CEA convenes educator ESSA Summit

ESSA room releaseThe Colorado Education Association led a gathering of more than 230 educators, June 17, exploring how to give our students the schools they deserve through state implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. They discussed the intersection of school accountability, standardized assessments, educator evaluations, professional learning and funding at the new crossroads provided by ESSA, the new federal education law signed in December.

“We are here today to envision what public education in Colorado might look like in the future, and to strategize on how to improve our state plan so we improve educational opportunities for our students,” said CEA Executive Director Brad Bartels in opening comments to a group filling the Aurora Public Schools Professional Learning and Conference Center to max capacity.

The ‎ESSA Summit brought district teams together from across Colorado that included CEA-member teachers and school support staff, administrative members of the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) and school board members of the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB). The Public Education & Business Coalition (PEBC), Colorado Education Initiative (CEI), Colorado Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and Colorado Rural Schools Alliance were crucial partners in successfully convening the summit.

“The people who should be close to the conversation, who should be at the center of the circle for ESSA, are those people doing the work in schools and districts. And those are the people who are here today,” said Bruce Caughey, CASE’s executive director.

The summit began with a detailed ESSA overview from Augustus Mays, the director of government relations for WestEd, a San Francisco nonpartisan, nonprofit agency focused on education research, development and service. “The Every Student Succeeds Act provides a tremendous opportunity for the State of Colorado to rethink and refine your education system. I see this meeting as a first step in envisioning what Colorado wants to do around standards, around funding, around your school improvement system that you have in place, map out what that is going to look like and design it in a way that is meaningful to Coloradans and the students you serve,” said Mays.

Discussion panels and group conversations then led participants to describe their goals for students under ESSA. Reimagining accountability in fresh ways was at the top of the priority list for many in the room. “I’ve heard a lot about moving away from a punitive system and more into a system of support that doesn’t punish districts, teachers and students,” said CEA Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert, part of a reporting group who talked through recommendations at the end of the day. “We need to use our collective voice to give feedback in the rule-making process, creating a system of supports versus remaining in this negative, punitive system of consequences.”

Kerrie releaseStandardized testing was another hot topic for discussion, both in looking for test reductions in ESSA and in dealing with the federal requirement for 95% student participation in state assessments, a carry-over in ESSA from the previous No Child Left Behind education law. “We can’t continue to penalize our schools, our districts and our teachers for an informed choice a parent is making to opt their children out,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman in a discussion panel.

Group consensus favored reviewing current assessments to better define their purpose in improving educational outcomes for students, perhaps using some formative and interim assessments to meet state requirements. The majority wanted to see more local control in the educator evaluation system, letting districts decide the extent to use test scores and other classroom data to determine the effectiveness of a teacher or principal (the state currently mandates ‘student growth’ as 50% of the evaluation criteria) and relaxing the annual evaluation requirement for educators with top ratings. Many participants also advocated against the current one-size-fits-all accountability system that doesn’t account for differences in educating children in small, rural districts, and that continues to label schools as ‘failing’ even when students are making significant progress.

Many recommendations appeared counter to state education reforms already passed, but Dallman cautioned her fellow education leaders against being discouraged by current laws, rules and regulations that would seemingly limit ESSA opportunities. “I want to encourage you to think outside that box as you meaningfully consult with others on ESSA. We are going to move forward and push on changes to state legislation and to state board rules and regulations. We’ve already lost if we can’t think outside those limitations to what we know will absolutely benefit our students and help school staff feel more supported.”

A distinguished group of summit guests listened in throughout the day to the dialogue, including Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and members of the Colorado Legislature and State Board of Education. The Colorado Department of Education had many staff members in attendance to hear the ESSA discussions. “CDE are listeners today,” said Interim Commissioner Dr. Katy Anthes during her remarks to the group. “We have a lot of different ways you can engage and give us feedback. We are staffing the writing of the (state’s ESSA) plan, but we are staffing you to help us.”

Brad releaseCEA’s Bartels concluded the summit served as the ‘vision day’ to help the CDE understand what school districts and students need under ESSA to succeed. “The power that we have to affect our state plan is basically built into the groups that you’re sitting in. We are all going to have an opportunity to have input on exactly what this state plan looks like.”

Ken Delay, CASB’s executive director, said summit input will be very helpful in developing joint positions with the other associations on ESSA rules and regulations to take up with the State Board and in the General Assembly when legislators take up ESSA implementation in January. “If you haven’t been there, you can’t appreciate how much power there is in the Colorado Legislature when CASE, CEA and CASB all show up and say the same thing. It’s a big deal.”

CASE’s Caughey agreed. “If we don’t say the same thing in deciding the direction we want to go, who decides? So let’s decide where we want to go. Let’s be clear and let’s be resolute in terms of the things that really matter. Let’s find those four or five things we want and make sure when the political machine gets rolling again, that we’re on the same page and we make the differences we need to make for Colorado.”

States must submit their ESSA plans to the U.S. Department of Education between March and July, 2017, with the law going into effect for the 2017-18 school year. Public ESSA resources pages are available on the websites of the National Education Association and the Colorado Department of Education.


The real issues with standardized testing

The following article was written by Russ Brown, a high school teacher at Poudre High in Fort Collins and member of the Poudre Education Association, and submitted to CEA’s Pathways to Achievement blog by the author.

Russ Brown

Russ Brown

Standardized testing.  The words send shivers down the spines of numerous professional educators and create dread in the hearts of students across the United States.  Recently, there have been stories of teachers leaving the profession due to the heavy emphasis on standardized or out-and-out refusing to administer the tests to their students even if it means they will be fired.  Yet, the question of why the US has this obsession with standardized testing remains a largely unexplored topic.

Superficial answers

Many will point to the federal mandates of “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” as the source of the standardized testing mania.  Yet, this still does not address why these policies heavily emphasized standard testing.  Others will declare that the need for standardized rests of the poor performance of US students on international examinations.  However, nations such as Finland have achieved high results without emphasizing standardized testing so the answer must be deeper.

A flawed philosophy

When someone really looks deeply into the standardized testing mania, a deeply flawed philosophy (or world view) emerges.  The foundation for the push for standardized testing, whether the proponents recognize it or not, comes from a view that students are products of the educational system.  In the students-as-products view, testing (just like with any assembly-line product) is necessary to ensure the quality of the product.  Teachers are semi-skilled workers whose job performance can be measured by their students’ performance on standardized testing.  The reason this is flawed is that students have no responsibility for or any ownership over their own education.  This explains why those teachers who care deeply are speaking out against the emphasis on standardized testing.


Some people will counter that students are not products of the education system by proclaiming that they are, instead, consumers.  In this philosophy, students (along with their parents) are catered to by the education system.  The market place will select those schools that are successful from those which fail the students.  In this marketing standardized testing plays a major role but, in the case of students-as-consumers, the use of standardized testing is to assist the consumers in finding the “best” schools (i.e. the ones with the highest test scores).  However, the consumer motif suffers from many of the same flaws as the student-as-product view.  In both views, students have no control over their education.  They also have no responsibility for their education; if something goes wrong it has to be the teacher’s fault.  After all, the customer is always right, which can be a dicey proposition especially if that consumer is a thirteen-year-old.

A better view

Rather than viewing students as products or consumers, a better way to look at them is to consider students-as-clients of the education system.  In the client view, students have control and responsibility for their education.  This view is consistent with other professional service occupations, such as physicians, attorneys, nurses, and mental health professionals.  For example, if a doctor tells his client (patient) to reduce the use of salt or risk having an unsafe blood pressure level then we cannot hold the doctor accountable if the patient willfully ignores the course of treatment.  Likewise, if students willfully ignore, or even sabotage, the attempts of a teacher then it is dubious policy to hold the teacher solely responsible for those students’ behavior.

The relationship of the student-as-client view to standardized testing is an interesting one.  There is an assumption that students are always trying to do their best on the standardized test.  Yet, having graded AP US Government exams for College Board, I came across dozens of answer booklets that were completely blank with no attempt at an answer given.  If these students, who had the possibility to earn college credit as an incentive, put forth less than their best effort it is reasonable to expect that on other lower stakes tests, such as the PISA, students are not trying to perform at their best levels.  Only the student-as-client view allows for the reality that students do not always try their best on standardized tests.

In addition, not only do students have responsibility for their education, but they should have ownership over it.  However, it is quite difficult for students to have any sense of ownership when the curriculum is being dictated by a standardized test (or series of tests) over which the students, along with their teachers and parents, have no control over.  Simply put, there is a severely limited role for standardized testing when accepting that students are clients.  This means that standardized testing cannot be a driver when seeking to make improvements to the education system.


The reliance on standardized testing as a driver of reform is akin to a contractor building a house without doing a soil test.  The house of reform will fail until policy makers, the media, and the public at large recognize that the soil around the house is the view that students are not products or consumers, but rather clients of the education system.  Only then, will the misguided mania of standardized testing be brought under control and we can move towards a system that will better meet our children’s needs in the 21st century.

Evaluating beyond teachers: CEA leads counselor evaluation training in Durango

School counselors are vital members of the education team. They help all students with academic achievement, personal/social growth and career development, ensuring today’s students become productive, well-adjusted adults of tomorrow. However, not all school counselors in Colorado have had a direct connection with their districts in navigating the state’s new educator effectiveness evaluation system.

The new evaluation system went into effect for all teachers and principals in the 2014-15 school year, so the first focus of districts was to prepare teachers and administrators for the change. This left a training gap for school counselors and other Specialized Service Professionals (SSP) to understand and thrive in the new evaluation environment. The Colorado Education Association advocates for all categories of licensed personnel, so it teamed up with Durango School District 9-R to deliver critical training for school counselors in the surrounding region, offering a training program that can be replicated in other districts.

Amie in DurangoCEA and the district hosted training for area counselors, Dec. 9, in conjunction with the Durango Education Association, the Colorado Department of Education, and San Juan BOCES. The all-day session, called Operationalizing Professional Practices for Counselors, was designed to help school counselors and their evaluators understand what to look for during observations that greatly inform an evaluation. The goals of the training were to:

  • understand the SSP state model system;
  • develop “look-fors” to help evaluators provide a fair, credible, and rigorous evaluation based on professional growth; and
  • understand the process for developing and using measures of student outcomes.

To fully understand the importance of understanding professional practices, the groups divided by grade level to identify specific practices for evaluators. Using the evaluation rubrics, the evaluators defined the “look-fors” during professional practice observations.

“This training helped me get a better view of a clear path around evaluation and my role as a counselor. Counselors need time together to understand the standards, curriculum and connections to our professional practice in the rubrics,” said Durango EA member Sallie Kautter, a counselor at Needham Elementary.

Linda Barker, CEA’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Dr. Jean Williams and Courtney Cabrera from CDE led the participants through several activities to understand the Colorado State Model Educator Evaluation System and highlighted the differences between the evaluation process for counselors vs. teachers.

CEA Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert, herself a high school counselor and member of the State Council on Educator Effectiveness, explained how the counselor rubric was developed. “The counselor rubric is one of nine Specialized Service Professionals rubrics developed by the Council in collaboration with practitioner work groups. Our work involved connecting the practices of the rubrics with the real roles and responsibilities of each category of SSP.

“The rubric was designed not only to be a component of the evaluation of school counselors, but also to be used as a tool to elevate the profession,” she added.

Linda in DurangoCEA will post the counselors “look-fors” from the Durango session on its website once finalized from all the groups’ work.

“This training gave us an opportunity to network with counselors from the surrounding districts to learn about the tools we can use to improve our practice,” said Susie Robertson, a counselor at Sunnyside Elementary and Durango EA member. “It was great hearing from counselors from other districts and how our roles are different based on our school environments.”

CEA has the quality standards for SSP on its website and, in partnership with Cherry Creek EA, has created examples of artifacts that may be used as evidence by members to support their practice in evaluations. SSP are encouraged to download and reference the documents to know the standards and demonstrate mastery of and pedagogical expertise in their content area.

Teacher liaisons provide communication safety net for evaluation system

Colorado’s new educator effectiveness evaluation system began in pilot programs for some teachers in the 2012-13 school year. One realization became clear as the selected districts put the ideals of a new law into practice – educator effectiveness requires a serious amount of time for thoughtful, successful implementation.

Integration liaison Cathy Epps (seated front center) at CEA Theory into Practice training.

Integration liaison Cathy Epps (seated front center) at CEA’s “Theory into Practice” training in Durango.

“Superintendents were saying, ‘We need help with this implementation.’ Everyone in this profession is pulled in many directions, and the evaluation work wasn’t getting completed,” said Cathy Epps, a veteran teacher who left the classroom to solely devote her time to the success of the evaluation system. “My job is to focus just on educator effectiveness, and it is a full-time job to do that and to support teachers.”

Epps is one of 18 teachers across the state serving as an ‘integration liaison’ in the pilot districts. Along with Jim Parr, fellow teacher and Education Association of Cortez member, they provide information and answer queries on the evaluation system for educators in the four southwest school districts of Montezuma-Cortez, Mancos, Delores and Delores County. They talked about their role at CEA’s “Theory into Practice” training for educators in Durango.

Jim Parr, right, during the CEA educator training session.

Jim Parr, right, during the CEA educator training session.

“I like to think that we bring a little bit of sanity to the situation,” said Parr. “People get overwhelmed. There is a long laundry list of initiatives, mandates and actions that are taking place in education in Colorado right now. If it weren’t for positions like we have, evaluations would be ignored until the last minute.”

“The communication piece wasn’t happening as strongly as it needed to, communicating what’s going on down to the classroom,” said Epps. “There’s so much going on in a school system. We’re in the middle. We’re not in charge of anybody – we’re more of a safety net for real communication. We get information sometimes before administration and other people do, and we share that out.”

Integration liaisons have lessened the anxiety of teachers feeling their way through the new evaluation reality, according to Epps. Teachers can take their questions and concerns to a fellow teacher who has the time and resources to work their issues.

“We’re also seasoned teachers. We’ve been in this for a long time, so we understand. We’re a safety net for asking questions, and we have the resources to get those answers,” Epps added.

In Durango School District 9-R, Durango EA members Dave McKeever and Jeb Holt serve as the integration liaisons. They spread the understanding that administration and teachers are on the same team.

“We really need to work together to get this done and to make a change,” said McKeever. “Communication of a consistent message that we are all on the same team is huge right now.”

McKeever also tries to connect ‘overwhelmed educators’ with each other across all levels, finding they weren’t always talking to each other as the evaluation system rolled out.

“I was surprised how disconnected schools are, even within a district. It’s not because the district is dysfunctional. But the educator effectiveness system is so complicated, you need more people on the same team that can work together, share ideas and help each other out,” McKeever noted. “Communication seems such a struggle, and I have felt rewarded by helping in that.”

Parr, Epps and McKeever talk about the integration liaison role with CEA Journal during a session break.

Parr, Epps and McKeever talk about the integration liaison role with CEA Journal during a session break.

The region’s integration liaisons also finished their first cycle of a peer coaching system, an important practice critical to successful teaching evaluations. In this system, teachers step out of their classrooms to observe another teacher and reflect on teaching practice together.

“The reflections of the teachers that were involved said it was by far the best professional development they’d ever had,” Epps said. “They had never learned more than by working with a colleague in their profession to develop better practices. It’s powerful to be able to implement a peer coaching system into our classrooms.”

“For our four districts, we didn’t have a lot of opportunities for professional growth in place prior to this,” observed Parr. “We didn’t have individualized professional development where teachers felt they were getting the most out of training. When we come forward and offer peer coaching, we’re bringing water to thirsty people. It’s been very well received and appreciated.”

The liaisons agree teachers have had a strong voice in developing the state’s educator effectiveness evaluation system. Teachers are leading the evaluation process in these school districts, which Epps calls an ‘exciting shift’ validating a larger ideal that teachers need to be viewed as the experts in the education field.

“The superintendents we work with really value teachers and what they’re doing. They listen to us, they trust us and say, ‘Okay, you’re speaking for all those teachers. Tell us what’s right and where to go to with this.’ I feel teachers’ voice is being heard in a really positive way more than ever before,” Epps concluded.

“For those people who will step up and participate, they do make a difference,” McKeever agreed. “The teacher voice is heard and it’s used, especially in the current administration and the culture we have now.”

The integration liaisons see their role in supporting teachers and administration continuing and growing into an embedded part of the evaluation system. They are rewarded by contributing to an overall state education system that is on the cusp of dramatic change.

“We are reshaping what education looks like, at least in our little corner of the world,” said Parr. “We put our teachers and our students first so we can have some meaningful results and outcomes, and watch our kids go onto better things when they leave us.”

Aurora teaching leaders expand knowledge of educator effectiveness, quality standards

LindaFBAs Linda Barker talks to members in this first statewide year of the Colorado State Model Evaluation System, the director of CEA’s Teaching and Learning Department is careful to define the purpose behind educator effectiveness, and not the purpose of the law that called for the system.

“Senate Bill 191 was just the law, it didn’t have the components in it,” Barker told a group of about 70 Association Representatives in the Aurora Education Association during a training session in late August. “When SB 191 was passed, the headlines were all about getting rid of teachers, it was all negative. But the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, as they built the system, turned that around. They recognized this system has to be about a focus on continually improving practice for both teachers and principals, and for improving student learning.”

Barker explained the State Council has laid out an evaluation system for teachers and principals with three purposes:

  • Develop a multiple, fair, transparent, timely, rigorous and valid evaluation system,
  • Build a system of supports so all receive feedback to improve practice with associated professional development, and
  • Encourage the sharing of effective practices.

“This evaluation is a process, not a checklist,” Barker said. “If you have a building principal, coach or peer evaluator going into classrooms – check, check, check, check, check – that is not a priority in this system. It is the conversations between teachers and principals around practice that will provide an atmosphere of continuous improvement and learning.

“How many of you have had a walk-through where they went through your classroom and you had no idea what they were looking for?” Barker asked, with many members nodding in agreement. “That was the old system. Now when they come in your room to observe, you know exactly what they’re looking for – the Quality Standards.”

The Colorado Department of Education released a reference guide for the Colorado Teacher Quality Standards (on the CEA website) that “provide a common vision of great teaching and school leadership, and serve as the basis of educator evaluations as well as a tool for self-reflection, goal setting and ongoing professional growth.”

Teachers adhering to the Quality Standards:

  • Demonstrate mastery of and pedagogical expertise in the content they teach,
  • Establish a safe, inclusive and respectful learning environment for a diverse population of students,
  • Plan and deliver effective instruction and create an environment that facilitates learning for their students,
  • Reflect on their practice,
  • Demonstrate leadership, and
  • Take responsibility for student academic growth.LindaPW

Barker encouraged the group to involve their colleagues in developing a clear understanding of the elements, and to identify which standards or elements the whole school could work on together for professional growth.

One area that participants needed clarification around was if self-assessments had to be shared with their principal or evaluator. Some Aurora members said they were required to upload their self-assessments into an electronic data system.

“Self-assessments are a critical part of the evaluation system and should be completed by the end of the first month, but sharing with anyone else is an option that each individual has complete control over,” Linda explained. “The intent of the self-assessment is to provide a framework for reflection on past performance, both strengths and challenges, and set performance goals based on that reflection.”

Barker also challenged each AR to become the expert in their school on evaluations, first by understanding the key priorities of educator effectiveness set forth by the State Council:

  • A system where data informs decisions, but human judgment is still critical in a human profession,
  • A system about continuous improvement,
  • A system with meaningful and credible feedback,
  • A system that involves all stakeholders, and
  • A system that is aligned and supportive for educators.

“Is that how it feels right now?” Barker asked the Aurora group about being supported in this system. “Not yet, but our hope is in this hold-harmless evaluation year, you’ll start to see this system of support that is focused on your practice, student results, and a culture in every building of continuous improvement around teaching and learning.”

Changing the culture of our work

Principal Vanessa Fisher and teacher Brianne Dilley are working together at Sunnyside Elementary School in Durango to define their roles and responsibilities to improve teaching and student learning in Colorado’s new educator effectiveness evaluation system. 

Vanessa Fisher & Brianne Dilley

Vanessa Fisher & Brianne Dilley

“Already, with Vanessa coming in and observing, I’ve gotten some great feedback and new lessons I’ve tried because of her feedback,” said Dilley, a first grade teacher and Durango Education Association member in one of the evaluation system’s pilot districts, Durango 9-R.

“That’s making me a better teacher,” added Dilley. “That is the goal, to improve our practice  and our lessons to make them better and more engaging for those kids.”

The team from Sunnyside Elementary joined close to 400 hundred educators from Durango and regional communities at Fort Lewis College in January for a district training conference on teaching strategies called “Theory into Practice”, led by the Colorado Education Association. Teachers and administrators spent the day together in professional development examining instruction, standards, assessments, and evaluations that will be used to measure student learning and teaching effectiveness.

“Today is about putting all the pieces together to help our staff really connect and understand all of the initiatives and all of the state requirements that are going on right now,” said Fisher. “We have to have a shared vision so we can move forward together.”

Linda Barker

Linda Barker

“We’re changing the culture of our work,” said Linda Barker, CEA’s director of teaching and learning, in her opening remarks at the conference.  “All of us are  blurring the lines of what our roles are and  how we work together.  To me, that’s exciting.”

As one of the state’s leading trainers on Colorado’s educator effectiveness law, Barker told the audience the day was ‘monumental’ for an entire district to come together and talk about the teaching practices that make a difference for students. 

“When you go back to your classroom, you’ll have new questions, new thoughts, new assessments, and a new push to think about your practice,” Barker concluded.

Kyle Schumacher, superintendent of Telluride School District R-1, attended with a team of his educators to hear more about what teaching needs to look like and should look like moving forward in this century. 

“21st century skills are not just about technology.  It’s about learning strategies, learning styles, entrepreneurialism and creative thinking.  All of those things I’m excited to hear about” at the conference, said Schumacher.

Telluride performs well on state tests, but Schumacher recognizes the opportunities to grow beyond test scores and prepare students for the global economy. Schumacher said the new evaluation system gives teachers a great opportunity to be on the ground floor of this change and help guide how public education will look in the future.

 “It’s about ongoing professional development,” Schumacher said of educator evaluations. “My role is to help educators see this isn’t about ‘got’cha’, this isn’t about ‘you’re doing something wrong.’  It’s about taking what we’re doing and changing that to better align with the outcomes that we need our students to have.”

Jeff Schell, the president of the Durango School Board, also attended the training and agreed with Schumacher that his board is focused on a belief that “we have a great staff and we can make them even better.”

Schell added he was excited to take part in a training experience with CEA and his local, Durango Education Association.

“What we did today here wouldn’t have happened ten years ago,” Schell observed. “A lot of the adversarial relationships that were there in the past seem to be dissipating as we all recognize that we need to look at student achievement as part of an evaluation process.”

Diana Hill-Wright

Diana Hill-Wright

Diana Hill-Wright, a math and science teacher of 23 years and DEA member, also enjoyed the spirit of collaboration at the conference and seeing her Association move student learning forward with the leaders of Durango 9-R.

“I was thrilled to see the alignment of our teachers’ association supporting teachers for the good of children. To see my association take that on and help us through a new law and new mandates is amazing,” said Hill-Wright. “Being part of this association is huge for our learning curve and growing as a profession.”

NBC Education Nation starts in Denver tonight

NBC’s Education Nation and its annual focus on public education is right in our backyard. Channel 9 TV, an NBC affiliate, is the major partner in the events through April 20.

You can expect to hear a lot about Colorado’s education reforms of the last few years: the recent overhaul of the state’s academic content standards; CSAP-to-TCAP-to-New Assessment changes; the emphasis on literacy and grade-level reading at the Legislature; SB 191 and teacher evaluation; Innovation Schools in Denver. (Wonder if we’ll hear about our billion dollar shortfall in school funding?)

Tonight is the first big event, a Teacher Town Hall at the new Colorado History Center near the State Capitol in Denver. Many Association members will be there. Watch the Teacher Town Hall and participate in a live chat at EducationNation.com or watch the event on Denver Channel 20. It’s tonight from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Read about all the events this week at the Events section of Education Nation.