A bill intended to ensure the state’s school-and-district rating system makes a smooth transition between the old TCAP and new CMAS state tests passed the House Education Committee on a 13-0 vote Wednesday.
House Bill 14-1182 is “necessary in order to deal with the situation caused by the change in our state testing system,” sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, told the committee.
New state tests in English language arts and math – based on the Common Core Standards – will be given in the spring of 2015. But, because of the challenges in analyzing new test results, the results for schools and districts won’t be final by early fall, as is the case with the TCAP tests.
The state’s performance ratings of schools and districts are based significantly both on test scores and on student academic growth over time as measured by those scores. Those ratings usually are issued every November or December and go into effect for the next school year, which starts the following July 1.
Because results of the new tests won’t be available on the usual schedule, HB 14-1182 proposes that ratings issued next fall, which will be based on 2013-14 tests results, apply to both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.
The issue is of particular importance to schools and districts that are on the so-called “accountability clock,” which applies to schools and districts that remain in the two lowest accreditation categories for five years. Such schools and districts are subject to specified State Board-ordered intervention after five years.
The accountability clock would continue to tick under HB 14-1182. But affected districts and schools that believe they’ve improved student achievement could provide additional evidence to the Department of Education in an effort change their 2015-16 ratings. And the bill would give the state board additional flexibility in deciding what improvement measures to impose on districts and schools for which the clock has chimed.
A relatively small number of schools and districts would be affected by the bill. Only two districts, the Aurora Public Schools and Weld Re-8, would go into the fifth year in 2015-16, unless they improve their performance before then. Some 31 individual schools in multiple districts are in the same situation.
Academic standards, high-stakes testing and student data privacy have become hot-button education issues over the last year in Colorado and the nation, and now all three have popped up in the Colorado legislature.
House Bill 14-1294, formally introduced Wednesday, would set student data privacy requirements for the state Department of Education to follow and also direct the department provide best practices for districts.
Legislation that proposed a one-year timeout in implementation of standards and new tests already has been proposed and disposed of (see story). And another bill that would have allowed districts (and parents) to opt out of state assessments has been turned into a study of testing and moved out of committee Wednesday (see story).
The data bill isn’t expected to be as controversial as those issues. Among other things, it would formalize existing practices, said prime sponsor Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, who has worked with CDE on the bill. She also will have the help of three Democratic cosponsors, Lois Court of Denver in the House and Pat Steadman of Denver and Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge in the Senate.
Data was a hot issue last year in Jefferson County, where parent opposition to the Gates Foundation-supported inBloom data system was a factor in the election of a new school board majority. The board subsequently cancelled the inBloom contract.
Activist parent groups that have popped up in Jeffco and other districts have raised worries about the security of student data and the possibility of it being shared with businesses and the federal government.
The State Board of Education also has taken note of the issue and held a briefing on the issue earlier this month. Board members indicated they were comfortable with how CDE handles and protects student data but have some concerns about district policies. (See this story for details on that hearing.)
Here are the key provisions of HB 14- 1294:
Read the full bill here.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett sounded the fiscal crisis alarm on Wednesday and made clear that the district would like the same pension changes applied to CPS teachers that the state imposed on other public employees.
Next year, CPS will owe the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund $696 million, which, following a pension “holiday,” is 83 percent more than the district was required to pay last year.
“In the absence of action from Springfield, this increase in pension costs will crowd out classroom spending, and we will see further cuts to school budgets,” she said.
Imposing the changes made to the state employee pension system on CPS would save the school district $250 million, Byrd-Bennett said.
The declaration that the district is in financial trouble is an annual ritual. This year, however, the alarm is louder because schools were hit hard with budget cuts last year—a point reiterated numerous times by parents at Wednesday’s School Board meeting.
Byrd-Bennett’s statement can be expected to kick off a prolonged fight both with the union and in the courts. The state public employee pension changes include reducing the amount of annual cost-of-living increases for both current retirees and future ones, as well as raising the retirement age for workers 45 years and younger. Also, some workers can now get out of their pension and participate in a 401(k)-style contribution plan.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said she has other ideas for how to reduce CPS’ teacher pension obligation, though she hasn’t detailed them publicly. “Please don’t take my mother’s or husband’s pension away,” Lewis told the board Wednesday.
Also, four lawsuits have been filed to stop the state pension changes.
These lawsuits could well be successful, said Amanda Kass, budget director and pension specialist for the Center on Tax and Budget Accountability. She pointed to a recent supreme court ruling in Arizona to explain why. As in Illinois, Arizona’s pension obligation for public employees is spelled out in the state constitution, and Arizona’s Supreme Court recently ruled that cost-of-living increases are a protected benefit, she said.
It is unclear whether the district has alternative plans, should the Legislature fail to approve the changes for CPS teachers. Under the state constitution, changes to pensions for any public employee, state or local, can be made only by state lawmakers.
Meanwhile, parents from 17 schools explained to board members how last year’s budget cuts were hurting their schools, and urged members to increase funding in the coming year. “There is nothing left to cut,” they repeatedly told the board.
Many of the parents said their schools lost reading, bilingual and math specialists, as well as art and music positions. Parents from some schools, like Blaine and Audubon, said they had raised extra money to fill the gaps, but that they did not think raising more was possible.
Parents from other schools, like Salazar and Bret Harte, said their schools don’t have parents who can afford large contributions.
The parents were especially critical of CPS for trying to implement daily physical education when schools hardly have enough money to pay for current teachers.
Last year, CPS implemented a student-based budgeting system, and the parents urged CPS officials to increase the amount schools will get for each child.
“The per-pupil budget is too low, and it leaves principals to make awful choices,” said Victoria Bryant, a parent at Burr Elementary.
Wendy Katten from the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand, which helped set up the parent presentations, declined to weigh in on the issue of pensions. She presented the board with a two-page memo suggesting places where CPS could find savings, including in central office departments that saw increases last year. She also said that parents are going to Springfield twice in coming months to lobby for a graduated income tax, which could produce more revenue for CPS.
“We love our schools, we love our neighborhoods, we love Chicago,” Katten said.
In other action:
A study of K-12 testing approved unanimously Wednesday by the House Education Committee sets out a daunting assignment for the 15-member Standards and Assessment Task Force — to report on essentially all of the ins and outs of the state’s testing regimen as well as the feasibility of allowing districts and parents to opt out of it.
And the unpaid group would basically have six months to do its work.
The task force would be created by House 14-1202, which started out as a proposal to allow school districts to opt out of state tests – with several conditions. It also would have allowed parents to opt kids out of tests. That idea was backed by the Douglas County and Mesa 51 school boards, but it wasn’t going anywhere in that form, given the current makeup of the legislature.
But many legislators wanted to take some action this year in response to rising anxieties testing burdens and costs, and a study emerged as the compromise choice.
Ultimate legislative approval of the amended HB 14-1202 likely would push possible changes in the testing system off to the 2015 legislative session, after November elections could change the makeup of the General Assembly and just months before new online tests are scheduled to launch.
The growing preference for a study was clear at the committee’s first hearing on the bill Feb. 17, but it took awhile for various education interest groups to come to agreement on the membership of the task force. (See this story about the first committee hearing.)
The bill, of course, still has to make its way through the House and the Senate before the task force is actually created. But here’s how the study would work if the bill passes.
Members of the task force would have to be named by July 1 and the first meeting convened by July 15. The group’s report (or reports) would have to be presented to the legislature’s two education committees by Jan. 31, 2015.
Issues to study
The list of issues the task force is charged with examining is long, and includes looking at how tests are given, how test data is used, the impact of state tests on local ones, assessment costs and the amount of classroom and administrative time consumed by testing.
The task force also is to study the interaction of the testing system with educator evaluations and the performance rating system for schools and districts, as well as the ability of districts to implement new tests and related new academic standards.
And the group also is supposed to ponder the feasibility and effects of allowing districts – and parents – to opt out of state tests.
The task force would be a classic Colorado “Noah’s Ark” kind of panel including carefully calibrated representation from different interest groups and professions. The appointment process also is complicated, given that the chair of the State Board of Education, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House and the minority leaders of each house each would appoint some members.
The panel would include three administrators, two school board members, two teachers, two charter school representatives, two parents, two “business” representatives, one person from an education reform advocacy group and one person in some way affiliated with the PARCC testing consortium, of which Colorado is a member. (Read this bill draft for the in-the-weeds details of which groups have to be represented and who appoints whom.)
The proposed bill requires the task force to produce a report and allows submission of a minority report – or more than one.
The task force’s work would be informed by a testing study being done for the Department of Education by WestEd, a California-based, federally funded education research and consulting organization.
CDE was setting up that study before testing fever rose at the Capitol, and WestEd researchers are starting their work next week.
WestEd will use focus groups and surveys of districts, teachers and parents to gauge how the overall testing system is operating. Initial findings will be reported to CDE in April, with a follow up report in early summer, after administration of the state’s first online social studies and science tests in one grade each of elementary and middle school. WestEd’s work is expected to continue in the 2014-15 school year.
The WestEd study will not include a cost-benefit analysis of testing nor any analysis of the Colorado Academics Standards, which include the Common Core.
HB 14-1202 specifies that CDE will provide staff support and data to the task force.
Testing concerns have intensified in recent months with the approach of the science and social studies tests and the planned launch of online PARCC tests in English and math for most grades in the spring of 2015.
School districts are concerned about the cost and logistics of moving to online tests, and parent activist groups have raised complaints about the time taken by testing, about the PARCC tests’ links to the Common Core Standards and about feared loss of local control over instruction and curriculum.
This article was updated on Feb. 27 to correct WestEd’s location.
After two years of nearly year-round schooling, a shorter year and day are in store for students and teachers at Manual High School.
The change is part of a host of adjustments introduced by the school’s new leader, Don Roy, who is attempting to right the school’s course after a dramatic drop in test scores and the abrupt dismissal of the former principal.
Manual implemented the extended year two years ago as part of an extended learning time pilot program run by Denver Public Schools. The school’s longer schedule was also tightly connected to the school’s experiential learning program.
School leaders’ decision to abandon the extended schedule illustrates some of the challenges that schools face in trying to provide more learning time for students, an effort touted by education leaders from New Jersey governor Chris Christie to President Barack Obama.
Manual’s extended learning time model included several weeks set aside for experiential learning trips that were intended to take classroom learning into the field. The school’s longer day – running from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. – also allowed for up to two hours of teacher planning per day and weekly meetings for the entire faculty. Students were in class from July through June, with three week breaks for summer and winter.Next steps
The rollback will begin immediately, with an abbreviated spring semester running two weeks shorter than planned. Next year, the school will largely revert to Denver Public School’s standard schedule.
Still, Manual and the district are working to keep the school in the pilot program, albeit in a scaled back form. What exactly that will look like is contingent on a plan school leaders are currently developing and will submit to the district by the end of the year.
“We do anticipate Manual will have an extended year but it won’t be as long as it was,” said Antwan Wilson, who leads the district’s post-secondary readiness department. “How much longer [than a normal year] will depend on how strong their application is.”
District officials say that the school is abandoning the longer year because of its failure to meet the pilot program’s academic and programmatic requirements.
“There were benchmarks related to student achievement and around program implementation,” said Wilson. “Manual [has] fallen behind.”
The schools participating in the pilot program were evaluated on benchmarks including using the additional time for targeted student support as well as for teacher planning, collaboration and development.
The decision is also meant to let new principal Roy have greater control over the school model. Another school in the pilot program, Lake International School, is also reconsidering their extended year due to leadership turnover.
“We’re not saying to schools, you must be extended year,” said Wilson. “When you have leaders come in and do assessments and ask, is what we’re doing best for kids, leaders may make a change.”
The schedule change was prompted in part by how out of sync the school’s schedule was with the district’s, which has created problems in tracking the school’s spending. Roy said the shorter year is intended to bring the school’s schedule closer to the district’s.
He also said the change will also provide more class time before the testing at the end of the year, rather than waiting until after tests are done.
The goal, Roy said, is “getting things done before the hot summer.”“It’s all about what you’re doing”
Manual’s struggle with longer school years and days offers lessons on what works (or doesn’t) when schools add more time.
Experts say long school days can burn students out if they are in class all day, as most Manual students are.
“The fact of the matter is it’s all about what you’re doing,” said Sanjiv Rao, a program officer for the Ford Foundation which funds a number of extended learning time projects, including Denver’s. “If it’s more time on narrow tasks like test preparation, that’s absolutely not what we’re advocating.”
Instead, students should spend time on a diverse range of activities and in a range of environments. The question, Rao said, is “how to expose students to things they might not otherwise be exposed to. You have to be creative.”
And students should have a choice in their activities, he said.
“The other piece of the burnout is [the school day] can’t be scripted, especially for high school,” said Rao. “[Students] have to have some voice and choice in what they do.”
As for teachers, Rao said extended time is an opportunity to provide additional support to teachers coping with a slew of reforms, not overload them.
“We’ve observed that there’s a high accountability environment on teachers and leaders, without enough support,” he said. Schools should use extra time for teachers to spend on collaboration and planning. “More and better learning time is not a reform. It’s changing the environment of the school so reforms can work.”
According to the initial plan laid out by Roy, Manual will adopt some of Rao’s suggestions. The school will provide intensive help for students who are behind after the regular school day and teachers will start their school year a week earlier than at most district schools.Mixed response from students and teachers
Many students expressed relief at the end of the extended day and year.
“My day is really long,” said Rlmari Fisher, a freshman at Manual. “I get home at seven or eight at night.”
And it’s not just long days. According to students and teachers, the long year taxed students’ ability to focus.
“It causes less of a sense of urgency,” said Patrick Seamars, who teaches Spanish. “Kids were burning out and teachers were burning out.”
Students also said they had lost focus by the time tests rolled around, a fact some pointed to as an explanation for last year’s drop in test scores.
“We didn’t put as much effort as we could because we were tired,” said Alma Castillo, a junior at Manual.
The biggest impact of the decision may fall on teachers like Seamars who will have to work Saturdays to fulfill their extended year contracts. It’s been a hard pill to swallow for some teachers.
“It’s a lack of accountability for the decisions [school leaders] made,” said Seamars. Still he is looking forward to his Saturday classes, where he will help students with things they may not get to in class, including art projects and poems in progress.Not just scheduling
While many in the school are receptive to the schedule changes, what the changes mean for the school’s unusual instructional model have provoked some ire.
The schedule was originally designed to accommodate Manual’s experiential learning trips, which took students to important historical landmarks as an extension of their classroom learning.
The decision to end the extended year will also ease the school’s finances, which have been strained by the trips. Last year, the school overspent by $600,000 and is on track to overspend this year as well.
In part due to the slashed budget, those trips have been heavily curtailed, with a moratorium on trips for this year and shortened trips next year.
But students and teachers who supported the model have been disappointed by the changes.
“It’s really frustrating because I and others wholeheartedly believe in seeing things on the ground,” said Ben Butler, who teaches language arts at Manual.
Still, Butler and others agreed that many trips were disorganized and didn’t always support classroom learning.
“The work that they gave us was more taking notes than continuing what we were doing in class,” Castillo said. Some teachers led successful trip but more often than not, the trips didn’t help her learning.
Even though she and many others found fault with last year’s trips, she worries the change in Manual’s trajectory will drive students away.
“I don’t think a lot of kids are staying,” said Castillo. “Every time they’ve switched things, it affects us because we have to get used to it.”
This story is part of a multi-city series on expanded learning time, with funding from the Ford Foundation, which supports “more and better learning time” in high-need communities. Also participating in the series are the Notebook (Philadelphia), Catalyst Chicago, EdSource (California), and Chalkbeat.
Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday released data showing privately run charter schools expel students at a vastly higher rate than the rest of the district. (Tribune)
The data reveal that during the last school year, 307 students were kicked out of charter schools, which have a total enrollment of about 50,000. In district-run schools, there were 182 kids expelled out of a student body of more than 353,000. That means charters expelled 61 of every 10,000 students while the district-run schools expelled just 5 of every 10,000 students.
RALLYING AROUND PRINCIPAL: The principal of a elementary school in Beverly whose contract was not renewed by the local school council, but several parents have come to her defense and the principal is taking the LSC to arbitration to try to keep her job. The LSC contends that Catherine Gannon’s work “does not meet expectations” — even though the school's test scores have remained high and Gannon won a $10,000 merit award from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett that Gannon used to benefit the school. (Sun-Times)
COMMON CORE REPORT: The Fordham Institute has released a new report on how Common Core implementation is going in four early-implementing districts:
· The high-performing suburb: Schaumburg District 54
· The trailblazer: Kenton County School District, Kentucky
· The urban bellwether: Metro Nashville Public Schools
· The creative implementer: Washoe County School District, Nevada
School District 54 has taken a hands-on, focused, and collaborative approach to Common Core implementation. Teacher support of the standards has been spurred by several factors: a unified message from district leaders, a curriculum overhaul led by educators, dedicated time to collaborate, a focus on student performance data and continuous improvement, and the deliberate use of resources to support classroom instruction. (Press release)
IN THE NATION
COMMON CORE REVIEW ORDERED: The Georgia State Senate passed legislation calling for a review of the controversial Common Core. Senate Bill 167 passed by 34-16 and has strong prospects in the House. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
When I started kindergarten in the early 1980s, the “face” of the average teacher was Caucasian, female and in her mid-50s. When I walk into my old schools today, the faces that fill the classrooms remain consistently female (with some exceptions) and Caucasian, but they undeniably skew towards young individuals. While there is nothing to indicate that age is correlated with teacher quality, there is significance to the demographic change we see.
The teachers I grew up with were on the tail end of several generations of teachers who entered the teaching profession when the career options of college-educated women and most minorities were largely limited to nursing, secretarial work and teaching. As Marc Tucker noted in Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, “There is reason to believe that the problem with the American teaching force is not that it has long been of low quality and must now be raised, but rather…the American public reaped the twin blessings of a highly capable teaching force willing to work for below-market wages under poor working conditions. Those who accepted that deal are now leaving the classroom in droves.”
For decades we were able to recruit smart, ambitious individuals into teaching because we were not competing with other industries and professions. Yet, the working conditions for teachers with respect to their teaching loads, lack of professional development and growth opportunities, and compensation are at least on par with what they were in the 1950s and 1960s, some would argue worse.
It is no small wonder that, given a whole new set of options, more individuals who might have otherwise entered the classroom, now choose to enter careers that promise higher social status and pay. The challenge for improving American education over the long-term is going to be competing with other high-status professions for the best and brightest graduates.
Too many of the current conversations taking place at the state and local level appear to be focused primarily on attracting bright candidates into the classroom without considering their longevity in the profession. To fill hard-to-staff positions, many high-poverty districts use programs that fill vacancies with well-educated individuals who have no teaching background or training.
These programs tend to select candidates based on academic credentials and their demonstrated belief in the ability of all students to succeed academically. There is evidence that many of these individuals entering the classroom through such programs do not necessarily see themselves as entering the teaching profession, a long-term commitment to the field. Depending on the program, retention rates after five years vary from about 36 to 50 percent. Can we imagine lauding findings that indicated doctors or engineers stayed in medicine or engineering for more than four years?
As we think about the policies that will serve our long-term teacher supply needs, we must determine whether we believe that teaching is indeed a profession. For those who do not, it makes perfect sense that investments in salary, initial training and ongoing professional development may not be worth the time, money and effort.
However, if teaching is a profession, we must examine the models developed by countries that have transformed their educational systems within two generations by adopting thoughtful long-term human capital strategies. Countries that perform highest on international tests today, including Finland, Singapore and South Korea, have taken a clear stance that teaching is a profession. Without exception they have systems for recruiting, training, supporting, and adequately compensating teachers, and ensuring that the profession is elevated in the eyes of potential candidates and society.
What are some of the levers that contribute to the elevation of a profession’s status? Prestigious professions such as medicine, law and engineering have a strong foundation of knowledge that all candidates in the field are expected to know, and therefore put a premium on high-quality preparation. They trust that those practicing in the field have strong professional judgment and provide them with the autonomy to make decisions. They have competitive compensation structures that reflect training and experience levels, and have developed paths for upward and lateral mobility within the field.
Few of these characteristics are evident in the policies that shape teaching in our state and country today, and it is easy to argue that it is precisely these policies that make teaching so unattractive as a long-term career. We must ensure the profession can compete successfully with other high-status professions that promise young people the respect, support, compensation, and opportunities for growth that make professions attractive over the long-term.
The proposed Student Success Act was formally introduced Tuesday in the legislature as House Bill 14-1292, setting in motion what’s expected to be the main education funding-and-reform debate of the 2014 session.
The $263 million introduced version has some key differences with the draft unveiled by supporters only last Thursday. While there are additional concessions to school district concerns about how additional K-12 funding should be spent, influential interest groups still have serious reservations about the latest version.
The bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Education Committee next Monday, possibly alongside the 2014-15 version of the school finance act, a measure that’s a key part of the complicated annual school funding process. That bill could be introduced later this week.
However, even if lawmakers move quickly on the two measures, the final decisions on 2014-15 school finance won’t be made until sometime after March 18, when state economists update their revenue forecasts. The total state revenue expected to be available in the next budget year will affect how much can be spent on education bills.
The Student Success Act, starting with early drafts, has become a point of contention between school district interests and bill sponsors. In the wake of last year’s defeat of Amendment 66, the $1 billion school funding measure, bill sponsors and some education reform groups want to use money to salvage parts of last year’s Senate Bill 13-213, the comprehensive funding overhaul that would have been paid for by A66. Those initiatives include more funding for early literacy programs, English language learners, kindergarten classrooms and to aid school districts in implementing existing reform requirements.
But districts have been pressing to have as much new money as possible devoting to “buying down” the $1 billion shortfall in school funding caused by use of the budget-balancing device called the “negative factor.” District and teacher interests also are resisting some of the earmarked programs proposed in HB 14-1292.
In an effort to gain Republican support, backers of the bill also have included funding for a new enrollment-counting system, greater district financial transparency and charter school facilities.
The prime sponsors of the bill are Reps. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat who chairs House Education, and Carole Murray of Parker, the panel’s senior Republican. The Senate prime sponsor is Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, the architect of SB 13-213.
Here are the key changes of the introduced bill, compared to the draft unveiled last week:
The following elements of the bill have the same amount of funding as proposed in the draft:
Despite movement by the sponsors on some issues, including the negative factor, school districts still have problems with the bill.
The Colorado Education Association Tuesday evening issued a statement saying that the bill is “an improvement to the proposal unveiled last week; however, the Colorado Education Association opposes the bill because districts don’t have the capacity to handle extra mandates put forth in the bill.”
The Colorado Association of School Executives on Friday decided to oppose the bill and work for amendments. The Colorado Association of School Boards officially is “monitoring” the bill but has made no secret of its opposition to several elements of the proposal.
The Student Success Act doesn’t address some other initiatives that were part of SB 13-213, including increased funding for at-risk students and the Colorado Preschool Program. It’s possible those issues may be addressed in the school finance bill.
In the three years since Colorado adopted new academic standards, teachers in Thompson School District have started examining their instruction in a much more granular way.
“What are students supposed to know, understand and be able to do?” they ask themselves regularly, said Diane Lauer, executive director of instruction for the Thompson School District. More importantly, “how do we know students are proficient? What do we do about those who aren’t? And how do we push those who are further?”
While teachers have been asking themselves those questions in a variety of ways for decades, the new standards have prompted the district to create a shared way of talking about the standards and how to measure students growth on a daily basis, Lauer said.
To support those changes, the district has provided training for teachers, developed new curriculum models teachers can adapt to their classrooms and is in the final stages of evaluating classroom materials, Lauer said. The work has been underwritten in part by an implementation grant from the state.
But a little more than 300 miles away, Lauer’s Western Slope colleague Laurie Pascoe is having very different conversations.
Pascoe’s district, Montrose and Olathe Schools, is cash-strapped and pinching every penny to find much-needed time for professional development and resources to help teachers align their work to the new standards.
“We’re just barely creeping out of this economic downturn,” Pascoe said. “Funding has been slashed by a tremendous amount, leaving us crippled to do what we really need to do around standards. We’re in the very infancy stages of planning.”
The contrast of these two districts provides a snapshot of how far apart many Colorado school districts are in their implementation of the new standards and in preparing for the high-stakes tests that accompany them.
Earlier this month, critics of the new standards and assessments suggested lawmakers delay the full implementation of the standards and tests, nearly five years in the making.
Siding with opponents of the Senate Bill 163, who believe Colorado has come too far in implementing the standards to turn back now, the Colorado Senate Education Committee killed the bill on a party line vote.
Districts and educators, prepared or not, will now be held accountable to teach those standards. The first round of tests, aligned to social studies and science standards, will be administered in April.Greater clarity
The Thompson School District, which was an early adopter of the new standards and a pilot district for a training program to implement the standards, has capitalized on the opportunity to rethink student learning.
The district is in its final stages of fully implementing the standards. Officials there manifest the kind of relief that follows the a consistent and through implementation — like a cool-down jog after a marathon.
While implementing the new standards hasn’t been without hiccups, Lauer said that moving away from standards that were written last century has given the district the opportunity to create new infrastructure.
Colorado’s previous standards, adopted in 1993, were written for groups of grade levels, leaving the expectations for what students should know at each individual grade ambiguous. For example, early childhood standards had been grouped K-4, Lauer said. What should have been taught per grade level was left to the individual districts and schools. What was being taught in the second grade in one district could very well have been taught in third grade in another.
“Greater clarity with regards to grade-level expectations was one of the things educators asked for in the design of the new standards,” Lauer said.
That means teachers will be able to adapt the standards to the need of their individual classrooms while still meeting a system-wide expectation. Lauer predicts teachers will spend less time deciphering the standards meaning more time to innovate, she said.
“Teaching [the same standard] could be very different, even across a school system or a school,” Lauer said. “But, I think, part of what makes us strong is what we do to work together as a system.”
The last immediate challenge for the Thompson School District, Lauer said, is to complete a review of classroom material and to prioritize textbook needs.
Because Colorado issued new standards in 10 different content areas, from math to health, the process to identify new textbooks has been the slowest and most costly step in implementing the standards, Lauer said.
But the district is already thinking years down the road about what kind of updates the science standards, which are likely to need updating more than others due to its nature, might need.
Lauer hopes the state’s new standards will be updated more frequently. According to law, the Colorado Department of Education must review and revise the standards as needed every six years.
“Regardless of how the standards shift, we need to provide our students with a great education, and we’ll continue to do that,” she said.Eye of the storm
If the Thompson School District is running the last leg of the race to implement Colorado’s new standards, Montrose and Olathe Schools has just crossed the starting line.
Pascoe said the district has prioritized the K-5 reading standards as the most critical to get right the soonest. The district is searching for standard-aligned materials, designing a districtwide framework for curriculum, and developing new teacher training programs. Teachers need to understand the new standards, Pascoe said, and the district needs to make sure classroom leaders are supported.
“When I look at [the new standards], I see more clarity at what they’re asking students to know and be able to do,” Pasoce said, echoing Lauer.
But Montrose hasn’t had the same support from the state as Thompson, which was a recipient of an integration grant that asked districts to pilot several of the state’s recent reform efforts including the standards and teacher evaluations, Pascoe said.
While Montrose is participating in one of the state’s efforts to ease the implementation of the standards, in which teachers from all corners are gathering together to design adaptable teaching units, Pascoe said it isn’t enough and the support isn’t coming fast enough.
Those model units, which have been in development since the summer, will be released just one month before students are tested on social studies and science standards.
“We’re waiting with baited breath,” Pascoe said. “Its seems a little bit late. Our teachers are like our troops, we’re sending them out to do this important work and we’re not sending them out with the tools to do it.”
A delay in the implementation of the new standards and the assessments would have been a welcome relief for Montrose, Pascoe said. But that isn’t happening now.
“We hope funding is going to increase, we’re just scraping by being able to do what we need to do,” Pascoe said.Building capacity
Since 2008, the Colorado Department of Education has been trying to be less of a rubber stamp and more proactive in its support to districts, said Melissa Colsman, executive director of the teaching and learning unit.
The fruit of those efforts, which districts can use, include a website, regional field directors, content specialists, and regional technical assistants who specialize in early childhood literacy, Colsman said.
The aim is not for the state to create more top-down mandates but to help districts build their own capacity to implement the standards in a way that’s best for them.
In addition to looking to the state for resources and support, districts can also look to their neighbors for support as the Northeast BOCES has done, Colsman suggested. They decided the loss of some autonomy was worth greater capacity.
“[Implementation] is hard,” Colsman said. “But the payoff is going to be really good. Two years from now, we’re gonna look back and say, ‘wow that was hard, but it was worth it.’”
With nearly 40 percent of their students already opting out of the ISAT, teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy—a high-achieving magnet school—took the bold step on Tuesday of voting to refuse to administer it.
In only one other instance—at a high school in Seattle last year—have teachers in one school made a unified group decision not to give a mandated test. National opponents of standardized testing applauded the decision and said it will send a signal across the country.
Late Tuesday, CPS officials released a brief statement, saying that employees who don't administer test will "face appropriate disciplinary actions." They did not specify what actions may be taken against employees.
"The District is committed to administering the exam and expects all CPS employees to fulfill their responsibilities to ensure we are in compliance with the law," according to the statement, which was attributed to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. We also continue to encourage parents to support their children taking the exam, as the results help teachers tailor instructional planning for the following year."
The statement also noted that Byrd-Bennett has "maximized instructional time" by reducing the number of standardized tests and lengthening the number of hours students are in school.
ISAT testing is conducted for eight hours over two weeks, starting on March 3. Testing opponents have already launched a drive to urge families in CPS to “opt out” of the ISAT, which is being administered for the last time this year.
Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo, says that teachers were emboldened by parents and the student council, which voted unanimously against taking the ISAT. She said that all the 3rd through 8th-grade teachers voted to participate in the boycott.
“Our students are tested and tested,” she said on Tuesday, just hours after the vote. “They cry over the test. They get nervous over the test.”
Chambers said Saucedo teachers were not going to tell the principal until after school, but that the principal so far has been quiet on the opt-out issue.
Saucedo teachers are hoping that other CPS teachers will join them. Saucedo is a Level 1 magnet school in Little Village.
The Chicago Teachers Union is supporting the Saucedo teachers and vowed to fight any repercussions that might the teachers might face. The union would “mount a strong defense of this collective action,” according to a press release about the vote.
In general, teachers are “disgusted and overwhelmed” by the amount of testing that they are required to administer, said Norine Gutekanst, organizing coordinator for the CTU. The ISAT, the NWEA-MAP and REACH exams are required and, in addition, network chiefs and principals have teachers administer extra tests.
The CTU estimates that CPS elementary students spend anywhere from 11 to 21 hours on testing.
"Nation will be watching" the latest salvo in the testing battle
This year, parents and teachers are especially critical of the ISAT. As the district transitions to the new Common Core Standards, the ISAT is being phased out. Next year students will be taking a standardized test based on the Common Core, called the PARCC.
To get students, parents and teachers used to the Common Core, CPS is using the results of the NWEA-MAP as a basis for important decisions, such as which students are promoted, how schools are rated academically and for teacher evaluation.
As a result, many have concluded that the ISAT is a waste of time. “We think it doesn’t make any sense for teachers to have repercussions for not administering a test that doesn’t mean anything,” Gutekanst said.
However, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has insisted that the ISAT is important. She issued two letters to parents urging them not to opt out of either the NWEA or the ISAT.
Byrd-Bennett and district officials point out that the ISAT is still used for the federal government’s accountability system under No Child Left Behind. They say that the district could lose out on federal funding if less than 95 percent of students take the ISAT or if too many schools fail to meet the federal benchmark, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Those who favor opting out of the ISAT point out that AYP has become meaningless. This year, the law calls for 100 percent of students to meet standards on tests in order for a school to meet AYP—something that no school accomplished last year. Since 2001, only 11 schools have had all their students meet standards.
Cassie Cresswell, a leader with the group More than a Score, said it is now time for parents to stand with the Saucedo teachers and any others who refuse to administer the test.
“One thing is that CPS can really do nothing to a parent or a student who opts out,” she said. “But for a teacher, it is a much bigger deal. It might be seen as insubordination.”
Cresswell said that parents in 38 schools have opted out of the ISAT. At Saucedo, 300 of about 790 3rd through 8th graders opted out--the largest number--though about six or seven other schools have significant percentages, Cresswell said.
Cresswell and national anti-standardized test advocate Robert Schaeffer point to what happened in Seattle last year as an example for what could happen in Chicago. In Seattle, teachers refused to administer the NWEA-MAP test. Because parents rallied around them, the teachers did not face any consequences.
Schaeffer said the Chicago teachers could have an even bigger impact than the Seattle group, because CPS is such a big player in the education world.
“The nation will be watching,” he said
Hundreds of CPS students from more than 20 schools are refusing to take their annual state achievement test next week, according to a group opposed to some standardized tests. (Sun-Times)
But of the over 200,000 CPS elementary students, only a small percentage have opted out of the ISAT so far, according to a group of eight parents and teachers at a news conference Monday at CPS headquarters. Holding signs that read “Our children are more than a score!,” the group encouraged parents to not have their children take the test.
TESTING AND FEDERAL FUNDING: Critics in Chicago think it's a good time for students to opt out of the ISAT because CPS is using another national test for school and student assessments, promotions and eligibility for the most competitive schools. CPS still wants students to take the ISAT, however, because if fewer than 95 percent of all students take the test, it affects the district's ability to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law. That in turn could put federal funding at risk. (Tribune)
A RICH GIFT: Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson and her husband, "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, are donating $25 million to the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools to support the construction of an arts building. (Tribune)
CHARTER GIFT LIST: In the last eight years, the Noble Network of Charter Schools has raised tens of millions of dollars from Chicago's wealthiest corporate leaders. Already the state's biggest charter network, Noble expects to teach 15 percent of Chicago public high school students by 2017. Bruce Rauner, a Republican gubernatorial candidate for Winnetka, has backed a number of charter schools, including the UNO Charter School Network now dogged by questions of cronyism. But he has given the most to Noble, just over $3.5 million. He not only funded the opening of Rauner College Prep on the city's West Side in 2006 but prompted Penny Pritzker, now U.S. secretary of commerce, and the family of his late mentor, Stanley Golder, to sponsor two more schools. (Crain's)
IN THE NATION
TEACHER DATA: Florida has become the latest state, after New York and Ohio, to release "value added" data on its teachers to news outlets, after losing an open-records battle in the courts to the Florida Times-Union. (Education Week)
A measure to give some small rural districts a bit of a break on state education paperwork won 12-0 approval Monday from the House Education Committee.
The committee also approved a bill that would make cyber bullying of young people a separate crime in the state law books. And the panel rejected a proposed $4 million pilot program that would have provided extra pay to highly qualified teachers who worked in low-performing schools.
The rural flexibility measure, House Bill 14-1204, was considerably more modest than rural districts would have liked, and the bill was trimmed down from the version originally introduced by Republican Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, a retired rural superintendent.
Rural superintendents, who often are the only administrators in their districts, “are focused more on reporting than on student achievement,” said Paula Stephenson, representing the Colorado Rural Caucus and the Colorado BOCES Association. She claimed there are 500-550 reports a year that districts must submit to the Colorado Department of Education.
The amended version of Wilson’s bill would provide two main benefits to districts with fewer than 1,000 students and defined as rural by CDE, based on remoteness from population centers.
First, districts rated as accredited or accredited with distinction would have to submit performance plans only every two years, instead of the annual plans required now. Just over 100 districts meet the small-and-rural definition. About 70 of those districts would be eligible, according to a Chalkbeat Colorado review of accreditation status.
Second, the bill would allow such districts to work with BOCES to obtain the services of literacy specialists for implementation of the READ Act, the state’s early-literacy law.
The paperwork requirements of state accountability law and READ Act mandates have been a sore point for small districts. Superintendent Paul McCarty of the 250-student Hanover district east of Colorado Springs testified that he has only four or five students who need the special services required by the literacy and gets only $4,300 in state reimbursement. He has no reading intervention specialists on his staff of fewer than 20 teachers.
Hopes by Wilson and the rural caucus to ease other paperwork requirements and even give rural districts access to the kinds of waivers enjoyed by charters schools fell by the wayside before Monday’s meeting because they conflict with federal requirements or faced opposition.Strong support for cyber bulling bill
Consideration of House Bill 14-1131 consumed nearly 2 ½ hours of the committee’s four-hour session Monday.
The measure is fairly simple – it would establish cyber bullying of a minor as a specific misdemeanor in state law. The measure brought sometimes-emotional testimony from a long list of witnesses.
“Some kids — you’ve heard the terrible stories — even commit suicide” because of cyber bullying,” said sponsor Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. “Now is the time for state of Colorado to add cyber bullying to the criminal code.”
Ashley Berry, a Littleton student who’s become an anti-bullying activist, said, “I went into complete depression” at one point because of cyber bullying.
It’s possible but not particularly easy to prosecute cyber bullying under current harassment and stalking laws, legal experts indicated, saying a specific new law will be more useful for prosecutors.
“It give me an extra tool, and a tool that I don’t have right now,” said Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler. He said a cyber bullying law also would give prosecutors leverage to put juvenile offenders into diversion programs.
The bill passed 12-0Teacher incentives bill fails the test
The one measure that didn’t make it out of House Education Monday was House Bill 14-1262.
The proposed pilot program would have provided stipends of between $3,000 and $12,000 a year to highly effective teachers who worked in low-performing schools. The $4 million program would have provided grants to about 100 teachers over four years.
The measure had bipartisan sponsorship (one Democrat and 10 Republicans) but was the brainchild of Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Brighton. The bill was backed by Colorado Succeeds, the business-oriented advocacy group, and the Colorado Children’s Campaign. It was partly inspired by a 2013 study by Mathematica Policy Research (more details on that report here).
Lobbyists for the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Education Association opposed the bill, saying the money could be better spent on basic school support and that the bill is premature because the state’s teacher evaluation system isn’t fully rolled out.
Some committee Democrats went out of their way to compliment Priola’s effort. “While I support what you’re trying to do … I just haven’t heard the compelling evidence that this is the right strategy,” said Dillon Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, committee chair.
Majority Democrats killed the bill on a 7-6 vote.
When the school my two children attend, Whittier ECE-8 School, had its awards ceremony and it came time to announce the fourth grade proficient honor roll, it became clear that there was a common theme for the students who ascended to the stage: involved parents.
Research shows that there is a strong correlation between parent involvement and student achievement, so parent engagement should show up as a central strategy at Denver Public Schools (DPS). So, does it? Some examples suggest otherwise.
For example, the 2012 DPS Mill Levy? The allocation for parent engagement was just one percent of the $49 million of new annual funding passed by voters.
Or how about the DPS School Performance Framework (SPF) – the key “grade” given to schools? For elementary and middle schools, parent engagement counts for five percent. For high schools, two percent. Suppose you are taking a college course and one of your papers counted for five percent of your grade. How much time and energy would you put into that assignment?
Moreover, the majority of the SPF’s parent engagement score reflects the outcome of just a single parent survey. The remainder measures how well the school did in motivating parents to return said survey.
DPS: do you believe that parent engagement is critical to student success? If so, what is your plan to “up the ante” and focus on parent education and empowerment?
I’m an active parent. I’m on a first name basis with the DPS leaders in the Office of Family and Community Engagement. So I know there are efforts afoot; but if I could be so bold, could I make a few suggestions?
I believe a parent is a child’s first and therefore most influential teacher. DPS, I hope that in the future you will communicate more effectively with parents, fervently pursue parents, expect more from parents and partner with parents as a means to your stated end of “every child succeeds.”
As part of its arts education plan, CPS has rolled out the district’s first-ever effort to rate schools on the quality of their arts programs and linked the ratings to arts funding of $500 to 750 per school.
But the ratings system likely won’t do much, at least initially, to help many schools, especially those in black or Latino communities.
Overall, one-third of schools were given an “Incomplete Data” rating, taking them out of the running for arts funding or for arts education grants that will be announced later this year. The schools were rated “incomplete” because they did not have an arts liaison in place or failed to complete a district survey on arts offerings.
Schools with the most African-American and Latino students were more likely to miss out on funding because of incomplete ratings. Just 11 percent of schools with white enrollment of at least 20 percent received such a rating. But 46 percent of predominantly black schools and 31 percent of predominantly Latino schools lost out on the money.
The same disparities appear in which schools got top ratings. Among schools with a substantial proportion of white students, 38 percent received the highest possible rating, but just one in ten predominantly African-American or Latino schools did.
Over the next several years, CPS wants to increase arts instruction to two hours a week for all students. The district says there are now only 55 schools without a full-time arts teacher. And next year, CPS has pledged to spend $21.5 million hiring new arts and physical education teachers.
A survey by the parent group Raise Your Hand found that two-thirds of 170 schools that were surveyed don’t offer the two hours of arts education each week touted by the district.
Providing support, mentoring
The goal of the ratings system was to provide schools with tailor-made support to improve their arts programs. Schools with incomplete ratings will get extra help to designate an arts liaison to help forge partnerships with outside arts organizations. Also, principals at schools that received the lowest ratings are supposed to receive mentoring on how to improve arts education at their school.
The ratings for both high schools and elementary schools are based on criteria that include the number of arts staff and whether the arts are part of a school’s plans for its budget, parent engagement, teacher training, interdisciplinary teaching and outside partnerships.
In addition, high schools are rated on the number of disciplines and levels of coursework offered. Elementary schools are also rated on the percentage of students who can take arts classes and how many minutes of instruction students receive per week.
Gale Elementary in Rogers Park was one of the schools that received an incomplete rating. Principal Cassandra Washington says she’s not sure why, but she thinks the retirement of the school’s art teacher – and the lag time in finding a new one – played a role.
“I know plenty of principals were trying to get the survey in on time, but it is something new. So there might not have been as much understanding as [the district] thought there was,” Washington says.
Washington says there is only enough money in her school’s budget to pay for a half-time art teacher, so only half of her students have art classes.
“We try to at least write grants or partner with organizations to get their services for free,” she says. CPS has sent resources on partner arts organizations to schools.
Raising the schools ratings will depend, of course, on resources. “If it’s based on the number of art teachers we have, that’s based on how much money we have,” she notes. “We can only buy as much as our money allows us to buy.”
Legacy Charter has approached the North Lawndale Community Action Council about taking over the former Pope Elementary School building at 1852 S. Albany Ave. But CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett assured state legislators in fall 2012 that no charters would move into the shuttered buildings, a vow repeated by board members during the months of debate over school closings last year. (Tribune)
CHURCH AND SCHOOL: A yet-to-be charter school, set to open in the Austin neighborhood in 2015 and affiliated with Moody Church, is raising questions about how a publicly financed charter school can comply with the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, especially when both groups share some leaders. (Tribune)
PROMISE VS. REALITY: A new survey of 170 Chicago public elementary schools by Raise Your Hand Illinois found that 65 percent do not offer the expected minimum of two hours of arts education per week, as stated by both Mayor Emanuel and CPS officials. (Comcast SportsNet)
INCREASING READING: Two hundred students including those at John Hope College Prep, a South Side charter school, will benefit this year from a three-year-old reading program aimed at getting students to read more. The program runs from March 11 to May 8 at Hope and will meet for one hour every Tuesday and Thursday. Students will read the novel, "There Are No Children Here," by author Alex Kotlowitz. (DNA Info)
IN THE NATION
A MONTESSORI SURGE: Arguing that the traditional Jewish day-school model is outmoded and too clannish, many Jewish parents and educators are flocking to Montessori preschools and elementary schools that combine secular studies with Torah and Hebrew lessons. (The New York Times)
Relatively few people — district budget officers, Capitol budget analysts, public-interest lawyers and the stray reporter — are absorbed or sometimes passionate about school finance.
So you’d think K-12 funding is the last issue to inspire a protest song. Guess again.
The “negative factor,” a formula the legislature uses to reduce school support below what it otherwise would have been, has become a legislative flashpoint this year. (See this story for details.)
A sign of that passion is the song written by Mark DeVoti, a former superintendent and current staffer at the Colorado Association of School Boards. He performed his negative factor protest song Thursday at a CASB meeting, to loud support from the audience.
View and listen to the song below. DeVoti is introduced by CASB deputy executive director Jane Urschel. (Video courtesy of CASB.)