Proposed changes to CITE aim to help teachers grow
CITE Focus Group members drop rating names, focus on elements of great teaching
CASTLE ROCK –After a year of hard work, the CITE Focus Group, made up of teachers and administrators from across the Douglas County School District, is ready to unveil an updated version of the Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness (CITE) evaluation tool. They say the reconstructed system is focused on helping teachers grow, for the benefit of our students.
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.”
Trailblazer Elementary School Principal Deanne Kirby agreed, adding that focuses built into the tool previously like mentions of specific types of planning, instruction or even learning environments, were not necessary.
“I am a firm believer that it doesn’t matter where you are teaching, it doesn’t matter what your furniture looks like, it doesn’t matter how old the carpet is. We want safe buildings, but it doesn’t matter the age of the building. An excellent teacher, is an excellent teacher, is an excellent teacher,” said Kirby.
Instead of focusing on specifics tied to a particular pedagogical style, the focus group found agreement on key best practices used by every great teacher and worked to build the tool around those. In some cases the group felt strongly that terms and practices tied to the previous Strategic Plan or previous administration should be stripped from the document all together. Other times, the group agreed that despite the potential stigma, the elements should be included.
“Some of those words were good before, but we’ve just been burnt with them. People would say, ‘don’t use voice and choice,’” explained Cresthill Middle School technology teacher Debora DeLong. "That, however, really is good teaching. Our new focus is valuing educators and helping them improve and feel good about their profession.”
While ultimately DCSD is required by state law to evaluate its teachers annually and to provide the results to the Colorado Department of Education, the CITE Focus Group felt that the focus of DCSD’s tool should be helping teachers to grow in their practice.
“We are shifting back to a growth mindset, where we are having conversations about what matters and most importantly how to be better for students,” explained Daniel C. Oakes High School Principal Derek Fleshman. “We have taken out much of the district lingo to make sure we are focused on what we truly value, things that matter. Things that great teachers are doing in their classroom every day.”
“The overarching goal is getting a document that speaks to what the craft of teaching entails,” explained Northridge Elementary School’s Assessment Coordinator Tawnya Houghton. “From an administrator’s standpoint they need something to have a conversation with teachers about what teachers are doing – what areas for growth and celebration of successes. From a teacher’s standpoint it is having a document that helps guide that growth and can be a launch pad for self-celebration of ‘yeah, this is what I do all the time’ or ‘this is really what I’m working towards.’”
The teachers and administrators in the focus group believe the changes will inspire better conversations throughout the entire year, focused on what is going well and where individuals can improve.
“The document itself has to be really strong so that those conversations can happen,” Houghton added. “Our overarching goal is to get some of the ambiguity away and get it really clearly defined of what does this mean and how does it represent how what we spend time doing as teachers.”
“We really want to focus more on those conversations on growth between an administrator and a teacher, no matter what their teaching style,” Delong said. “We have developed something that is really about the growth of teachers and students. That is exciting.”
“It should be a growth model that really allows a teacher to say, ‘you know what, that is an area that I know I have a hard time. I know I haven’t gotten enough professional development or coaching’ or ‘here are some other areas where I really knock it out of the park and I do really well,’" Kirby said. “It shouldn’t be, ‘I’m just partially effective.’ The rubric should really help define what those next steps could look like.”
Teachers suggest new ratings system
Since the launch of the CITE, that rating system – which labels teachers as highly effective, effective, partially effective or ineffective – has been a ever present point of contention.
If the CITE Focus Group’s recommendations are approved by the Board of Education, those terms will be dropped, in favor of the number system that we already use to report our information to the state. While a small change, the members of the committee say the previous terms often had an impact on how teachers saw themselves.
“Personally, if I was labeled partially effective it would be hard not to take it personally based on the wording. With a numbering system, I think that it's more transparent about how it adds up and how you get your final rating,” said Sierra Middle School Administrative Dean Brett Michel.
“We decided, instead of wasting time on names and things that don’t matter as much – let’s just call it what we report it to the state,” Fleshman added.
“We are not trying to put generic labels on anyone. I don’t want anyone to think that by having partially effective or transitioning or whatever you call it for any of these elements – that they weren’t doing good work in that area. There just is room for improvement,” Michel said. “Quite honestly, I think that is why those terms continue to change. It is really hard to find proper words to refer to someone in their practice.”
While the group opted against moving to the state’s evaluation tool wholesale, it did find some ideas worth incorporating into CITE.
“We have taken some of the ideas from the state model and that is what I really enjoy about the flexibility that Douglas County has given us. We can pick and choose what we think will be best for our system,” Fleshman said. “We are adopting a modified ‘and’ model that the state uses. Instead of being deficit based where it is proved that I am not highly effective or innovative, now we are having conversations about strengths and areas of growth. That is pretty exciting from someone who evaluates people. It is truly turning into a growth tool.”
Perfection is not the goal
While the members of the CITE Focus Group believe the changes suggested this year will make a big difference for teachers, they are keeping realistic expectations.
“Instead of going for perfection, we are going for a tool that really works for teacher improvement and something that we can use and something that reflects great teaching,” Michel said.
With the knowledge that the new version of CITE is being built by teachers and principals, they hope that DCSD educators will give it a chance.
“Until now CITE has been viewed as something that happened to us from the top down and it didn’t necessarily value what we as educators value within our classroom,” Fleshman said. “I think Erin [Kane] has done a great job of coming in and empowering the group to make the changes to make the tool better. I truly hope that this is something that the staff of Douglas County sees. We really are a group of stakeholders trying to make the tool better.”
“Please don’t disregard the amount of work and intention behind the time we’ve spent, because there are several people on this committee that are not from Douglas County originally,” Houghton said. “I would challenge people to look at this with fresh eyes and consider the intention behind it.”
The recommendations will be presented to the Board of Education this summer.