Expertise to action in Denver

Each new encounter with policymaking is showing us that people want to hear what teachers have to say. They respect our contributions as experts in our field –especially when they are solutions oriented.

By Jessica Keigan and Dana Nardello

One of the most exciting parts about working with expert teacher leaders is seeing their hard work and expertise appreciated. The Denver NMI team’s positive contribution to shaping and implementing teaching policies in Colorado attests to the importance of teacher voice in the policymaking process. I’ve asked two members of the Denver NMI team, Jessica Keigan and Dana Nardello, to share some of their recent involvement with the state legislation process. Jessica also spoke about her involvement during a special Rocky Mountain PBS roundtable held last Friday, where she represented her team with solutions-focused comments and compelling stories. –Barnett Berry

 

Here in the Mile High City, there has been a lot of buzz about Senate Bill 191, a law that calls for the creation and implementation of a new evaluation system for principals and teachers.

Among other things, the bill requires that half of a teacher’s evaluation be determined by student growth measures and that the other half — loosely labeled as “multiple measures” — include classroom observations by peers or administrators, goal attainment processes, or other similar tools.

But the tools used to assess teachers’ effectiveness on the basis of gains on a once-a-year standardized test are still pretty raw. As noted in a recent Congressional briefing, the grade-level standardized tests do not capture “teacher effects” when students are way below or above where they are supposed to be.  Some teachers teach a disproportionate share of second language learners or special needs students. Some teachers are part of teaching teams and it is difficult to determine who is most responsible. Some teachers work with students who get all kinds of help from afterschool and summer programs, but others do not.

As members of the Denver New Millennium Initiative, we knew it was important to be part of the conversation about the bill’s implementation. Since the release of our report “Making Teacher Evaluation Work: Voices from the Classroom,” various stakeholders have solicited our suggestions for specific and concrete suggestions. And last week, we had the fantastic opportunity to share our expertise at a state board public hearing.

The Process

This past May, the State Council on Educator Effectiveness (SCEE) began working to define what makes an educator effective, and since then it has made several recommendations to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). The council has drafted and revised rules and has encouraged general feedback through public hearings – an opportunity we decided to take advantage of.

After releasing our report, our team spent the summer months researching teacher effectiveness and various topics introduced in the drafted rules (e.g., comparability, assessment tools, state vs. local control). Deciding to focus on what we thought the state’s definition of “multiple measures” should be, we submitted a list of recommendations to the board. At the public hearing, NMI team members supplemented the list by sharing our classroom realities, e.g., how highly mobile students or a large number of second language learners who just entered our classes, could influence the accuracy of the test score evidence. We described how teachers can assemble a wide array of data on their students so we can figure out how to improve our teaching.

Why Do We Care?

As teachers, we want stronger teaching accountability systems. We want to reach beyond our classroom walls and influence the policies that drive the work we do each day. Conversations about education reform need to include perspectives of people who know what happens inside the classroom.  We have solutions, we have ideas, and we want to share them.

Our day-to-day experience allows us to anticipate pitfalls and envision successes in a way that wouldn’t be possible for most lawmakers. Because we believe we have the responsibility to be involved in education policy, we are continually searching for entry points, conversations, meetings, and committees that we can contribute our expertise to.

What We Learned

Classroom teachers often think they don’t know enough about policy, politics, or the legislative process. But the truth is that teachers hold the critical piece of the puzzle. Our stories from the classroom can corroborate expert suggestions or productively challenge them.

The great news is that we aren’t the only ones who think this.

Our team and two other teachers were the only teacher voices heard during the hearing, and we could tell that our input made an impact on the audience. After giving our testimony last week, a member of the SCEE cited our evidence specifically when discussing next steps with the board. We knew we were being listened to, and it was an exhilarating experience.

Each new encounter with policymaking is showing us that people want to hear what teachers have to say. They respect our contributions as experts in our field –especially when they are solutions oriented.

Next Steps

Last week we received tangible indication that our teacher voices are having a positive effect on policy. Witnessing such respect for teacher expertise makes us excited to continue contributing to this process.

The Denver NMI team will continue to review the commentary and drafts that stakeholders are submitting. The next public hearing is scheduled for October 5, and on that day we hope even more Denver NMI teachers will share personal evidence that will support our recommendations.

As always, we will continue to seek out opportunities to share our voices, in hopes that we can improve our profession and best serve our students, inside and outside the classroom.

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