Evaluation in DCSD is about more than accountability
The Art & Science of Evaluation Series: Week 1
As the school year draws to a close it is once again evaluation time. Employees and their evaluators in schools and departments across the Douglas County School District (DCSD) will soon be meeting to discuss the progress made over the course of the last eight or so months.
Beginning this week, we are beginning our sixth and final series in our yearlong focus on the Academic Cabinet Goals.
In four installments, we will discuss evaluation in the Douglas County School District, including DCSD’s effort to implement a system that ensures fair and accurate assessments of our employees, while – perhaps most importantly – encouraging their professional growth for the benefit of our students. Together they are the Art & Science of Evaluation.
DCSD’s Goal: Improving Instruction to Benefit Our Students
Ultimately, the goal of all of our work is to benefit the students of our school district.
It, therefore, should be no surprise that evaluation in DCSD is focused on encouraging improvement of each employee’s practices so that we are better supporting students and the system that serves them.
That is why administrative, professional, technical and classified evaluations include ratings on District Values, including Adaptability, Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking & Decision Making, Customer Service, Integrity, Process Improvement and Safety.
Meanwhile, DCSD’s teacher evaluation tool, known as Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness (CITE) is aligned to best teaching practices.
“Ultimately, even though we are evaluating a teacher, the beneficiary is the student. That is why we want a focus on planning, assessments, instruction and culture,” explained Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Steve Cook. “When we have teachers attending to those elements, great things are going to happen for our kids.”
The teachers and administrators that began the work of building the new evaluation system in 2010, prior to Superintendent Fagen, knew that by embedding these principles into the evaluation— it would encourage all teachers to integrate them into their practices.
The goal remains the same today.
“It is about trying to improve instruction so that the students are the beneficiaries of good, quality instruction,” Cook said.
The Impact of SB 191 – Focus on Accountability
With the passage of Colorado Senate Bill 191 (SB 191) in May 2010, school districts in Colorado were required to change the way they evaluated teachers.
The focus turned to accountability.
While the state actually built upon Douglas County’s work, when it began building its evaluation tool, state law required much more. SB 191 required that all teachers and administrators be fully evaluated every year, as well as dictating what that evaluation should look like.
Next Time In THINK
Compare & Contrast: CITE & CDE’s Evaluation ToolThat was a big change for teachers, who were used to a tenure system, in which typically there was only evaluative scrutiny if they were new or if there were complaints. Most teachers were only evaluated minimally on a three-year cycle.
“What it used to be historically and what it is now are two philosophically different situations,” explained DCSD CITE Director Ian Wells. “I think most people would be shocked if they knew that back in the day, when I was teaching, veteran teachers would be lucky to have someone visit their classroom once, maybe twice a year. The old system really did focus a lot of time on the folks in the lower half of the evaluation process – people who were new to teaching or struggling.”
“The state has stated, ‘every teacher shall be evaluated every year. They deserve an accurate and fair evaluation,’ explained Cook. “Lawmakers said ‘look, we think this is so critical that we’re going to pass a law that says it has to be done and we’re doing away with tenure and we’re going to treat it differently.”
These changes meant big changes for principals too, since they were now responsible for in-depth annual evaluations for all of their teachers.
“The role of principal has really changed,” said Cook. “40 years ago they just had to make sure the building was warm in the winter time and the lights are on and there is a teacher in every room.”
Today, that is no longer adequate. They are expected to be instructional leaders in their buildings -- guiding the learning culture within their buildings.
“I have heard from some of our evaluators who say this is the deepest, hardest work they’ve ever done,” Cook said. “It takes an instructional leader to be an evaluator today. You have to be qualified and able to look at something and say, ‘this is quality instruction’ and why, as well as ‘here is what you can do to get better.’”
With all of this going on, it is only natural that the focus of the system was on the science of evaluation – the tools and criteria actually used to evaluate.
“This wasn’t something that had been seen in our District before. We went from a system that was essentially a checklist and teachers may have rarely had their administrators in their classes -- to something that is this robust, with this level of state-required accountability,” Cook explained.
Teachers were now being rated in a criterion-based system and evaluators are given on-going training to ensure that they understand how to evaluate these elements in a way that can be calibrated to match other colleagues in the District.
“I use the metaphor of baseball umpires. They are all trained similarly, but they do have some nuanced differences. Generally they do a pretty good job of calling a fair game,” Cook said. “The first base umpire is not the same first base umpire the next day, but you have a pretty good expectation of what that umpire is going to do, whoever is there.”
It is possible. In fact, when Cook was a principal at Cimarron Middle School, he and his Assistant Principals conducted “Instructional Rounds” to triangulate their evaluations, to ensure that all of the school’s teachers got fair and accurate evaluations.
“We asked permission of teachers if we could go and do observations not focused on teacher feedback. We did 27 of those observations together so we could get ourselves on the same page before we put a single thing down in InspirED, because we didn’t want to misidentify what we were looking for during walkthroughs” Cook said. “Then, in early April all of the evaluators locked ourselves in a room after all of the evidence we collected for the year was rated and the four of us sat down and went through final evaluation overview for each teacher. It took us the entire day, but we made sure that we were all on the same page. As a result we had no problems that year.”
Even so, Cook says fair and accurate evaluations aren’t enough. In Douglas County we want more.
“The umpire doesn’t care if you are getting better at running to first base. ‘I’m just going to be fair and accurate.’ Fair and accurate feeds accountability. The more fair and the more accurate, the more likely that you’ll be accountable for those things,” explained Cook. “Well, what we want in Douglas County is a system that is fair, accurate but focused on a growth model with lots of feedback —which changes the entire dynamic.”
Rebalancing: Incorporating a Growth Model
In Douglas County our goal is more than just accountability. We truly want teachers to grow as professionals – again with the ultimate beneficiary being our students.
After spending several years fine-tuning the science of the CITE and LEAD evaluation tools, District leaders are now working to improve the systems by ensuring that the art of evaluation – or the relationship between the evaluator and evaluate – isn’t lost.
“Evaluators and teachers should be working together in a partnership,” Cook said. “There has to be a belief that if I am your evaluator, you believe I have the skill and the credibility to ultimately know what I’m talking about. Ultimately through that you build a stronger relationship and stronger trust.”
Cook says the goal has always been to go beyond accountability.
With a focus on continuous improvement and system feedback, the District analyzed evaluation data, which showed that evaluators were more focused on the accountability side of evaluation, rather than the growth and desired feedback that drives teacher improvement.
While evaluators will gather evidence for the end-of-the-year rating— they will also work closely with the teacher to provide appropriate guidance and support, so that they can grow and develop their craft.
“If you just go in and do a check box of where people are and put it in their InspirED Innovation account and never have a conversation with a teacher—yeah, that might be fair, it might even be accurate, but that doesn’t help anyone do anything different, and it doesn’t establish trust and support the evaluator-teacher relationship” Cook said. “We want a growth model that is focused on giving appropriate feedback for the growth and development of our employees.”
When feedback is given at the appropriate time, a trusting relationship can be formed. Only then is it possible for a teacher to feel comfortable enough to try something new and different.
“If the evaluator walks in during the middle of a teacher taking a learning-risk – are they going to see something fail and then hold them accountable for it? Teachers want to take risks—but they want evaluators to know that they’re taking a chance and want their evaluators to be confident that it was well-intended and good for kids and the evaluator is there to support and give specific feedback to grow and help them,” Cook explained.
He believes that if this growth model is built District-wide – it could make a huge difference for the children of Douglas County.
“We have an opportunity to do some really good things moving forward,” Cook said. “If we can focus on growth and feedback and rewarding those opportunities for taking risks and rewarding trying new things—then it is win-win for everybody.”
Next time in THINK, we will meet a group of teachers and administrators that are working to make this a reality by partnering and collaborating with the District on ideas that could move our evaluation system forward.