Future of Teaching

Evaluations for the rest of the workforce

As Colorado school districts get ready to roll out new evaluation methods for principals and teachers next year, the Department of Education is starting to put the details on a system for evaluating nearly 5,000 other school professionals.

Teacher evaluationThat system needs to have some unique attributes, according to the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, which made recommendations to the State Board of Education last week.

The state’s landmark 2010 educator effectiveness law requires annual evaluations for “all licensed personnel.” The State Board of Education adopted rules for the principal and teacher evaluation system in November 2011, but those regulations didn’t cover school counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and various kinds of therapists.

The council, an appointed body that has developed the recommendations for implementing the evaluation system, undertook a separate study of how to rate what it calls “specialized service professionals” (SSPs).

Specialized service professionals
  • Audiologists (61)
  • Counselors (1,617)
  • Nurses (357)
  • Occupational therapists (383)
  • Orientation and mobility specialists (42)
  • Physical therapists (79)
  • Psychologists (738)
  • Social workers (461)
  • Speech and language pathologists (1,065)

Numbers in parenthesis show how many professionals are working in schools. 4,803 total.

While the council’s recommendations mirror the system for principals and teachers in significant ways, there are three important differences.

• The council recommends that outside professionals be periodically involved in the evaluation of SSPs. The theory here is that a typical school principal may not have the expertise to know if, for instance, an audiologist is administering hearing tests properly. The council’s report also notes that many specialized professionals work in multiple schools and even in multiple districts, meaning they work with more than one principal.

Professional evaluators should be used in the first three years of practice, when loss of non-probationary status is possible, or at least every three years, the council recommends.

• While the evaluation law requires 50 percent of principal and teacher evaluations be based on student academic growth, the council is recommending that standard not be applied to all specialized professionals, given their distance from the classroom. Rather, those staff should be evaluated on what the council calls “student outcomes.” As an example, for counselors, student outcomes might include reduction in school absentee rates and increased graduation rates. (See and expanded list of possible outcomes below.)

• Finally, the council warned that such a system won’t work without appropriate funding. “Recruiting and training appropriate professional experts will require resources and funding,” the council’s report says. “The council recommends that sufficient funding be appropriated to CDE to ensure the quality implementation of this recommendation. This funding should include short-term funding to establish the required infrastructure and longer-term funding for sustainability.”

Aime Baca-Oehlert, a counselor who serves on the council, was more succinct in her comments to the state board: “If it’s not funded, it’s not going to happen.”

The council’s recommendations for specialized professionals include the same four-step rating system as for principals and teachers – highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective. The proposal also follows the same format of using six quality standards to evaluate an educator’s “professional practices.”

The council also recommends that the state develop a model system that districts and boards of cooperative education services could use to evaluate specialized professionals. If districts chose to develop their own systems they would have to meet minimum state standards. (That same option exists with the overall evaluation system.)

The next step in the process is drafting of proposed regulations by Department of Education staff. Those will have to be approved by the state board. The council’s recommendations suggest pilot testing of evaluations in selected districts next year, followed by a statewide rollout in 2014-15. The first “real” year of the system would be 2015-16, when ratings of ineffective or partially effective could count against an educator’s non-probationary status.

The evaluation law says that educators can lose non-probationary status – “tenure” is the shorthand term – after two consecutive ratings of ineffective or partially effective.

What are student outcomes?

Here are examples of student outcomes that could be attributed to SSPs, depending on their duties.


  • Increased student access to auditory learning
  • Increased stakeholder implementation of accommodations
  • Increased usage of hearing assistance technology


  • Reduction in school absentee rates
  • Increased graduation rates
  • Reduced incidents of bullying


  • Reduced absenteeism due to health issues
  • Improved immunization compliance
  • Effective chronic disease management

Occupational Therapists

  • Student goals on the IEP related to independence in self-care skills met
  • Increased engagement and participation in targeted classroom activity

Orientation and mobility specialists

  • Improved student functional mobility
  • Improved spatial awareness
  • Improved attending behaviors and auditory abilities

Physical Therapists

  • Student goals on the individualized education plan (IEP) related to functional mobility in the educational environment met
  • Removal of barriers in the educational environment to increase student access


  • Improved mental health outcomes for treated students
  • Behavior goals met on IEPs
  • Improved school climate

Social Workers

  • Decrease in discipline referral rates
  • Number of parents attending parent groups and trainings
  • Increased grades for students in caseload

Speech and Language Pathologists

  • Student academic growth in reading and writing
  • Improved student participation in class

List taken from “Report & Recommendations for the Evaluation of Specialized Service Professionals” by the state council

Proposed definition of effective practices for SSPs

“Effective specialized service professionals are vital members of the education team. They are properly credentialed and have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that diverse student populations have equitable access to academic instruction and participation in school-related activities. Effective specialized service professionals develop and/or implement evidence-based services or specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of their students. They support growth and development to close achievement gaps and prepare students for postsecondary and workforce success. They have a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of the home, school and community and collaborate with all members of the education team to strengthen those connections. Through reflection, advocacy, and leadership, they enhance the outcomes and development of their students.”

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “… I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “… We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

a closer look

Fact-check: Weighing 7 claims from Betsy DeVos’s latest speech, from Common Core to PISA scores

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In a speech Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made the case for giving up on the type of school improvement efforts favored by Presidents Obama and George W. Bush. In its place, she argued, the federal government should encourage tech-infused innovation and school choice.

Looking to weigh her claims? Here’s a closer look at a few.

1. DeVos: “The most recent Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, report, with which you are all familiar, has the U.S. ranked 23rd in reading, 25th in science and 40th in math. And, you know this too: it’s not for a lack of funding. The fact is the United States spends more per pupil than most other developed countries, many of which perform better than us in the same surveys.”

This stats are accurate, but may not be fair. The U.S. does spend more per pupil, in raw dollars, than most other countries. But international comparisons of these sorts are complicated, and American spending is similar to countries with similarly sized economies.

As we’ve written previously, it’s also misleading to say that more money wouldn’t help American schools. A number of studies have found precisely the opposite, including a recent one showing how cuts to schools during the Great Recession lowered student test scores and graduation rates.

2. DeVos appeared to refer to Common Core as “federal standards,” saying, “Federally mandated assessments. Federal money. Federal standards. All originated in Washington, and none solved the problem.”

That’s off the mark. As advocates for the Common Core never tire of pointing out, the creation of the standards was driven by state leaders through the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, with the support of several private organizations, most prominently the Gates Foundation. (Gates is a funder of Chalkbeat.) As DeVos notes earlier in the speech, he Obama administration did incentivize states to adopt the standards, though, and Secretary Arne Duncan was a vocal champion.

3. DeVos: “At the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.”

This is true, in a sense — the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed before DeVos became secretary, prohibits the federal government from pushing states to adopt specific standards. But DeVos doesn’t control what academic standards states adopt, and most states are still using use some version of the Common Core.

4. DeVos: “Throughout both initiatives, the result was a further damaged classroom dynamic between teacher and student, as the focus shifted from comprehension to test-passing. This sadly has taken root, with the American Federation of Teachers recently finding that 60 percent of its teachers reported having moderate to no influence over the content and skills taught in their own classrooms. Let that sink in. Most teachers feel they have little – if any — say in their own classrooms.”

The statistic DeVos pulled from this poll is accurate, though her framing may be more negative than the results suggest. It asked teachers to rate how much control they had over “setting content, topics, and skills to be taught.” The most common answer was “a great deal” (at about 40 percent of teachers), and another 30 percent or so chose moderate control. Twenty percent said minor, and only 10 percent said they had no control.

5. DeVos: “To a casual observer, a classroom today looks scarcely different than what one looked like when I entered the public policy debate thirty years ago. Worse, most classrooms today look remarkably similar to those of 1938 when AEI was founded.”

This statement is misleading but has a grain of truth. We examined a similar claim when the TV program produced by the XQ prize argued that schools haven’t changed in 100 years. In short, DeVos is right that many basic trappings of school — a building, a teacher at the front of the class, a focus on math, reading, science, and social studies — have remained consistent. But this glosses over some substantial changes since 1938: the end of legally mandated race-based segregation, the rise of standards for special education students, and the expanded use of testing, among others.

6. DeVos: “While we’ve changed some aspects of education, the results we all work for and desire haven’t been achieved. The bottom line is simple: federal education reform efforts have not worked as hoped.”

This is a big assertion, and it’s always tricky to judge whether something in education “worked.” As DeVos pointed out, a federal study showed the federal school turnaround program didn’t help students. She also highlighted relatively flat international test scores, and others have pointed to flat national scores in recent years.

That said, there were substantial gains in math in fourth and eighth grade, particularly in the early 2000s.

But raw trend data like this can’t isolate the effects of specific policies, particularly when other unrelated changes — like the Great Recession — can also make a big difference. Studies on No Child Left Behind have shown positive results in math, but little or no effect in reading. An analysis of Race to the Top was inconclusive.

One bright spot: a program that paid performance bonuses through the federal Teacher Incentive Fund led to small test score bumps, according to a recent study by DeVos’s Department of Education.

7. In response to a question about school performance in Detroit, DeVos said she shouldn’t be credited — or blamed — for the results in the city. “You’re giving me a whole lot of credit to suggest that whatever happened in Detroit was as a result of what I did,” she said. “We have been long-term supporters of continued reform and choice in Michigan.”

This one is up for debate, though it’s clear DeVos has long been a major player in Detroit’s education scene. She has supported charter schools, which educate about half the public school students in that city, and been a major donor to Republican politicians and causes in the state. She started an influential advocacy group in the state called Great Lakes Education Project.

She was also a key opponent of a commission that would more tightly oversee Detroit charter schools, which ultimately failed amid GOP opposition. It’s clear she has had an impact in the city, but that doesn’t mean she’s gotten everything she’s wanted: in 2000, Michigan voters rejected a DeVos-funded effort to fund vouchers for private schools. She also hasn’t gotten her wish that Detroit have a traditional school district eliminated entirely.