A bill that could have eliminated Colorado’s requirement that teachers be evaluated by how well their students fare on standardized tests was shot down Thursday.
The state’s Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 against SB 16-105. The no votes included two Republican members of the committee who originally signed on as co-sponsors — Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Marble, and Sen. Laura Woods, R-Thornton.
SB 16-105 would have shed a requirement that half of a teacher’s evaluation be determined by student improvement on standardized tests, but districts could use test scores to count for up to 20 percent of each teacher’s evaluation.
Colorado switched to Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests in 2015, now taken by all public school students, including charter school pupils. No state testing growth data is being used to evaluate teachers this year because of the change. Instead, districts are using locally chosen measures.
The legislation’s primary sponsor — Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs — introduced a similar bill last year, but it also never got out of the Senate Education Committee. A retired music teacher, Merrifield served four terms in the Colorado House, including chairing the House Education Committee.
Merrifield did not respond to requests for comment, but he has cited research critical of the practice of using test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. He said other factors, such as class size, instructional time and teachers in earlier grades are more important factors.
“This is not a valid method to evaluate teachers,” Merrifield told his fellow committee members Thursday. “We are not doing away with teacher evaluation. We are trying to change it so it is more fair and useful.”
Luke Ragland, vice president of policy at Colorado Succeeds, a nonpartisan coalition of business leaders dedicated to improving the state’s education system, told Watchdog.org that his group was “strongly opposed” to the legislation and “will be working hard to ensure we don’t rollback the sensible reforms in SB-191.”
SB 10-191, passed in 2010, is the law that created the current teacher evaluation system.
In remarks to the committee Thursday, Ragland said top-performing teachers, “as measured by objective measures of student growth,” are proven to have a major impact on students’ academic performance.
He said eliminating that provision is a bad idea.
“The resulting system would take us back to a time when a teacher’s effectiveness — the most important factor for student achievement — was not measured, recorded or used to inform decision-making in any meaningful way.”
Ragland noted that a state study last year found that Colorado districts rated their educators very highly when objective measures of student growth were not used. The 26 districts that participated in the study rated 97 percent of teachers and 95 percent of principals as meeting or exceeding standards. Because SB 10-191 hasn’t yet been fully implemented there is no baseline metric to which to compare that study.
Merrifield’s bill would also have allowed districts to exempt principals and teachers rated effective or highly effective from annual reviews. Those educators would have to be evaluated every three years.
Using test scores to measure teacher effectiveness is strongly opposed by most teachers and their unions. Data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics show the Colorado Education Association has given numerous contributions to the three Democratic senators on the committee who voted for the bill. Merrifield received $18,250 from 2000-14, Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, got $14,975 from 2004-12 and Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, received $20,175 from 2006-14.