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CHAOS:  Chapter One

What does it mean to be consumed by bureaucracy?  

     Colorado schoolteachers have been finding out for nearly a decade.  Their professional lives are controlled by policies that are not only cumbersome, but deceptive as well.  People outside the field do not understand the many layers behind what goes on inside our schools.  Indeed, most of their information comes from political soundbites, yearly feel-good speeches from principals, and lobbyists for new taxation initiatives.  They have no idea what it means when someone touts the terms Best Practices, Proficiency Scales, or Research-based.  Okay, so they have some idea, but they don’t understand how these concepts have become doublespeak [1]

    The paradigm of education has shifted over the last decade.  In Colorado, it means documentation has eclipsed teaching as the mainstay in a teacher’s career, as mandated by the Colorado legislature.  Of course, this is not what the legislature intended, by any means.  It is what happens, however, when humans are given a directive that is impossible to implement as hoped for.  Here is the mandate, as described on the Colorado Department of Education's (CDE’s) own website:

 

“Senate Bill 10-191 changes the way all educators (principals/assistant principals, teachers, and special service providers) will be evaluated in Colorado with the ultimate goal of continuously supporting educators’ professional growth and,

n turn, accelerating student results.

The new evaluation requirements include opportunities for reflection, review, professional development and growth. SB 10-191 requirements include:

*  Annual evaluation for all principals/assistant principals, teachers and special service providers.

*  Evaluation based on statewide Quality Standards defining what it means to be an effective teacher, principal/assistant principal or *special service provider; the professional practice Quality Standards account for half of an educator’s annual evaluation

*  Non-probationary status is earned after three consecutive years of demonstrating effectiveness

*  Non-probationary status is lost after two consecutive years of less than effective ratings.[2]

 

    Paying teachers for their performance might sound like a good idea, because what teachers do is important to the development of future generations of citizens.  We all know that. Most of us also suspect there are quite a few teachers who are just skating by. This is likely because we have experienced one or more of them ourselves. 

     Pay-for-performance, however, is a slippery slope, with unintended consequences.  Some of those consequences might appear beneficial, but the reality is that all of them are flawed, potentially to the point of fraud.

 

The new reality we are faced with, as teachers, is that it is more important to talk strategically about teaching than to teach.

 

    Teachers are rewarded, monumentally, for completing two activities:  collecting data and documenting instruction. In fact, the more a teacher documents her classroom activities, the more likely it is that a principal will give her that favorable review. 

    In the spring of 2017, I took my evaluator up on his invitation to provide documented evidence that would refute any rating on his final evaluation of me. (He provided this opportunity to all his teachers.) Looking back through my digital notes, I found the evidence I needed and submitted it.  He did change his marks from ‘proficient’ to ‘highly proficient’ on three indicators and I was grateful.  He had no idea, however, when I had completed that documentation or if it represented anything that had really happened; for all he knew, I could have looked at his preliminary findings, determined what might change his mind, and added notes to my year-long handwritten plan book, a document that is considered to have legal merit.  (That is not what I did; the point is that he couldn’t have known that.)

    Our schools have become havens for multi-level bureaucracies, and our teachers are now saddled with pointless and redundant requirements in their jobs.   

    How did we get here?   It’s been an amazingly short journey, traveled in purposeful stages over only a few years.  Once the directive was issued via legislation, school districts jumped into overdrive and the changes began their rollout in the fall of 2012.

 

     Our current path began with the idea of growth.  As teachers, we all agree that growth is essential.  If we’re not growing, we’re stagnating.  The focus on studying growth as a strategy to meet student need did not ring alarm bells for many of us at first.   We teachers had been studying growth in Colorado Student Assessment Program [3] scores since its inception in 2001.  We used the information to adjust our teaching strategies, informally, because that’s what teachers do. 

 

By 2012, analyzing growth in standardized test scores had turned into

tracking growth in our own classrooms.

 

    We were informed that the growth in our students’ knowledge is so important it eclipses their actual test performance.  Furthermore, because it is not possible or fair to rate every teacher on the growth of CSAP scores,[4] a system that could be doable by every teacher had to be developed.[5]

    The new evaluation protocol required us to create skills-oriented goals for our students and track their growth using whatever metric we desired. At the end of the year, we would report this growth to the district’s online system.  It became clear after the first year of this exercise that the growth we tracked wouldn’t need to be verified by anyone other than ourselves.

   

    In 2013, I began to wonder what might happen if the concept of rewarding growth were taken to the extreme.   Investigating the requirements of SB 10-191 on the CDE’s website, I discovered that it was not only a performance mandate for teachers but for principals as well.  Not only were teachers evaluated annually on their students’ growth, but principals were evaluated on both their schools and teachers.  That was my ah ha moment.

Were principals creating goals for their teachers like those we made for our students? 

Were my colleagues and I the unwitting participants in another person’s own growth goals?

   

    Our principal had shared the new evaluation rubric with us; we knew that part of our evaluation pie was labeled School Growth.  We were told it represented an aggregate of CSAP scores plus how our school faired on its Unified Improvement Plan (UIP).  Only the principal understood what that plan entailed or how success was measured.  I had to wonder what her evaluation rubric looked like.

I knew a teacher’s data could be suspect; it was not difficult to imagine a similar scenario for our administrators. The new reality that we were introduced to in 2012 became the new normal in our careers.  Teachers were consumed with the protocols required to receive a favorable evaluation to the extent that our students necessarily moved to the periphery of our efforts.  This became the elephant in the living room that no one addressed, ever. 

Notes:

[1] Doublespeak:  deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language.  The term is a hybrid of two terms made up by George Orwell in his book 1984, “doublethink” and “newspeak”.

[2] SB 10-191: Senate Bill 10-191, The Educator Effectiveness Act

[3] Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP): Colorado’s state standardized test (2001-2011); completed in March each year.

[4] Not all students took the CSAP.  Only those in grades 3 – 7 and 10 did.

[5] There is more to it than that, of course;  the unions had resisted paying teachers according to test scores for decades.

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