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Weekend Reads: When the school-to-prison pipeline doesn't involve travel

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/13/2015 - 17:47
  • Some schools, especially in the South, have discipline codes that make them feel — and operate — a lot like prisons. (The Marshall Project)
  • Counterpoint: Tough, military-style discipline is falling out of favor in schools. But an English teacher says some students might need it. (The Atlantic)
  • From Bangladesh to Boston, look inside 15 classrooms from around the world. (Answer Sheet)
  • A North Carolina teacher says she switched to a charter school after 10 years because her district kept ending programs that worked. (Raleigh News & Observer)
  • A teacher says she's noticing more colleagues assigning ID numbers to their students and she doesn't know why. (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
  • A new coalition aims to "modernize" teaching. But its member groups can't agree on what that means. (Teacher Beat)
  • An argument against the acronyms and jargon that turn conversations about education into alphabet soup. (Hechinger Report)
  • A New Zealand educator outlines the project-oriented approach that he says is paying off in the schools where he works. (Real Clear Education)
  • The U.S. Department of Education's report on the impact of its Race to the Top grants omits discussion of downsides. (Politics K-12)
  • Chicago's teachers union appears to be inching toward a strike, although a "practice vote" wasn't as clear-cut as the union announced. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Charter school advocates and critics are united in the wake of a study showing that virtual charter schools don't help students. (Buzzfeed)
Categories: Urban School News

PARCC test scores set stage for more debate on Colorado education policies

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/13/2015 - 17:41

Underwhelming scores on Colorado’s first PARCC exams surprised few and hardened longstanding positions among both supporters and opponents of the new tests, setting the stage for another round of debates over academic standards, testing and accountability.

The results released Thursday only provided state-level data. The release of district- and school-level scores in December will provide a much deeper look at student performance.

Those results — and how parents, school districts and others respond to them — likely will influence how state legislators and other policymakers approach key education issues next spring.

“I think the bottom line is that until we have an assessment tool and standards parents have confidence in, we’re going to continue to see high levels of opt out and a high level of opposition from students, parents and teachers that these annual assessments are suspect,” said state Sen. Chris Holbert, a Republican from Parker and member of the Senate education committee.

This week’s release is a milestone in a multi-year effort to develop and enact tougher academic standards, introduce next-generation tests to see how students measure up, and use that data to evaluate teachers and school systems.

But those efforts have been circumvented by a lack of trust from vocal groups of families and teachers who believe the new standards and tests are eroding Colorado’s constitutionally protected local control of schools.

Concerns about data collection and usefulness of the tests also have been flashpoints.

Additionally, the state’s superintendents, especially those in rural Colorado, have pushed back on the system. They claim the state hasn’t properly funded its schools and want to be measured by more than just state tests.

To address some of those concerns, the General Assembly passed testing reform legislation that reduced the number of tests in high school and limited the use of data in school accreditation and teacher evaluations for a year.

“It’s very clear to me that lawmakers, the State Board of Education and the Colorado Department of Education are making a good-faith effort to understand and respond to the concerns of our larger community,” said Peter Hilts, the chief education officer of Falcon District 49 in Colorado Springs. “To me, that’s oxygen to re-establish credibility.”

But Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said she believes even more parents will raise concerns after they receive individual results for their students.

“I think parents, despite the warning that these results are just a baseline, they’ll look at the results and lose confidence in terms of whether this is a good test,” she said. “Parents will look at the results and weigh whether it gives them valuable information on their students versus what they hear from their students and teachers.”

Reilly Pharo Carter, executive director of Climb Higher Colorado, a coalition of education advocacy groups, said while some parents might not like the results of the tests, that’s not a good reason to upend the system.

“Inevitably there will be people who use the scores to push back on the tests,” she said. “But we can’t get mad at the tests. Getting upset with the test itself is not going to change the outcome for kids.”

State officials speaking this week to the State Board of Education pointed to comparable results between PARCC and other tests — the National Assessment of Educational Progress, given to fourth and eighth graders, and the ACT, given to 11th graders.

That "allows us to have confidence" in the PARCC scores, said Joyce Zurkowski, the state’s executive director of assessments.

It's too early to know how parent frustration or support will play out at the General Assembly next spring, especially during an election year.

But given the high opt-rates from last spring, school officials and lawmakers may find themselves in a precarious position next legislative session.

Some argue low participation demonstrates a lack of confidence in the system, and that it should be scrapped.

“I don’t think there is anything PARCC can do to [earn] my trust because I don’t believe in high-stakes test,” said Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins mother who has pushed for more data privacy legislation and testing reform at the Capitol.

However, starting over with an entirely new testing system would cost millions more dollars the state doesn’t have and throw classrooms across the state into chaos.

“We need some time without upheaval and disruption,” Falcon 49’s Hilts said. “I think the system needs to stay at least one more cycle. We need to be able to connect two dots. I would rather work with a system I know, to optimize a system, than to change systems every two years.”

Given public support from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, PARCC isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. And there is enough support from the teachers union, the state’s superintendents and advocacy organizations to keep the Colorado Academic Standards in place, at least until 2018 when state law requires a review.

More immediately, battles likely loom over how tests are used to rate schools and evaluate teachers.

“We’ll see bills on that,” said state Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, a member of the Senate Education Committee. “... There are going to be bills this year to get rid of everything.”

Both the state’s school accreditation system and educator effectiveness law were passed with bipartisan support in 2010. There have been multiple attempts to overturn or seriously weaken both.

Kerr, who said he favors tweaks to both, cautioned: “We shouldn’t throw all the work we’ve done during the last four or five years out and start all over.”

Bills are also likely to propose changes on how the state measure schools and school districts, state officials and a group of rural schools already are working to find possible alternatives.

A Department of Education-convened committee already is exploring options. And more than a dozen rural school districts calling themselves the Rural Innovation Alliance will pitch a final version of an accountability system to the State Board of Education in December.

“We’re not running from accountability,” said Rob Sanders, superintendent of the Buffalo-Merino school district east of Greeley. “The system we’re creating is holding me more accountable than the old system. It includes multiple pieces of information rather than one assessment that kids don’t care about.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Reports of rising suicide risks and threats to schools in Jeffco

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/13/2015 - 09:09
Risk management

Responses to possible suicide risks and reports of threats to schools are rising in the Jeffco school district, and officials say their ability to respond is limited. The Denver Post

PARCCing Zone

Colorado students struggled in the first-ever PARCC math and English language arts tests, a not-unexpected development after the state’s shift to new academic standards. Colorado Public Radio, Denver Post, Denver Channel, Coloradoan, 9News, Greeley Tribune, Chalkbeat Colorado

Skipping the test

The PARCC release provided the first hard numbers on the opt-out movement's reach. Chalkbeat Colorado

Slow down

Colorado Springs police are cracking down on speeding near schools. KKTV

in solidarity

Students at the University of Colorado Boulder plan a rally to stand against racism and in solidarity with protesting University of Missouri students. Daily Camera via Denver Post

stepping out

On a farewell tour, outgoing U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan points to progress while acknowledging it’s far from time to unfurl the “Mission Accomplished” banner. New York Times

Election aftermath — still

The Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of Paul Pitton’s eligibility to serve on the District 51 school board, a question tied up in a residency dispute. Daily Sentinel

Bob Smith was elected president of the St. Vrain school board. Daily Camera

money matters

Gov. John Hickenlooper told state lawmakers Thursday the budget crunch must be a shared burden and that extends to schools. AP via Pueblo Chieftain, Chalkbeat Colorado

target: poverty

A new effort in Jeffco aims to rally support from the community, government and nonprofits to help people in need so teachers can concentrate on what they do best — teaching. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

The Denver Post editorial board opines on the “alarming” rate of PARCC no-shows and suggests the opt-out movement should take a breather. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Hickenlooper: Schools must share burden of state budget balancing

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/12/2015 - 20:18

Gov. John Hickenlooper told legislators Thursday that K-12 spending needs to share the pain of a tight state budget situation along with other big-ticket programs.

“When we looked at making the cuts we thought that we should try to share that pain … everybody should feel that constriction. It seems equitable,” the governor told members of the Joint Budget Committee and other lawmakers.

The remarks came in response to a question as Hickenlooper and budget director Henry Sobanet presented his proposed 2016-17 budget, an annual event that starts the run-up to the next legislative session.

The administration actually isn’t proposing to cut K-12 spending from 2015-16 levels. Average per-pupil funding would increase to $7,397 from this year’s $7,284, up 1.4 percent. But the governor is proposing to increase the school funding shortfall to $905 million from $855 million.

That shortfall, known as the negative factor, is the difference between actual school spending and what support would be under full application of the state’s funding formula. The negative factor is a major sore point for school districts.

Four big demands – required K-12 increases, $289 million in required tax refunds, refilling the state reserve and paying higher Medicaid costs – add up to $830 million in 2016-17. But there’s only $457 million in projected new revenue available to meet those costs.

“With a deficit of $373 million, you’re going to see reductions or inability to grow in the top four areas,” said Sobanet.

“As we look forward … at least keeping the negative factor steady should be a priority,” the governor said.

The way to control the negative factor and ease pressure on other parts of the budget is to change a program called the hospital provider fee, he argued. While it isn’t a general tax, the fee counts against the annual constitutional revenue limit, triggering those taxpayer refunds.

“The current structure of the hospital fee will prevent us from meeting our most basic needs,” Hickenlooper said. “We should at least be able to use the resources we have.”

New Joint Budget Committee chair Millie Hamner, a Democratic House member from Dillon, asked what happens in future years if lawmakers don’t approve Hickenlooper’s proposal to reclassify the fee so it doesn’t count against the revenue limit.

“It’s hard to see a scenario … where the negative factor doesn’t grow a little bit,” Sobanet said.

Hickenlooper also was asked how the public can be educated about the state’s fiscal restrictions and be persuaded to change contradictory constitutional requirements.

“Funding is critical. We need to get the facts out to people. But at the same time we’ve also got to find innovation in education,” the governor replied.

Higher education, which unlike K-12 would take actual cuts under the governor’s budget, got scant mention during the presentation.

“We’ve been proud to increase support for resident undergraduate students” in the last two years, Hickenlooper said. “It is not possible to continue current levels of spending into 2016-17.” … That “will likely result in higher tuition increases at many institutions.”

School funding also on superintendents’ minds

Budget problems also got an airing earlier Thursday at the annual superintendent forum sponsored by the Public Education & Business Coalition.

“We’ve been in a slow downward spiral for 20 years,” said Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger. Paying taxpayer refunds while squeezing K-12 is “just wrong, and we need to make a change.”

New Littleton Superintendent Brian Ewert said that when he explains the fiscal problem to district residents, “They are shocked and appalled that we are going to give refunds.”

Chris Gdowski, superintendent of the Adams 12-Five Star district, said districts have been economizing for years. “We’ve ridden that horse as far as we can in Adams 12. So the only thing that’s going to help us down the road … is to get more money into the system.”

Categories: Urban School News

2015 Colorado PARCC results and opt-out rates database

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/12/2015 - 13:50

The Colorado Department of Education released statewide results from the first round of PARCC tests students took in the spring.

The results from the new and more challenging English and math tests, as expected, were bleak. But state officials cautioned not to worry.

New data, also released Thursday, showed a growing opt-out movement.

If you're looking for data about a particular school or school district, you'll have to wait until December. That information will be released publicly Dec. 11.

You can read our coverage of the release here. Find out more information about the opt-out movement here. Not sure what PARCC is or how the tests are different? Check out this explainer here.

Colorado PARCC achievement database Colorado PARCC opt-out database
Categories: Urban School News

Colorado students vs. New Jersey students and 6 other charts breaking down new PARCC results

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/12/2015 - 12:28

The much-anticipated results from the inaugural PARCC exams are in. And as expected, most students failed to meet the state's expectations. But state officials, policymakers and supporters of the new and more difficult tests say the students and teachers need time to adjust to the new expectations.

You can read our full recap of the results here. And you can search our database and track reaction on our live blog here. Not sure what PARCC is? This explainer will catch you up.

But first, let's take a look at some of the data highlights.

About 40 percent of Colorado students are on track when it comes to reading and writing.

jQuery(function () { jQuery('#parccELA').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, legend: { enabled: false }, xAxis: { categories: ['3', '4', '5', '6', '7', '8', '9', '10', '11' ] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: '% Meets or exceeds expectations' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{}: ' + '{point.y}%', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: ' ', color: '#1f78b4', data: [38.2, 41.7, 40.5, 39.1, 41.0, 40.9, 37.8, 37.4, 39.9] } ] }); });
Results were steady in English for grades three through 11. Fun fact: PARCC collapsed reading and writing tests into one.

Fewer students, especially those in the eighth grade, met expectations in math.


jQuery(function () { jQuery('#parccMATH').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, legend: { enabled: false }, xAxis: { categories: ['3', '4', '5', '6', '7', '8', 'Algebra I', 'Geometry', 'Algebra II', 'Integrated I', 'Integrated II', 'Integrated III', ] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: '% Meets or exceeds expectations ' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{}: ' + '{point.y}%', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: ' ', color: '#33a02c', data: [36.7, 30.2, 30.1, 31.7, 27.4, 18.9, 30.4, 24, 27.8, 26.2, 20.7, 22.1] } ] }); });
Math results, meanwhile, are a bit of a roller coaster. Third graders start us off strong. By the eighth grade, we're at a real low spot — only about two out of every 10 eighth graders met the state's expectations. There is a rebound in high school, but the passing rate never climbs above 30 percent.

More affluent students out-performed students from low-income homes by about 20 percentage points


jQuery(function () { jQuery('#parccFRL').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['4 English', '4 Math', '8 English', '8 Math'] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: '% Meets or exceeds expectations ' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{}: ' + '{point.y}%', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: 'FRL', color: '#cab2d6', data: [23.8, 14.9, 24.5, 11.3] },{ name: 'Non-FRL', color: '#6a3d9a', data: [56.2, 42.5, 52.9, 26.3] } ] }); });
Like on so many other standardized tests, there is a large gap between how well students from low-income families and those from more affluent homes perform. Students from more affluent homes met expectants at about twice the rate in English and math.

Black and Latino students trail white students in math and English.


jQuery(function () { jQuery('#parccrace').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['4 English', '4 Math', '8 English', '8 Math'] }, yAxis: { min: 0, max:100, title: { text: '% Meets or exceeds expectations ' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{}: ' + '{point.y}%', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: 'Black', color: '#e31a1c', data: [24.4, 14.1, 25.9, 10.8] },{ name: 'Hispanic', color: '#ff7f00', data: [24.3, 15.2, 25.3, 11.5] },{ name: 'White', color: '#f781bf', data: [53.2, 40, 51.2, 25.2] } ] }); });
Those gaps persist when you look at achievement results broken down by race.

Students with limited English skills lag peers who don't receive intervention services.


jQuery(function () { jQuery('#parccLANG').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['4 English', '4 Math', '8 English', '8 Math'] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: '% Meets or exceeds expectations ' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{}: ' + '{point.y}%', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: 'Students receiving English-language learning services', color: '#35978f', data: [23.8, 14.9, 24.5, 11.3] },{ name: 'Students not/no-longer receiving English-language learning services', color: '#01665e', data: [47.4, 34.2, 45.4, 21] } ] }); });

The Colorado Department of Education disaggregates student achievement data into four different groups when it comes to English-language learners. It ranges from those who need intense interventions to those who either no longer need interventions or never received them. To make things a little simpler, we're comparing those students who are currently receiving interventions and those who aren't.

Colorado students lag behind those in New Jersey on most math tests.


jQuery(function () { jQuery('#statesMATH').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['3', '4', '5', '6', '7', '8', 'Algebra I', 'Algebra II', 'Geometry', 'Integrated I', 'Integrated II', 'Integrated III', ] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: '% Meets or exceeds expectations ' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{}: ' + '{point.y}%', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: 'Colorado', color: '#33a02c', data: [36.7, 30.2, 30.2, 31.7, 27.4, 18.9, 30.4, 27.8, 24, 26.2, 20.7, 22.1] },{ name: 'New Jersey', color: '#66bd63', data: [45, 41, 41, 41, 37, 24, 36, 24, 22, 0, 0, 11] }, { name: 'New Mexico', color: '#a6d96a', data: [25.2, 18.5, 20.4, 18.5, 15, 9.1, 17.4, 17.7, 12.6, 8.4, 3.7, 10.6] } ] }); });

With the advent of PARCC, Colorado can now compare its students' achievement rates to those in other participating states. So, how did we do?

Students in grades three through eight in the Centennial state didn't do as well on the PARCC math tests as those in the Garden State. However, there's a trend reversal when we get to high school. Colorado students met expectations at a higher rate on the Algebra 2 and Geometry test than those in New Jersey.

But Colorado students outperformed those in New Mexico on most English tests.


jQuery(function () { jQuery('#parccstatesELA').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['3', '4', '5', '6', '7', '8', '9', '10', '11' ] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: '% Meets or exceeds expectations' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{}: ' + '{point.y}%', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: 'Colorado', color: '#1f78b4', data: [38.2, 41.7, 40.5, 39.1, 41.0, 40.9, 37.8, 37.4, 39.9] }, { name: 'New Jersey', color: '#4393c3', data: [44, 51, 52, 49, 52, 52, 40, 37, 41] }, { name: 'New Mexico', color: '#92c5de', data: [24.9, 23.7, 23.8, 21.9, 21.1, 22.8, 26.8, 31.2, 44.6] } ] }); });

Only about two out of every 10 students in grades three through eight in New Mexico schools are proficient in English, according to the new PARCC tests. Meanwhile, about four out of every 10 Colorado students are meeting or exceeding expectations. But as New Mexican students enter high school, they begin to catch up.



Source: Colorado Department of Education, Graphics by: Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat

Categories: Urban School News

Tens of thousands of Colorado students opted out of PARCC tests last spring, new data shows

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/12/2015 - 12:02

More than 65,000 Colorado students were held out of last spring’s PARCC tests by their parents, according to newly released data that for the first time documents the strength of the so-called opt-out movement in the state.

Roughly 1 in 10 Colorado students skipped the math and English assessments as a result of parent refusals.

Test-taking rates were high with young students, began to sink in higher grades and plummeted among high schoolers, many of whom saw little value in sitting for yet more standardized tests as they prepared for the next chapters in their lives.

While test participation by elementary school students exceeded 95 percent, student opt-out rates reached 31 percent on 11th grade math tests and 25 percent on all 10th grade math scores.

Across all grade levels and in both English and math, white students were far more likely than their black and Latino classmates to miss the tests as a result of parental refusals.

At a press briefing Thursday, interim education commissioner Elliot Asp acknowledged a concern about how representative the scores are in higher grades that saw large number of parental refusals, most likely in affluent areas.

Colorado was portrayed as one of the epicenters of the opt-out movement last spring, but until now no firm numbers were available about the scope of the phenomenon.

Anti-PARCC sentiment was fueled by protests the previous fall of state science and social studies tests that saw mass refusals from students in mostly affluent, high-performing suburban school districts.

Data Center | Search our 2015 PARCC opt-out database here.

More granular detail about opt-outs in Colorado will become available Dec. 11, when state officials are expected to release test results and participation rates of individual districts and schools.

Only the state-level picture was available in Thursday's release, which showed most Colorado students well short of where they need to be in mastering English and math academic standards.

The tens of thousands of opt-outs all but certainly drove down Colorado's numbers, although to what extent is not known.

In all, 65,858 students in grades 3 through 11 missed PARCC English tests as a result of parental refusals, state data shows. The total was 47,852 students in grade 3 through 10 in the math exams. Presumably most parents who refused to allow their children to take PARCC did so for both tests. The refusal rates for both subjects closely mirrored each other.

Thousands more Colorado students missed the exams, without their parents or guardians officially opting them out. Those students could have been absent for other reasons — such as illness — or may have skipped out of protest without saying so.

The total participation rate was 82 percent for the English tests in all grades, and 85 percent for the math tests.

Ilana Spiegel, a Cherry Creek School District parent who served on a state task force that recommended reforms to state testing, said the high number of opt-outs seriously called into question the validity of the PARCC scores.

The movement to skip the tests includes a number of motivations, she said, including people upset with standardized testing in general, the PARCC tests in particular, or using the tests to hold schools, districts and teachers accountable.

"I think you will continue to see more (opt-outs) as people say they don't want this to be the new normal," Spiegel said.

Testing reduction and opting out were hot topics during the 2015 legislative session. An assessment bill was passed – among other changes seniors won’t be tested this fall – but a measure to codify parent opt-out rights died in a House committee.

Test participation rates are important because the U.S. Department of Education requires 95 percent test participation. In Colorado, schools and districts can see their accreditation ratings downgraded if they fail to meet that benchmark on two or more tests.

The state board, however, voted earlier this year not to penalize districts that don't meet participation requirements this year — an issues central to the state's request for flexibility from the No Child Left Behind federal education law.

A Chalkbeat Colorado canvassing of the state's 20 largest districts last summer found only five that provided responses tested enough students on PARCC to meet the 95 percent bar.

The following graphic documents opt-out rates from English language arts tests ...

PARCC opt out rates by grade and race


jQuery(function () { jQuery('#parccopt').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['3', '4', '5', '6', '7', '8', '9', '10', '11'] }, yAxis: { min: 0, max: 40, title: { text: 'Opt out rate ' } }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{}: ' + '{point.y}%', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: 'Black', color: '#e31a1c', data: [1.1, 1.4, 1.5, 2.3, 3.3, 4.8, 10.5, 15, 21.7] },{ name: 'Hispanic', color: '#ff7f00', data: [1, 1.2, 1.2, 2, 3.4, 4.8, 9.7, 13.9, 18.7] },{ name: 'White', color: '#f781bf', data: [3.4, 4.4, 4.8, 6.4, 10.5, 13.6, 24.4, 31.2, 38.4] } ] }); });
Categories: Urban School News

Scores on new PARCC tests show most Colorado kids failing to meet academic expectations

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/12/2015 - 12:00

Most Colorado students are far short of where they should be in English language arts and math, according to much-anticipated results of new, more difficult state tests released Thursday.

State education officials have long warned that the first round of PARCC scores covering grades three through 11 all but certainly would paint a bleak picture. Those predictions were on target.

In language arts, the percentages of Colorado students rated as meeting or exceeding expectations ranged from a high of about 43 percent in 4th grade to a low of 37 percent in 10th grade.

Students did even worse in math, with percentages ranging from about 19 percent in 8th grade to 37 percent in 3rd grade. Reaching conclusions about how older students performed is more difficult because of an array of different math tests given to students in middle and high school.

The release of the scores is a key juncture in a years-long effort to develop and put in place stronger academic standards, and introduce next-generation tests to see how students measure up.

Data Center | Search our database for PARCC results here.

Unlike derided bubble tests of old, PARCC tests developed for a collective of states including Colorado pledge to reward critical thinking and problem solving with more sophisticated questions given online. The academic standards are supposed to put students on track for going to college or starting work.

Yet PARCC has been heavily criticized in some quarters, both as part of a broader backlash against standardized tests and for perceived shortcomings including lack of a proven track record.

The results made public Thursday during a state Board of Education meeting share one trait in common with their predecessors — they showed wide gaps separating students’ scores based on race and income.

Participation also was lower compared to past state tests, with overall participation rates at 82 percent in English language arts and 85 percent in math. Much of that was driven by high schoolers skipping the tests. Data released Thursday showed tens of thousands of students, most in higher grades, opted out of the PARRC tests as a result of parent refusals.

Asked about the PARCC scores after a Capitol budget briefing, Gov. John Hickenlooper said, "When we adopted these new higher standards we knew there'd be some sticker shock in the first couple of years. We're resetting the bar."

“The point about these higher standards is we want kids and parents to have conversations about what they want to be,” he said.

State board chairman Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said at the board meeting that it’s impossible to tell whether the results mean the school system is a “catastrophic failure,” or whether other factors are at work.

“If you take the scores at face value, almost two-thirds of our students have failed,” he said. “I have a hard time believing that number.”

Although PARCC backers promised quicker, more meaningful results, this year’s test is an exception because of the extra work involved in an entirely new enterprise, officials say. Thursday’s announcement only covered state-level data. Not until Dec. 11 will the tests results of individual districts and schools be revealed.

Districts then will distribute individual student reports to parents, on their own timelines.

The percentages of students scoring in the top two levels on PARCC — meaning they met or exceeded expectations — are considerably lower than those achieving the top two levels on the last state tests, called TCAP.

But state education officials have repeatedly stressed that the results can’t be compared because the two sets of tests are so different in their expectations and in the academic standards on which they’re based.

“These scores don’t provide an apples-to-apples comparison to old test scores,” interim education commissioner Elliott Asp said in a statement. “The new tests measure different things – such as where students are in developing the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills outlined in the Colorado Academic Standards. We should all consider these scores as a new baseline from which we will measure the future success of Colorado students.”

State education officials have emphasized the concept of a baseline – that Colorado students and schools are starting fresh with new tests whose results and impacts will have to be reviewed over multiple years.

Other states that have switched testing systems have seen scores rise after multiple years of giving new exams. Kentucky is one example cited frequently by supporters of the standards and assessments.

Almost everything about the tests given in Colorado is new. The exams are more rigorous, they are given online — a paper-and-pencil option was available under some circumstances — and they are the first tests to be fully based on Common Core state standards in math and English.

A separate writing test — long a feature of TCAP and its predecessor, CSAP — is gone. Writing now is part of the overall language arts tests. Writing is also incorporated into math test items.

Joyce Zurkowski, executive director of assessments for the state education department, told state board members Thursday it was fair to expect that Colorado students' scores will be low initially.

The Common Core standards were fully put into practice just last academic year, and teachers and students are still becoming familiar with them, she said. Zurkowski said scores are expected to rise over time.

The switch to the new tests is like "moving from the JV team to the varsity team," she told reporters. "... The game is harder."

Zurkowski also cited instances of Colorado students' PARCC performance closely mirroring the results of other more established tests, the ACT college entrance exam and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. That, Zurkowski said, "allows us to have confidence in the results.”

The tougher tests, she said, are meant to stem the tide of students graduating high school ill-prepared and finding themselves stuck paying for remedial courses in college for which they receive no credit.

PARCC tests also have five levels of student achievement – exceeded expectations, met expectations, approached expectations, partially met expectations and didn’t meet expectations. The TCAP system had four levels, as do the current state science and social studies tests.

The PARCC tests also sparked significant numbers of parents and students skipping the tests altogether. While test participation by elementary school students exceeded 95 percent, student opt-out rates reached 31 percent on 11th grade math tests and 25 percent on all 10th grade math scores.

Among other highlights of the first PARCC test results:

Overall scores – Relatively small percentages of students exceeded expectations, ranging from 4 percent of third graders to 12 percent of 7th graders in language arts. The percentages were smaller for math. Six percent of third graders were at the top level, but it was only 1 or 2 percent in eight other grades. In the category of didn’t meet expectations, 10th graders recorded the highest for language arts with 23 percent. In math, 26 percent of of 8th graders didn’t meet expectations.

English and math – The percentages of students meeting or exceeding expectations in language arts generally were higher than the percentages for math. In middle and high school, 30.4 percent of students who took the algebra I test exceeded or met expectations. Those percentages were lower in the other five math tests.

Gender – Girls performed significantly better than boys on language arts tests, while the percentages in the five levels were much closer in math.

Ethnicity – The tests results showed achievement gaps between ethnic groups similar to those seen in previous tests and other measures of achievement. On the 7th grade language arts test, for example, 58.3 percent of Asian students and 51.7 percent of whites met or exceeded expectations. But 24.7 percent of Hispanics and 25.6 percent of black students were in the two top categories.

At-risk – There also were wide gaps between students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and those who are not. In 5th grade math, for example, 14.9 percent of at-risk students met or exceeded expectations, compared to 41.9 percent of other students.

Language – English language learners are classified in different categories based on their levels of proficiency. The least-proficient students scored very poorly in general, with test performance rising significantly for more-proficient students in both language arts and math.

State Board of Education members used the platform of the PARCC release to voice familiar positions about academic standards, tests and using the results to hold schools and districts accountable.

Republican Debora Scheffel, of Parker, said she believes the tests measure language skills rather than content knowledge, dramatically disadvantaging students whose second language is English or who have not developed great vocabulary skills. Other board members made similar arguments.

A harsh critic of testing from the other side of the political spectrum, Democrat Val Flores of Denver, said the tests waste money and don't help poor and minority students.

“Education is about teaching and learning," she said. "It's not about accountability. It is not about high-stakes testing."

But Jane Goff, an Arvada Democrat, saw something positive in the stronger scores among younger students.

"These are the children who have been living the new standards and the new ways and the new strategies and techniques," she said. "They’ve lived it. Our older grade students have not had that experience."

On past tests, the percentage of students scoring in the top two of the four levels was an important factor in school and district ratings.

The State Board of Education hasn’t yet decided how the new five-level system will be used for accountability and may not do so until next year.

The state is in a one-year pause in use of state test results for either accountability or educator evaluation. So the test results released Thursday won’t be a factor in those things.

Proponents of the Common Core and the two multi-state tests, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, have long argued for the value of being able to accurately compare the performance of students in different states. While federal law long has required state to test in language arts and math, each state has used it own academic standards and tests.

Most of the nine active PARCC participants haven’t yet reported full results, so it’s not possible to fully compare the performance of Colorado students with those in other states.

New Jersey and New Mexico have reported data comparable to Colorado’s. Across most grades and subjects, New Jersey students performed markedly better than those in Colorado. But New Mexico trails Colorado across grades and subjects.

Learn more about the background of assessment in Colorado in Chalkbeat’s archive of testing stories.

Chalkbeat Colorado deputy bureau chief Nicholas Garcia contributed information to this report. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Happy Haynes’ DPS duties take time from city job

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/12/2015 - 09:02
Juggling jobs

Happy Haynes, the DPS board president who also heads Denver’s parks and recreation department, has spent significant time away from the city job on weekdays, and it's cost her nearly $3,000 in lost pay. Denver Post

New classrooms

Active learning spaces — flexible, collaborative spaces designed for students to both learn and work in groups in a technology-rich environment — are becoming more popular among both K-12 schools and colleges. Denver Business Journal

Veterans Day

Students at an Aurora school took time to honor veterans on the holiday, as did kids in Loveland and elsewhere around the state. 9News, Reporter-Herald, Summit Daily

Field trip

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, figures he’ll be driving more than 1,800 miles in an effort to visit every school in his sprawling eastern plains district. Holyoke Enterprise

Still more Election 2015 aftermath

Recent election defeats have conservative school board reformers plotting a new strategy. Colorado Springs Independent

A 3-mill increase in Manitou Springs School District 14 passed with 59 percent of the vote in this month's election, so all 200 employees are in for bigger paychecks. Gazette

Goodbye, Joe

Outgoing lieutenant governor - and higher ed chief - Joe Garcia talks about his decision to move on. KVNF

15 minutes of fame

Final Jeopardy sealed Longmont teacher Jennifer Giles' fate Wednesday night as she lost in the "Jeopardy!" Tournament of Champions quarterfinals. Times-Call

Taste of things to come

The Lewis-Palmer district cancelled classes and other Pikes Peak region districts delayed the start of the school day because of Wednesday’s storm. Gazette

Helping hand

Tutoring and intervention programs are making a difference at Palmer High in Colorado Springs. Helping hand

Local control

The Douglas County School District is suing the state Department of Education in a $4.2 million dispute over counting high school students. Chalkbeat Colorado

Prep for PARCC

Just what are the PARCC tests? We explain the details. Chalkbeat Colorado

Get a look inside PARCC questions, and try your hand at some tests. Chalkbeat Colorado

From the boardroom

The State Board of Education has signed off on Colorado’s bid for flexibility from some federal education laws. Chalkbeat Colorado

The board also voted 4-3 Wednesday to increase resident teacher license fees 12.5 percent. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

Conservatives were bloodied but not beaten in recent school board elections, writes an Independence Institute staffer. Reporter-Herald

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco coalition to teachers: you teach, we'll take care of poverty

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/12/2015 - 08:00

A coalition of Jefferson County community members, nonprofit organizations and county agencies wants teachers at four schools bordering Denver border that serve mostly poor and Latino students to teach more and worry less about the challenges of poverty.

The coalition, led by the nonprofit Edgewater Collective, is releasing a report Thursday night that identifies six goals it wants families, community members and business leaders to work toward together.

The report is both grim and aspirational.

The four schools in the 80214 ZIP code that the collective is working with — Edgewater Elementary, Lumberg Elementary, Molholm Elementary and Jefferson Junior-Senior High School — dramatically underperform compared with schools in more affluent parts of the county.

Last year, the Jefferson County school board approved a shuffle of school programs and a series of reforms to boost student achievement.

Newton hopes his organization’s work can support what is already happening in classrooms. The report calls for more parental involvement at schools, using existing county services to support families instead of relying on school resources and more afterschool programs.

"We hope this can be a common good effort," said Joel Newton, executive director of the collective.

That effort includes goals that all students are ready for kindergarten, all third graders are reading at grade-level and that all high school graduates are ready for college or career.

"We want to show these interventions really help third grade reading and late-elementary math scores," Newton said.

The coalition, which calls itself the The Jefferson Success Pathway, is following a well-established but reinvigorated effort to link established community resources to schools that serve at-risk students.

Known as the community school model, organizations partner with a school or small group of schools to provide funding and volunteers for afterschool programs, family services, mental health resources and parent enrichment programs.

"It's almost a common sense thing, but it takes leadership across these different organizations to say, ‘We're going to collaborate and use our resources toward a common set of results,’" said Reuben Jacobson, deputy director of the Coalition for Community Schools.

The modern community school movement, Jacobson said, traces its roots to the late 1880s.

Throughout the 20th century, federal and state tax dollars paid for most of the social support services offered at schools such as nurses and social workers.

But due to a number of factors, public schools have had to cobble together those networks of supports since the mid-1970s, said Lisa Villarreal, a program officer at the San Francisco Foundation.

More recently, community schools have popped up in Chicago, Baltimore and Lincoln, Neb. Perhaps the most famous community school network is the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City.

“Community schools really begin to level the playing field and create the conditions for learning that are essential for kids to thrive in school," Villarreal said.

The Jefferson Success Pathway will release an update on student achievement in May, Newton said.

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Categories: Urban School News

Higher teacher licensing fees approved

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/11/2015 - 17:14

The State Board of Education voted 4-3 Wednesday to increase resident teacher license fees 12.5 percent.

Out-of-state license applicants will see an even larger hike, 37.5 percent. Resident fees will rise from $80 to $90, while non-resident rates will jump from $80 to $110.

The new fees originally were proposed to take effect in January. But because the board delayed deciding the issue, the higher rates start next March.

Department of Education staff has told the board the increases are needed to avoid cutting staff and reducing customer service in the Office of Education Preparation, Licensing and Enforcement, whose entire budget is supported by the fees.

In recent years, the office has reduced a six-month waiting period for licenses to four-six weeks, and state officials want to maintain the current level of customer service.

The department says the fee increase will allow the office to hire three more staff members, stay in the black and avoid future fee increases for at least five years. The office has a current annual budget of about $3 million and a staff of 24.

More than 37,000 license applications are received each year, and the office issues about 33,000 licenses, credentials and authorizations.

Initial licenses are good for three years, professional licenses run for five years before renewal, master teacher certificates are valid for seven years and substitute licenses are good for one to five years depending on the license type.

Categories: Urban School News

Dougco sues state in enrollment count dispute

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/11/2015 - 17:03

The Douglas County school district has made good on its threat to sue the state Department of Education in a $4.2 million dispute over counting of high school students.

The suit, filed earlier this week in Denver District Court, asks that the department be barred from collecting the $4.2 million the state believes the district needs to repay.

The district telegraphed its intention to sue in a harshly worded news release and letter in June. Dougco went public with the dispute after CDE completed an audit and concluded the district owed the money.

At the center of the dispute is a new high school schedule the district adopted in 2012 in response to budget cuts. The district went from seven daily periods to eight. The department calculated that some high school students didn’t attend enough minutes of class to qualify as full-time students and be counted as such for state reimbursement to the district. The dispute involves the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.

The lawsuit claims, “Defendants’ rigid calculations meant that, for example, a student who attended a full class schedule during the school year, ultimately graduated with a 4.0+ GPA, and gained admission into Colorado School of Mines qualified as a ‘half-time’ student for funding purposes.”

The suit also claims the department didn’t properly calculate local revenues in its audit and violated the district’s local control rights.

"The department tried to negotiate a settlement with the district in order to save both parties the expense of going through the court system, but unfortunately the district chose to file suit against us," said Associate Commissioner Leanne Emm, adding that she couldn't comment further.

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Categories: Urban School News

State board signs off on Colorado bid for flexibility from federal law

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/11/2015 - 16:11

After months of on-and-off discussions, the State Board of Education on Wednesday grudgingly voted 5-2 to approve submission of Colorado’s request for flexibility in meeting federal education laws.

That application, originally due March 31, now goes to the U.S. Department of Education for final approval.

Colorado Department of Education staff members have been negotiating the document with federal officials for months, periodically briefing the board on progress. CDE staff and federal bureaucrats reached agreement on the document some time ago, but formal board sign-off was needed.

Although it was clear Wednesday morning that the board would approve the application, members took a few minutes to grouse about what they believe to be federal interference in state control of education.

“The federal intrusion into education is not productive,” said board chairman Steve Durham, a Republican from Colorado Springs. “No Child Left Behind has been a catastrophic failure.”

But Durham said he was supporting the application because the alternative would be a burden for school districts — putting Colorado back under the original accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind, the nation's main education law.

“A good part of this board’s job is not to make life more difficult for local school districts,” Durham said.

A key element of the state’s application seeks to address high testing opt-out rates that drop test participation rates below federal requirements. Several districts fell below that 95 percent threshold last spring, according to a Chalkbeat Colorado analysis.

The application — formally called an ESEA flexibility request and sometimes referred to as a waiver — exempts Colorado from certain provisions of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The federal department created the waivers in 2011 to give states flexibility after congressional efforts to update ESEA stalled. Both the House and Senate passed update bills earlier this year, but prospects for passing a new law are uncertain.

Colorado first received approval of its flexibility plan in 2012 and was due to apply for renewal last March. The state filed an application but then had to modify it because of changes to the state testing system passed by the legislature in early May.

Proposed response to testing refusals Learn more

Federal law requires at least 95 percent participation on language arts and math tests in grades 3-8 and once in high school. States are required to choose penalties for districts that miss that goal on two or more tests. Colorado’s penalty, which never has been used, had been a one-step reduction in a district’s state quality rating. However, the state board passed a resolution earlier this year saying low-participation districts shouldn’t be punished.

Colorado’s flexibility request instead proposes these steps in response to low test participation:

  • The state will calculate and report test participation rates for all districts, schools and ethnic and other student groups. The state has committed to this, and the information is expected to be released next month.
  • Districts with substandard test participation rates are required to include steps for increasing participation in their annual improvement plans, which are filed with the state.
  • Participation rates will be a factor considered in the effectiveness reviews conducted with the state’s lowest performing schools.
  • The state will provide low-participation districts and schools with information about state tests, “including reasons for administering the assessments and how the results are used.” That information is supposed to be disseminated to parents and community members.
Other key elements of the application

The flexibility request also substitutes a new college and career readiness test in the 10th grade to meet federal requirements. The PARCC language and math tests will no longer be given in 10th grade but will continue to be given in 9th grade.

A one-year timeout in ratings of schools and districts is also part of the request.

A key element of Colorado’s original flexibility request allowed the state to use its own rating system and not also use the federal adequate yearly progress standard. That would continue under the new waiver.

Categories: Urban School News

What is PARCC? An explainer in advance of Colorado releasing first test scores

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/11/2015 - 15:29

On Thursday morning, the state will release the first batch of scores from the PARCC English and math tests Colorado students took this past spring.

Confused about what that means and why it matters?

We’re here to help …

What are the PARCC tests?
PARCC tests are a new set of annual English and math tests that were given to Colorado students for the first time this past spring. Most students took the tests online.

What does PARCC stand for?
PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The partnership part refers to the fact that several states, including Colorado, banded together to develop the tests. In the 2014-15 school year, students in 11 states plus the District of Columbia took them. New York ran a pilot program but didn’t test all students.

What happened to the old tests?
They’re no longer relevant because Colorado changed its learning goals for students.

In 2010, the Colorado State Board of Education adopted what are known as the Common Core Standards. The standards are a set of expectations for what students should know in English and math at the end of each grade. Colorado is one of 43 states, along with the District of Columbia, that use them.

The standards were in effect in all Colorado schools by the 2013-14 school year. Because they include new learning goals for each grade, Colorado needed new tests to measure whether kids are meeting those goals. Hence, the PARCC tests.

Before PARCC, Colorado had tests called CSAP, or Colorado Student Assessment Program, and then TCAP, or Transitional Colorado Assessment Program. The TCAP tests were given to students in 2012, 2013 and 2014 as Colorado transitioned to the Common Core Standards.

So many acronyms.
We know. And here’s another one: CMAS, or Colorado Measures of Academic Success.

CMAS is the acronym for the entire bundle of standardized tests that Colorado students now take. The English and math PARCC tests are just one part of CMAS. The other part is a set of science and social studies tests that were developed by Colorado alone. Those tests were given to students for the first time in the spring of 2014 and again in the spring of 2015.

Here’s a handy umbrella graphic from the Colorado Department of Education that explains the test structure:

PHOTO: Colorado Department of Education

But the scores this week are just for the English and math tests, right?
Right. The scores for the science and social studies tests already came out. Scoring the English and math tests took longer because they’re new this year. In the future, the state hopes to release the scores before the start of the next school year. So if students take the tests in the spring, the results will hopefully be available by the summer.

How are the PARCC tests different than past tests?
The PARCC tests are supposed to be harder. In addition to measuring whether students know the basics, they’re designed to test skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.

The English tests include both reading and writing, as opposed to the way things used to be, with separate tests for each. The questions are different, too. In the past, students might have been given a word and asked to pick a synonym for that word from a list of five choices. The PARCC tests still ask about the meaning of words but in the context of a story, such as in this example from the PARCC website: “What is the meaning of the word dictate as used in paragraph 23?”

The math questions are also more complex. They tend to involve multiple steps that require students to show that they understand the concepts, not just that they know the right answer.

Read some more sample questions here.

Which students took the PARCC tests?
Colorado students in grades three through 11 were tested in English. Math tests were given to students starting in grade three and ending with students who’d completed Algebra II or Integrated Math III. Integrated math is a type of curriculum that blends elements of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II over the course of three years. Instead of taking Algebra I one year, Geometry the next and Algebra II the next, students take Integrated Math I, II and III.

The exact number of students who took the PARCC tests won’t be released until Thursday. But the state Department of Education says about 1 million tests were given.

Next year, that number will be lower. In May, state lawmakers responded to concerns from parents, teachers and others about too much testing by passing a bill to limit it. Starting next year, only students in grades three through nine will take the English and math PARCC tests. The high school tests will be replaced with college prep and college entrance exams, such as the ACT, although the state hasn’t decided which exams it will use.

Is it the same in other states that are part of PARCC?
Not necessarily. Testing requirements vary from state to state. At a minimum, the federal government requires states to test students in grades three through eight in English and math and once in high school if the states want federal money for things such as supporting students with disabilities and supporting low-income students (and most states do).

But, wait. Can’t parents opt their kids out of PARCC?
Yes. That same bill that state lawmakers passed in May says that parents may excuse their children from taking one or more of the tests. And districts are prohibited from imposing negative consequences on students who opt out.

Which scores will the state be releasing this week?
Statewide test results will be made public at or shortly before 10 a.m. Thursday. The results will include the number of students in each grade who took the tests and how well they did. For instance, the results will show how many third graders met expectations in math and how many met expectations in English. (For more on what that means, keep reading.)

The scores also will be broken down by various subgroups, such as students’ race and ethnicity; whether they qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty; and whether they’re English language learners. So it will be possible to compare how several different subgroups -- white, black and Hispanic third-graders, for example -- did on the tests.

In addition, the state will release the number of students who opted out.

The results will not include scores for individual school districts, schools or students. Those scores won’t be available until next month because the state is still awaiting and validating the final data. Once the state releases that data, it will be up to the districts and schools to provide parents with individual student score reports. The reports will look something like this.

How are the tests scored?
Each test is worth between 650 and 850 points. Students are given a raw score and then placed into one of five “performance levels” based on that score. Here’s the breakdown:

Level 1 (score of 650 - 699) = Did not meet expectations
Level 2 (score of 700 - 724) = Partially met expectations
Level 3 (score of 725 - 749) = Approached expectations
Level 4 (score of approximately 750 - 800) = Met expectations
Level 5 (score of approximately 800 - 850) = Exceeded expectations

The last two levels are fuzzy because the scores vary from test to test. For example, on the third-grade English test, a score in the range of 810 - 850 would put a student in Level 5. On the eighth-grade math test, the score range for Level 5 is 801 - 850.

Only students in levels 4 and 5 are considered to be on track to enter the next grade -- or for high school students, ready for college or a career.

This Colorado Department of Education chart shows the five levels.

PHOTO: Colorado Department of Education

Who set the performance levels?
Panels of teachers, college faculty members and education experts from all of the states that belong to PARCC worked together to determine which scores should correspond to which levels. In August and September, the levels were approved by the PARCC governing board, which is made up of state education chiefs, including Colorado’s commissioner. Those levels needed to be set before the tests could be scored and the results could be released.

Here’s an essay by a Colorado teacher who helped build the PARCC math tests.

How will the scores be used?
This year’s PARCC scores will be used as a baseline to measure future academic growth. Starting next year, districts, schools and teachers will be able to compare scores from year to year to see if the number of students meeting PARCC’s expectations is growing or shrinking -- which can help determine whether kids are learning and educators are on the right track.

But it’s not possible to draw those conclusions yet. As such, state lawmakers created a one-year “accountability pause.” Teachers, schools and districts won’t be held accountable for this year’s scores, and the scores won’t be used in evaluations or accreditation decisions.

However, it will be possible to compare Colorado’s baseline scores to the baseline scores of other PARCC states. Those state-to-state comparisons, which provide further context, are considered by some to be one of the advantages of the PARCC system.

So are the other states releasing their scores this week, too?
No. Each state is releasing its scores on its own timeline.

Several states, including Illinois and Ohio, have already released partial or preliminary data. New Jersey and New Mexico are among the states that have released more robust results.

Isn’t it true that some people don’t like PARCC?
Absolutely. The tests have been criticized for being too expensive and taking up too much school time. Other critics don’t like that PARCC is a multi-state consortium that receives federal funding. However, attempts by state lawmakers to withdraw Colorado from PARCC have failed.

When will students take PARCC tests again?
Colorado students are scheduled to take the PARCC tests again in April. That month, some students will also take the state-developed science and social studies tests, and high schoolers will take college prep and entrance exams. In response to backlash about extensive testing time, the PARCC tests will be 90 minutes shorter than they were this past spring.

Categories: Urban School News

Try your hand at PARCC test questions

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/11/2015 - 15:07

The new language arts and math tests most Colorado students took last spring have been something of a black box for parents, who’ve had to rely on their kids’ descriptions of questions to get any sense of what they're all about.

Actual test questions were a closely held secret last spring. But the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the organization that produced the tests for Colorado and other states, recently released items from last spring’s exams.

The online PARCC exams were designed to be different from previous standardized state exams. They are supposed to emphasize students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills. For example, on some questions — particularly in math — students are asked to not just give an answer but show how they got there.

The freshly released items provide a look into how the tests are different. Here are four examples provided by PARCC illustrating how things used to be compared with the PARCC way:

5th grade language arts

In contrast to a straight-forward multiple choice question, students are given a passage to read and then must answer two questions based on that question.

4th grade math

Instead of answering two math questions based on a graphic, students are asked a three-part question that requires a deeper understanding of fractions.

7th grade language arts

The old-style question gives students a brief statement and asks them to write a persuasive essay about it. The new question requires students to read a webpage and an article, and to view a video — then asks them to write an essay analyzing the arguments from those sources.

6th grade math

The old question asks for a single answer, while the new question requires two answers — and explanations.

To review the 2015 questions that PARCC has released, use this link. Warning: The information is fairly technical and appears to be designed more for teachers than for parents. Scroll down the page and scan the left-hand gray column titled “Resource name.” Links labeled “Item set” will take you to questions. Once a link opens, scroll to the fourth page for the question.

Here are direct links to a 3rd grade math problem and a 4th grade writing question.

It may be easier to take one or more of the PARCC practice tests. The tests are available for both language arts and math in every grade from 3 through 11. You can take the tests online or on paper.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Organization gives voice to the voiceless

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/11/2015 - 09:43
Voice to the voiceless

Nonprofit Project VOYCE is giving hope, confidence and skills to Denver teens. 5280

sexting scandal

The southern Colorado sexting scandal is proving to vex authorities. ABC News, NY Post

School officials in Pueblo say sexting incidents are rare. Pueblo Chieftain

Human Resources

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is resigning his elected office and post at the Colorado Department of Higher Education for a new job. Denver Post, 7News, Denver Business Journal, Chalkbeat Colorado

Brad Miller, the lawyer who was campaign fodder in Thompson and Jeffco school board elections, resigned as attorney for the Thompson School District Board of Education. Reporter-Herald

Down to business

The Greeley school board swore in new members and elected officers. Roger DeWitt maintained board presidency by a 7-0 vote. Greeley Tribune

A new approach

Some 200 preschools in the state are using a Colorado-developed program in an effort to keep more special-needs students with behavioral issues in the classroom. Chalkbeat Colorado

Veterans Day

Third- and fourth-grade classes at a rural Loveland school sang patriotic songs in a ceremony to honor veterans, active military and police officers. They also raised money for a local nonprofit that serves veterans. Reporter-Herald

safe schools

A juvenile carrying marijuana, knives and two BB guns was arrested at Rifle High School. Post-Independent

Two cents

Supporting the Jefferson County school board recall was common sense, opines Dave Perry. Aurora Sentinel

New State Board of Education member Joyce Rankin is amazed by the innovative programs in schools on the Western Slope. But tough challenges still await Colorado’s education system. Aspen Times

Categories: Urban School News

PARCC Results 2015: live coverage

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/10/2015 - 19:02

Welcome to Chalkbeat's coverage of the first-ever release of PARCC scores in Colorado. Consider the liveblog below your source for analysis, graphics and reaction. The scores are scheduled to be released at or about 10 a.m. Thursday. We'll be posting the data here, too.

Categories: Urban School News

Growing approach helps kick preschool expulsion habit

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/10/2015 - 17:45

Last year at preschool, Elena would stomp her foot when she got upset. When her teachers sternly told her there would be no foot-stomping in the classroom, she simply stomped harder.

It was a power struggle with no victors.

Elena, who has autism, was miserable at school. Her teachers were frustrated— ultimately telling Elena’s mother, Kristin Miesel, that the girl might have to be physically removed from the classroom if her emotions continued to escalate.

Miesel, a school psychologist at a Jefferson County elementary school, chokes up remembering that moment.

“It’s like, ‘Really? You need to physically remove my child because she’s stomping her feet or getting upset like that?'” she said.

Fast-forward a year. Four-year-old Elena now attends preschool at Bal Swan Children’s Center in Broomfield and Miesel has finally breathed a sigh of relief.

“This place is like heaven,” she said.

The center, where about one-third of children have special needs, uses an approach that Miesel and school leaders credit with creating a welcoming environment for every kind of child—even those who elsewhere might get kicked out for biting, hitting or other behaviors.

This 2011-12 data is from The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

It’s called the Pyramid Plus Approach and launched six years ago at four demonstration sites in Colorado, including Bal Swan. Today, it’s used at around 200 centers and preschools in the state.

While the program has grown slowly but steadily since 2009, it’s getting a closer look in light of recent state and national conversations about the alarming frequency of preschool expulsions.

Colorado Pyramid Plus Demonstration Sites

  • Bal Swan Children’s Center, Broomfield
  • Creative Options Center for Early Education, Denver/Aurora
  • Primetime Early Learning Center, Norwood
  • Fremont County Head Start, Canon City

Not only are preschoolers expelled at higher rates than their K-12 counterparts, a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education revealed that boys and minorities are disproportionately expelled from preschool.

Geneva Hallett, director of the Pyramid Plus Center at the University of Colorado Denver, said getting expelled at 3, 4 or 5 often leads to a lifetime trajectory that includes more of the same.

Bal Swan director of education Patti Willardson calls preschool expulsion her hot-button issue. She finds it frustrating that the default response to challenging children at some local centers is to send them to Bal Swan.

“We take as many kiddos as we can," she said. "But I just keep telling other administrators, ‘You can’t depend on one school in the whole area to take these kids. You all need to learn to help them yourself.’”

A Full Toolbox

The Pyramid Plus Approach was created in Colorado, building off a free national framework for early childhood social emotional practices called the Pyramid Model. More than 24 school districts have adopted that model over the last eight years with support from the Colorado Department of Education.


The "Plus" in Pyramid Plus refers to its emphasis on including children with disabilities in early childhood classrooms.

Pyramid Plus includes an 18-session training and follow-up coaching. The idea is to give early childhood staff a full set of tools for teaching young children social-emotional skills and managing challenging behaviors.

PHOTO: Ann SchimkeSpeech therapist Melissa Cain talks to a preschooler at the Bal Swan Children's Center.

For example, teachers might learn when to ignore bad behavior so as not to reinforce it with a burst of attention. Or how to use puppets to demonstrate toy-sharing or teach students to be aware of their own emotional state.

At Bal Swan, you won’t typically hear admonishments like “no,” “stop,” or “don’t.” Correction is rephrased in a positive way. You’ll also see teachers using the same social skills they tell students to employ, like getting someone’s attention with a tap on the shoulder.

Pyramid Plus also includes a series of parent classes—called Positive Solutions for Families—that offer many of the strategies and tools that teachers use in the classroom. Miesel said even with her background as a psychologist, she's learned a lot from the sessions.

“The language they use here has been educational for us,” she said.

The Pyramid Plus Approach is not the only program aimed at cultivating healthy social-emotional development in young children—or the only one cited as a remedy to preschool expulsions. Another evidence-based program called The Incredible Years, run by the Denver-based Invest In Kids, provides similarly themed trainings to teachers and parents.

Early childhood mental health consultants, who are typically called in to help teachers work with the highest needs students, represent another expulsion prevention strategy, but their ranks are relatively small in Colorado.

Diminishing problems

Using Pyramid Plus doesn’t mean that aggressive or disruptive behaviors magically disappear. They may occur less often, but many Pyramid Plus advocates say the biggest transformation is in the level of confidence teachers display when problems do arise.

“When they have a plan and they know they can deal with these things. They don’t see challenging behavior as a problem anymore,” said Alyson Jiron, a Bal Swan counselor.

“It’s not like there’s kids that people are like, ‘Oh I don’t want that kid in my class,’" she said. "Truly, across the board now…everyone’s like, ‘We got this. We can do this.’”

The "calm box" is a place in the classroom where kids can go when they feel upset.

When a child recently jumped up on a table in the class Clarissa Villareal co-teaches, she ignored the behavior and instead focused her attention on a child nearby who had her feet on the floor. The table-stander soon got down on her own.

“A huge part of it is our reaction,” she said.

At Bal Swan and other centers that use the Pyramid Plus model, expulsion isn’t an option. In fact, providers sign an agreement beforehand stating they won’t resort to it.

Hallett said without that policy, expulsion could be a tantalizing option when the toughest cases rear up.

“That’s not a back door they can get out of…and that’s hard,” she said.

Slow build

While there are now 2,200 providers trained in the Pyramid Plus approach in Colorado, that represents only a fraction of the state’s early childhood workforce.

“It has been a slow steady build,” said Hallett. “The fact is this is very hard work.”

Pyramid Plus, which includes a 45-hour training costing up to $500 per person, can be a tough sell for time-crunched, cash-strapped childcare centers.

Elizabeth Steed, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver, said she’s visited hundreds of preschool classrooms and many don’t have the budget, leadership or staffing flexibility to take on the program.

“They feel very stretched already,” said Steed, who is a member of a state policy team promoting the Pyramid Model and inclusion practices.

Bal Swan, named for a philanthropist who donated to the school, is perhaps better positioned than smaller, less stable centers to embrace an effort like Pyramid Plus. Most of the school's 350 slots are tuition-based. In addition, class sizes are small and the pay is above average. Willardson said teachers with a degree typically start at $18 an hour and go up to $23—at many centers it’s closer to $13-14 an hour.


These days, Miesel doesn’t brace herself for bad news when she picks up her daughter at the end of the day.

Even when Elena slips up, she knows its not a stepping stone to ultimatums or expulsion.

Take, for example, a recent day when Elena bit a classmate.

There were no gasps or scoldings. Instead, a teacher consoled the injured child and then enlisted Elena’s help to get an icepack and deliver it to the girl. Instead of being punished for hurting her friend, she was praised for helping her feel better.

Miesel admits she was mortified when she found out what happened, but Elena’s teacher and Willardson counseled her against overreacting.

"Don't feed into it," they told her.

While such a low-key reaction from teachers and parents can feel counterintuitive, it's effective, said Willardson.

That's what she likes about the Pyramid Plus approach.

"It's changed our teaching skills…It’s changed our understanding of who children are,” said Willardson.

Categories: Urban School News

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia resigning two state posts

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/10/2015 - 12:46

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration’s most prominent voice on education issues, is resigning both his elected post and as head of the Department of Higher Education.

Garcia will become president of the Boulder-based Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, an organization of 15 western states that works to improve access to higher education. The timing of his leaving the state roles is to be determined.

Garcia told Chalkbeat Colorado he decided to leave state service because of the timing of the career opportunity. Longtime President David Longanecker is retiring and urged Garcia to seek the job.

“It was tough, because I love what I’m doing now,” Garcia said. But moving to the new position “gives me the opportunity to work on the same things I’ve been working on for the state,” such as college access, completion and affordability.

Asked if he felt any dissatisfaction with his current roles, Garcia said, “Not at all. This governor has been great to work for. Most lieutenant governors don’t have the kind of support I’ve had.”

Garcia, a former president of both Colorado State University-Pueblo and Pikes Peak Community College, was something of a surprise pick when Hickenlooper chose him as running mate in 2010. Garcia hadn’t previously run for elected office.

Hickenlooper popped another surprise in January 2011 when he named Garcia executive director of the Department of Higher Education. The lieutenant governor’s office has few duties of its own, and appointing the lieutenant governor to head a state agency was unprecedented.

The appointment signaled a key administration role for Garcia on education issues, including implementation of K-12 reforms, early childhood education and college affordability, which the governor and Garcia made their top education priorities.

Garcia has been closely involved in such issues and initiatives as coping with college and university budget cuts, creation of a higher education master plan and implementation of the higher education performance-funding system mandated by the legislature in 2014. He also was a leading voice on issues of higher education access, affordability and completion.

He’s also had a high profile on early childhood issues, including centralization of state early childhood education programs and the state’s ultimately successful bid for federal Race to the Top early childhood funding.

Last January, as criticism of testing and other state requirements mounted ahead of the 2015 legislative session, Garcia spoke out and urged state leaders not to back down on education reforms.

Garcia said he is most satisfied with his role in passing education legislation, including READ Act early literacy law and early childhood education bills.

“I’ve been very pleased with the progress we’ve made,” he said.

Asked about future education challenges for the state, Garcia cited lack of investment in education.

“We should not be cutting higher education and K-12 in a time of rising prosperity," he said. "… One of the biggest challenges will be convincing the people to invest in our future by investing in our educational institutions.”

Hickenlooper has joked that Garcia was the more glamorous half of the team. Garcia’s shaved head, goatee and fondness for motorcycles made him a distinctive figure.

Garcia said he kept Hickenlooper informed about the opportunity with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education all along.

“I listed him as a reference,” Garcia said. He was offered the new job about a week ago.

Hickenlooper said in a statement, “Joe will be nearly impossible to replace. He has been an exceptional lieutenant governor and in leading education efforts for Colorado. He has given five years selflessly to the success of this state and the future education of our children.”

The state constitution requires Hickenlooper to nominate a candidate for lieutenant governor who must be confirmed by majority vote of both houses of the legislature. The terms of Hickenlooper and the new lieutenant governor will end after the 2018 election.

Garcia said he’ll stay in office as long as Hickenlooper wants him to but needs to start his new position by July 1.

Asked about any future interest in elected office, Garcia said, “I have not thought about it. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it is the right role for me.”

Higher ed leaders praise Garcia

Other higher education leaders were complimentary in their assessments of Garcia’s work. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Lt. Gov. Garcia has been a great advocate for higher education in Colorado and will truly be missed. I wish him well at WICHE and know that he will continue to be a leader nationally in higher education and a strong advocate for student access and success.” - Nancy McCallin, president of the community college system
  • “I am sincerely happy for Lt. Gov Garcia. His unique background as a community college and university President, as well as the executive director of CDHE will be a true asset to WICHE. I look forward to continuing to work with him to enhance student opportunities and higher education policy among the WICHE institutions and states.” - Steve Jordan, president of Metropolitan State University
  • “Joe Garcia has had a long history of service to education and has added much to the discussion.” - University of Colorado President Bruce Benson
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Campaign finances tangled in El Paso board races

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/10/2015 - 09:29
Another gap

Well over one-quarter of all white students in Denver Public Schools were classified as gifted and talented last school year, more than twice the percentage of gifted and talented Hispanic students and three times the percentage of black students who carried that label. Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Election 2015 aftermath

Despite philosophical differences in their approach to education, Dougco board members on different sides of the election campaign are pledging to work together in the best interests of students. Castle Rock News-Press

Cars painted with candidates’ names were one form of advertising in the Dougco board races. Castle Rock News-Press

So called 'reform' candidates who had hoped to unseat those backed by local and state teacher organizations had a big hurdle to overcome in the Pikes Peak region: The big bucks being spent by those organizations. Gazette

The Lewis-Palmer School District 38 School Board election was particularly secretive this year, with large donors not reported on campaign filings and one secretive committee that has ties to a Colorado Republican operative who has been disciplined for political dealings. Gazette

Everybody’s covering sexting story

Students caught in a sexting scandal making international headlines said Monday their peers have been collecting and sharing nude photos of one another for years. Denver Post

The Cañon City student sexting scandal now is being covered by glossy national magazines. People, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan

Two cents

The Denver Post editorial board weighs in by urging that extremely poor decisions by Cañon City High School students to trade nude photos of themselves on their smartphones not be allowed to ruin their lives. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

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