collection and it would have been a pretty cumbersome tool for both a teacher and an administrator to use.”
The state’s document is more than 13 pages long and more intensive.
“At the end of each standard, there is an evaluator’s comment and the comments of the person being evaluated. There are whole boxes where you write evaluation stuff on each standard,” explained DCSD CITE Director Ian Wells.
Additionally, in the state’s rubric, evaluators have checkboxes for each level. If a teacher misses anything in the proficient section, for instance, they are considered partially proficient in that standard, automatically.
“If a teacher is missing a component they are getting dinged,” Seefried, who used the state’s evaluation tool in another district, before coming to DCSD. “[The CITE/LEAD Focus Group] felt like, if you separate those things out, it gives the teachers an opportunity to really shine in the areas they are doing well in terms of assessment, but then also you could identify that piece that they need support in and so then it is one thing you’re working on, rather than the whole thing.”
The focus group also found parts of the state’s tool to be a bit ambiguous in places.
“I know that it is hard to build a tool that doesn’t have some ambiguity to it, but that one for sure had some interesting language in it that would have been hard for a teacher to understand or an administrator to qualify and quantify,” Kirby said.
She understands that some of the ambiguity is to be expected given the wide variety of school districts it has to fit throughout the state.
“I think when you are building a tool for a whole state it has to be a little vague and ambiguous. It has to fit innovation schools, Title I schools, whatever. Schools like Douglas County and Cherry Creek that are high performing districts all the way to your lowest performing district. Those all look different,” Kirby said.
The team says they found the exercise very beneficial.
“I don’t think anybody in the room was like, ‘let’s just move back to the state tool.’ That was not the conversation at all,” Seefried explained. “It was, ‘let’s understand where our evaluation tool originated from and how we got to this point and what makes sense for us in Douglas County. Let’s make it better -- so we get more voices.’”
In some cases, they have found items in the state’s tool they would like to integrate into CITE.
“There are some things in the state tool that we might be missing like one that we found was diversity. We are missing that one simple word,” Kirby said. “Our team recommended finding a way to infuse that important concept in CITE.”
Additionally, by closely analyzing both documents, it brought a new appreciation for the tool that was built by DCSD teachers and leaders.
“I think that was the biggest ‘ah ha’ for so many people, was really understanding and looking at the state rubric. If you had never seen it before, it was like ‘oh, wow.’ Being able to say, ‘really, we are doing a good job, but we do need to reflect on what we are doing and see if we can make it even better for the system,’ Seefried said.
Kirby says that she appreciates the way that DCSD’s tool is constructed, because it aligns well with teaching best practices.
“Our tool is more straightforward when it comes to that. Here is what we are looking for, when we say that we want you to plan intentionally for instruction, plan for that outcome. And here is what we are looking for when we say that we want you to collect data on a regular basis to drive instruction. And here is what it looks like when you are in front of your students or your facilitating students. These are the things that are non-negotiable to us, or what we are looking for,” Kirby said.
Next time in THINK: We will continue our conversation with the principals and teachers in the CITE/LEAD Focus Group and explore some of the changes they are suggesting to improve the evaluation tool.