The first testing bills of 2015 have been introduced in the Senate, one that would make extensive trims to the current assessment system and the second of which would cut back social studies testing.
Senate Bill 15-073, sponsored by Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, would require the state to cut testing to the so-called federal minimums and to ask federal authorities for a waiver that would allow use of the ACT test as the only assessment in high school. While such a request was pending, the ACT test would temporarily be eliminated.
Senate Bill 15-056 is a repeat of Sen. Andy Kerr’s unsuccessful attempt to trim social studies from the closing days of the 2014 session.
The two were among a flurry of education bills introduced this week, including an extensive “parent’s bill of rights” proposed by Republicans, a Democratic bill to cap student loan interest rates, a proposal to change admissions policies at Metropolitan State University, and a plan to boost compensation of community college faculty.
The Merrifield and Kerr bills are the first of what are expected to be several proposed measures on assessments. Republicans are likely to weigh in on the issue and also propose pulling Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards. It’s widely assumed the legislature will take some action on testing but most likely through a compromise, bipartisan bill.Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs / File photo
The Merrifield proposal to reduce testing to federal minimum requirements likely would eliminate science and social studies testing in the 12th grade, although the federal government does require a science test sometime during high school. It also would eliminate language arts and math tests in the 9th and 12th grades, tests Colorado gives now but that aren’t required under federal law.
Social studies tests, including those in lower grades, also are a Colorado-only policy. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for background on the implications of such testing cuts.)
The bill suggests temporarily eliminating the ACT test, now given to all 11th graders, but also would require the state to ask the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver that would allow the ACT to be the only test given to Colorado high school students. (The state currently gives language arts and math tests in 10th grade.)
Merrifield’s bill would retain the school readiness and READ Act assessments and evaluations used in grades K-3 but reduce the frequency in some cases.
“It’s a work in progress,” Merrifield said of his bill. “I’m willing to listen to other ideas, [but] I think the bill as drafted now is a huge step.” He added he’s “optimistic” the legislature will be able “to make some advances” on testing.
Senate Bill 15-056, the social studies measure introduced by Kerr, a Lakewood Democrat, would allow the state to give the new social studies tests only once every three years in every school. Only “a representative sample” of schools would administer the tests in any given year. Currently the tests are given to all 4th, 7th and 12th graders. Rollout of the tests last fall sparked boycotts by high school seniors in some districts.
The last-minute 2014 bill on social studies was killed in the House Education Committee. Kerr commented recently that passing the bill then would have saved some disruption last fall. The high school scores haven’t been compiled, but the 4th and 7th grade scores from tests last spring showed room for improvement (see story).Lawmakers awaiting testing recommendations
Republican Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, chair of the Senate Education Committee, has promised that he won’t hold hearings on testing bills until after the advisory Standards and Assessments Task Force presents its recommendations to lawmakers on Jan. 28.
Durango Superintendent Dan Snowberger, who chaired the task force, briefed the House and Senate education committees on the group’s work Wednesday but, by pre-arrangement with Hill, didn’t discuss recommendations. (The group’s direction, based on its last meeting Monday, is fairly clear. See this story.)
Snowberger did say the diverse group generally agreed that “It does seem like we’ve reached the point where it feels like we’re over-assessing.”
Two Republican lawmakers used the occasion to ask about SchoolVault, an electronic tool developed by the Durango district to help teachers track student progress on locally designed classroom tests. Some testing critics have intimated that Snowberger somehow has a conflict of interest because of his involvement with School Vault and chairing the task force.
When Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, tried to press the issue, Hill cut him off, saying, “Save that for a personal conversation afterwards.”Fresh bills cover wide range of issues
Other new education bills introduced as of Wednesday include:Get texts, bill details in the Education Bill Tracker
Senate Bill 15-068 -Caps the annual interest rate that a private lender may charge for a student loan to 2 percentage points above the rate charged by the federal government. The bill also makes student loan payments deductible on state income taxes. The measure has been assigned to Senate State Affairs, usually considered the kill committee. Prime sponsors: Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville; Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City.
Senate Bill 15-070 – Would eliminate state licensing of childcare centers that serve fewer then 10 children. The current cutoff is five children, although centers with five-10 children can apply for an exemption. Prime sponsors: Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud; Rep. Janek Joshi, R-Colorado Springs.
Senate Bill 15-072 – Reclassifies Metro State as a “moderately selective” institution. Metro currently is classified as “modified open admission,” which means students aged 20 or older only need a high school diploma or GED for admission. Metro officials didn’t request the change and say they are studying the bill. Prime sponsors: Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs’ Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument.
Senate Bill 15-077 – Creates a comprehensive “parent’s bill of rights” covering disclosure and parent consent on such matters as school records, health care decisions, making audio or video recordings of children, curriculum, sex education and other matters. It contains various opt-out provisions but doesn’t appear to include a testing opt-out. Other bill provisions cover medical issues. The bill was assigned to Senate Education. Prime sponsors: Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton; Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock. (The two new legislators are father and son, respectively, and are among the legislature’s more conservative members.)
Senate Bill 15-080 – Expands participation in the defined contribution pension program offered by the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, most of whose members are in the defined benefit plan. Prime sponsor: Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.
Senate Bill 15-094 – Represents this year’s attempt to improve pay and benefits for part-time community college faculty. Prior efforts have failed because of the considerable cost involved. Assigned to State Affairs. Prime sponsors: Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Kefalas; Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.
Colorado's two-year-old "breakfast after the bell" program wouldn't be extended to more kids as originally envisioned, under a bill introduced Tuesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Still far apart
Democrats and Republicans took to the floor of the U.S. Senate Tuesday to present at times conflicting visions for a rewrite of the federal No Child Left Behind Law. ( The Washington Post )
Testing, testing, three, two, one
Boulder Valley educators are happy with proposed reductions in state testing, but say they don't go far enough. ( Boulder Daily Camera )
A few words
Governor John Hickenlooper and his lieutenant Joe Garcia were sworn in for second terms Tuesday, and each had a few words to say about education ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Tar Heel back-pedal?
North Carolina, one of the first states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, is apparently having second thoughts. ( NPR/KUNC )
Tom Hanks, an "underachieving student with lousy SAT scores" writes that he thrived in community college and hopes President Obama’s plan to expand free access to two-year schools will win support in Congress. ( New York Times )
Alabama leads the nation in one education statistic, but it's not one to brag about. School employees in Alabama were accused or convicted of sex crimes with students more frequently than in any other state on a per capita basis in 2014. ( AL.com )
A bill introduced in the House Tuesday would change existing law governing the “breakfast after the bell” program and likely affect its expansion.
Passed by the 2013 legislature, the law requires that certain schools provide breakfast after the school day starts. The theory behind the law was that students do better in class if they’re not hungry, that some students skip breakfast if it’s offered before school, and that students will be more likely to eat if all others are eating, not just the “poor” kids.
School district lobbyists doggedly fought the bill, arguing that it unnecessarily restricted district flexibility in providing the morning meal and could in some cases impose costs on districts. As finally passed, the law applied to schools with 80 percent or more students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. The law lowers that threshold to 70 percent starting in the 2015-16 school year.
House Bill 15-1080 would cancel the switch to 70 percent and keep the threshold for the program at 80 percent low income students. The prime sponsors are Rep. Janak Joshi and Sen. Owen Hill, both Colorado Springs Republicans. If the bill survives in the House it may have legs, given that Republicans control the Senate and Hill is chair of the Senate Education Committee.
See this 2014 Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on how districts prepared for the breakfast after the bell requirement.
Two other education-related bill were introduced Tuesday. They are:
House Bill 15-1079 – Removes current restrictions on spending of general fund money on certain teen pregnancy and dropout prevention programs, and extends the repeal date of those programs from 2016 to 2020. Prime sponsors: Reps. Don Corum, R-Montrose and Jesse Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge; Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango
House Bill 15-1081 – Permits “a person” to restrict access to a sex-segregated locker room based on an individual’s actual, biological sex. The backstory here is conservative concern about which locker rooms transgender people can use. The measure has been assigned to House State Affairs, commonly known as the “kill committee.” Democrats have the House majority. Prime sponsor: Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Douglas County, with 10 House Republican cosponsors; no Senate sponsor
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts, sponsor information, fiscal notes and much more detail about every 2015 education bill.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia were sworn in for their second terms on the Capitol’s west steps Tuesday morning, both touting the state’s economic recovery while stressing the importance of expanding those opportunities to all regions and people of the state.
Hickenlooper made two brief references to education in his 13-minute speech.
“We have been restoring funding to the state’s education budget,” Hickenlooper said. “We will continue to build … a Colorado where all of our children have access to a first-rate education regardless of zip code; where funding for higher education is transparent, fair and gets results.”
While the state is funding schools at a higher level than during the Great Recession, school superintendents are making the case they need more money. School funding is likely be a topic of ongoing debate during the legislative session.
Hickenlooper will make his annual state of the state speech to a joint session of the legislature on Thursday morning. That address will be longer and typically contains somewhat more detailed policy proposals, although education has not been a major theme of his last four state of the state speeches.
The administration’s primary education priorities have been improving early childhood education and services, full implementation of the education reforms enacted since 2008, and increasing the number of people with college degrees and professional certificates.
That's a wrap — sort of
The state's testing committee met yesterday for the last time. They firmed up recommendations for cutbacks in some high school testing and for streamlining of assessments and evaluations in the earliest grades. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Among the recommendations the panel will make to the legislature: A paper-and-pencil option for all state tests starting in 2015-16, acknowledging complaints that computer labs are being turned over to testing. ( Denver Post )
Education Secretary Arne Duncan laid out his vision for the next generation of federal education laws. ( Washington Post )
He also drew a line in the sand: every student needs to be tested, every year. ( NPR via KUNC )
Which brings us to our question of the week: What should Congress’ priorities be when it rewrites No Child Left Behind? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
follow the leader
Hundreds of teacher leaders gathered in Denver during the weekend. Here's a roundup of their best tweets. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The State Board of Education shouldn't move ahead with its plan to offer waivers from new online-based standardized tests to school districts. ( Denver Post )
No weapons were found after police received a tip about a possible weapon at two Denver schools. ( 9News )
A bill that would indefinitely extend the current 6 percent cap on annual tuition increases at state colleges and universities was introduced by two Democratic lawmakers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Very important Dates
The Poudre School District may push its school start dates back next year to mitigate the problem of hot August days in mostly non-air conditioned buildings. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
But the Boulder Valley School District is sticking with its current start date for at least two more years. ( Daily Camera )
A bill that would indefinitely extend the current 6 percent cap on annual tuition increases at state colleges and universities was introduced by two Democratic lawmakers Monday.
Responding to growing concern about rising tuition, the 2014 legislature set a 6 percent tuition hike ceiling. That new law ended a system under which college trustees had flexibility in setting tuition, subject to review by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
The new measure, Senate Bill 15-062, would create an exception for the Colorado School of Mines, which could increase tuition by 6 percent or twice the inflation rate, whichever is greater. And if state funding for higher education increased by less than the rate of inflation in a given year, any college could ask the commission for permission to increase undergraduate resident tuition rates by more than 6 percent.
The prime sponsors are Sen. Andy Kerr and Rep. Brittany Pettersen, both Lakewood Democrats.
Two other education bills were introduced Monday. They are:
House Bill 15-1076 – Prohibits requiring union membership or payment of dues as a condition of employment. This is a perennial GOP bill, and it would affect teachers unions. It was assigned to the State Affairs Committee, the “kill committee” in the Democratic-controlled House. Prime sponsors: Rep. Justin Everett; Sens. Tim Neville and Laura Woods. All are Jefferson County Republicans.
Senate Bill 15-063 – Broadens a 2007 program of grants to schools for alternative-energy projects. Prime sponsor: Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Edwards.
In its final meeting Monday, the state’s testing task force firmed up recommendations for cutbacks in some high school testing and for streamlining of assessments and evaluations in the earliest grades.
The group couldn’t reach agreement on what should be done with social studies tests and with 9th grade language arts and math tests. Nor were its members of one mind about how the state should help districts with the costs of technology needed for new online tests.
The task force isn’t recommending that the testing schedule be changed for this spring or that the legislature mandate changes in local testing.
As the meeting ended, chair Dan Snowberger said, “What this [the group’s work] has represented to me is the real complexity of this issue.” Given that, he added, he hopes “the legislature doesn’t see the limited change we can suggest … as a loss.” Snowberger is superintendent of the Durango schools.
“I feel like we’ve done as much as we can,” said task force member Syna Morgan, a Jeffco administrator.
The Standards and Assessments Task Force didn’t leave Monday’s session with final report language in place. Subgroups of the 15-member body will edit sections of the draft completed Monday, then each member will have the opportunity to comment on the whole document. The panel will review changes during a Jan. 23 conference call, with a Jan. 26 deadline for finishing the report.
Given the group’s propensity for word-smithing, it’s likely there will several changes in language.
Members of the group are scheduled to present their report to lawmakers on Jan. 28.
The task force is recommending that language arts and math tests continue in grades 3-8 and in grade 10. Junior-year tests in those subjects would be made optional, and 12th grade tests in social studies and science would be eliminated. The task force also is recommending streamlining some of the assessments and evaluations used to determine school readiness and reading ability in K-3 students. For instance, students who demonstrate grade-level reading wouldn’t have to be retested during the same school year.
The group will propose there be a one-year timeout in state ratings of schools to avoid schools or districts being penalized if significant numbers of students opt out of this spring’s tests. The panel also agreed that if a ratings timeout is approved, the state needs to provide clear, factual to districts and parents on what that means.
Despite apparent agreement during a Friday meeting, the group split Monday in a rare show-of-hands vote on whether 9th grade language arts and math tests should be eliminated. The report will reflect that division.
The group’s division over whether to continue 4th and 7th grade social studies tests or make them optional also will go into the report.
Late Monday morning, the group also seemed ready to split on other high school testing changes.
After a break for lunch, Snowberger said, “It does feel like we’re starting to revisit, we’re starting to backpedal.” The panel decided to leave the recommendations as they were.
Members also spent considerable time Friday and Monday morning discussing more extensive changes to testing, which might be possible if and when federal requirements change. The possibilities include adaptive assessments (tests that get harder or easier depending on a student’s answers), flexibility for districts to use their own tests, state tests that combine several subjects, and streamlining annual testing so that students wouldn’t take tests in multiple subjects each year.
But the group made no recommendations – “There are unresolved tensions in the group,” noted Bill Jaeger of the Colorado Children’s Campaign – and decided those issues are best left to some future study group.
In closing comments members complimented one another, but a couple were critical of the legislature for lack of diversity on the group. The panel, appointed by legislative leaders and the chair of the State Board of Education, had one Hispanic member and no African Americans. Tony Lewis of the Donnell-Kay Foundation called that “immoral if not unjust.”
Lewis and task force facilitator Laura Lefkowits also chided lawmakers for not providing any funding for the task force. (The only funding was for an outside study of testing impacts.)
As Washington Republicans prepare to rewrite sweeping federal education legislation, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this morning laid out his own vision for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind.
Here’s how the Washington Post described it:
He talked broadly about equal educational opportunity as a civil right — and as a moral and economic imperative for the country — but he included a few specific ideas he wants incorporated in federal law. He said any new law must include a provision that states test every student annually in math and reading in grades 3 to 8 and once in high school.
“I believe parents, teachers and students have both the right and the need to know how much progress all students are making each year toward college and career readiness,” Duncan said. “That means all students need to take annual statewide assessments that are aligned with their teacher’s classroom instruction.”
Among his priorities: more flexibility for states, funding for preschool, $1 billion annually in federal aid for schools with the neediest students, and maintaining the federal mandate that states must test students annually in math and reading.
You can watch Duncan’s full speech here:
Duncan’s speech brings us to our question of the week: What should Congress’ priorities be when it rewrites No Child Left Behind?
If you need a refresher on what No Child Left Behind does, check out this explainer Chalkbeat’s Maura Walz did when she was at the Southern Education Desk.
Each Monday, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.
The Poudre School District may push its school start dates back next year to mitigate the problem of hot August days in mostly non-air conditioned buildings.
At its meeting Tuesday, the school board will consider a middle and elementary start date of August 24, a week later than this year, and a high school start date of August 20, two days later than this year. The board will also discuss a $200,000 study that would look at the cost and feasibility of installing air conditioning in all district buildings.
Poudre’s heat predicament came to a head in August 2013, when consecutive sweltering days caused complaints and canceled school. To address that problem, the district implemented two weeks of early release days for elementary and middle schools last August, but the temperatures were fairly mild during that period and some parents complained that the altered schedule made transportation and child care arrangements difficult.
Poudre isn’t the only district to address overheated classrooms and uncomfortable students during the first few weeks of school. Pueblo City Schools moved its start date to early September this school year to combat such problems. And in 2013, Denver Public Schools pushed its August start date back by a week, from mid- to late August (Most DPS schools started August 25 this year.)
In his first statements after being named chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, Rev. James Meeks said he is open to charters and vouchers, anything that successfully closes the achievement gap. Of course, as chairman of the board of education, he won’t have any real role in passing legislation to get more vouchers or charters.
But if the litmus test is whether they close the achievement gap, that will be hard to prove. Studies have generally shown that students who go to private schools using vouchers show no greater improvement than students who stay in public schools. Charter school results are equally inconclusive with about a third of schools doing better than traditional public schools, a third doing worse and a third doing about the same. As a state senator, Meeks tried, but failed, to get a voucher bill passed. Soon after, a private school run by his church closed its doors.
Of course, Gov. Bruce Rauner supports charter schools and vouchers so that might be a bigger factor than whether they actually close the achievement gap. With Meeks, it also will be interesting to see if he is as strident an advocate for more school funding as he has been in the past. Remember that in 2008 he kept more than 1,000 Chicago students out of school on the first day and took them on a bus to try to enroll them in New Trier High School. That school spends about $30,000 on each student, double what CPS has to spend. Meeks only sent the students back to school when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he wouldn’t meet on the subject until the students went back to school.
2. Lucrative connections? Speaking of Rauner, the Sun-Times digs deep into the business dealings of one member of the new governor’s transition team: former Chicago Public Schools CEO Rob Huberman. Reporter Dan Mihalopoulos writes that a company started by Huberman has gotten $200,000 from charter operators he helped before leaving government four years ago.
Huberman launched the company, TeacherMatch LLC, which provides software to help schools screen job applicants, in 2011, and two years later got a boost of nearly $1.9 million from investors, including a private equity firm where he’s also a top executive.
The Noble Network of Charter Schools and United Neighborhood Organization Charter Schools -- both clients of TeacherMatch -- had previously benefitted from Huberman’s tenure as CEO, getting permission to enroll more students at three campuses and approval for new sites. A third charter group that has paid TeacherMatch is Distinctive Schools, which manages some of the Chicago International Charter schools, and whose chairman is involved in a separate business venture with Huberman.
3. Worth the money? The Chicago Tribune raises serious questions about the effectiveness of a state program aimed at developing minority teachers. Illinois has spent more than $20 million in the past decade for the Grow Your Own Teacher program -- which so far has produced only about 80 teachers of color. Another 140 are in the pipeline. When the program was originally funded, state legislatures projected it would graduate about 1,000 teachers by 2016.
Advocates say programs like Grow Your Own Teacher are important, considering that minorities make up more than half of students across Illinois but just 16 percent of teachers. But some critics, like state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, call it “an example of politics still trumping merit, in terms of whether a program warrants continued funding."
One important reason why many recruited candidates never became teachers is a failure to pass the assessment previously known as the Basic Skills Test that’s needed to get into colleges of education. Across all races, passing rates have dropped significantly since the test was revamped in 2010. (The test is blamed in part for the decrease in enrollment in colleges of education.) But white teacher candidates are still twice as likely to pass than their black and Latino counterparts, according to recent data from the Illinois State Board of Education.
4. Dual-enrollment vs AP…. A day after saying that in his second term he wanted to increase the number of high school students taking dual enrollment classes at City Colleges, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he has found private funding for it. GE Transportation, a Chicago-based division of General Electric Company, is offering up a $500,000 investment for the program. City leaders hope to enroll 6,100 CPS students in the program by the 2016-2017 school year, up from 2,481 students enrolled this year and nearly eight times more than when Emanuel took office.
“We have to rethink what senior year of high school is all about,” Emanuel said at a Friday press conference. “It’s got to be a period of preparing kids for their next step in education, whether that means summer internships, or enrolling in a two-year degree program, or applying for college.”
Of course, the big push over the past decade was for students to earn college credit by taking Advanced Placement classes. The number of students taking AP classes went from about 4,000 in 2000 to more than 16,000 in 2013--the last year CPS data is available. But the chronic problem with AP classes is that they are too hard for most students to pass. To earn credit from an AP class students must get a three or above on a test developed by the College Board. Only about a third of CPS students got college credit for their AP classes in 2013.
Dual enrollment classes are basically city college classes and students simply have to meet the requirements to pass that class. According to CPS, about 90 percent of students who take dual enrollment classes pass them.
Through the years when reporters questioned CPS officials about having so many students take AP classes only to fail them, we were assured that students benefitted from the rigor of the courses, even if they didn’t earn college credit. No one is saying that dual enrollment classes will replace AP classes, but that would seem to be the natural consequence for some students. The question then becomes: Is an easier route to college credit better?
5. Autonomy reality check… As would be expected, the day after Emanuel touted his first-term education performance and laid out what he wants to do in the second term, rivals and critics attacked his rosy picture and questioned his plans. Interestingly, one of the plans taking the most heat is the one to give high-performing principals freedom from district mandates to run their schools.
First off, on a video posted to Mayoral Candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s website, principal activist Troy LaRaviere said that in a survey of principals, 85 percent feel as though they have less autonomy under Emanuel. He said that principals were especially disturbed with regular mandates being handed down by central and network offices. On the survey, one principal said that CPS administration should stop using the term “autonomy” because it is an “illusion.”
“In the end Emanuel’s public comments are a stark contrast to reality,” LaRaviere said on the video.
CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett insisted that this proposed program was different the previous initiative that ended in 2011 called AMPS or Autonomous Management and Performance Schools. However, she did not give details.
In its critique of Emanuel, the CTU noted that with per-pupil budgeting, principals were supposed to get more autonomy--though their budgets were cut at the same time. Further, they say it is a bad idea to use autonomy as a reward. They note black students made up 18 percent of students in AMPS schools and white students made up 40 percent, yet 40 percent of CPS’ student population is black and 9 percent are white.
The state task force studying standardized testing in Colorado is edging closer to its final recommendations. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Colorado's early education system earned a low score on Education Week's report early childhood education, but local experts aren't sure how much that matters. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg said the district will likely stick with PARCC assessment this year, but said he thinks there's too much time overall devoted to testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Talk to us
Chalkbeat readers shared their priorities for the 2015 legislative session, which opened last week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Information from school board meetings is not easily accessible to the public, the Gazette reports. ( Gazette )
tackling toxic stress
Latino USA explores how toxic stress can affect young children. ( NPR )
Children's innate sense of how numbers work may not line up with the way they're taught and used every day. ( Radiolab )
Educators and schools are determining how to balance academic expectations for kindergartners with students' other needs. ( Education Week )
Arne Duncan: Obama administration's education priorities are staying constant as Congress considers reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education act. ( Education Week )
A rancher who is participating in the National Western Stock Show participates in Denver's online school. ( 9 News )
Sens. Michael Bennet and Lamar Alexander proposed legislation that would reduce the complexity of FAFSA, the form students use to apply for financial aid. ( 9 News )
Students explore outer space at a Colorado Springs science center. ( Gazette )
Blended learning—the classroom of the future? ( KUNC )
Boulder Prep students are learning to use a 3D printer. ( Daily Camera )
The Denver Post calls for the state to focus on school safety data and make it more accessible. ( Denver Post )
The Denver Post argues that the state school board overstepped its authority last week by voting to permit districts to not administer the PARCC assessment. ( Denver Post )
The advisory panel assigned to make recommendations about reform of the state testing system will take a last cut at its suggestions Monday, but the shape of the group’s thinking on key issues firmed up during an all-day session Friday.
Members of the Standards and Assessments Task Force tentatively support rolling back tests recently added in the 11th and 12th grades and streamlining the assessments and evaluations used to determine school readiness and student reading ability. The group didn’t reach agreement on what to do about Colorado’s new social studies tests.
“I think we’ve got to acknowledge that the overall package of testing is overwhelming,” task force chair Dan Snowberger said as the group began its Friday session. Snowberger is superintendent of schools in Durango.
The group wrestled a bit with the issue of what – if anything – can be done about the online language arts and math tests scheduled to be given in the 3rd through 11th grades this spring. Those tests from the PARCC assessment group are based on the Common Core State Standards and will be given in two parts, one in March and one near the end of the school year.
“I think we’re all saying the concrete’s been poured for the spring,” suggested member John Creighton, a St. Vrain school board member who led much of Friday’s discussion.
Other members seemed to accept – some of them grudgingly – that this year’s tests can’t practically be changed or reduced. But the group did agree that there should be a one-year timeout in state ratings of schools to avoid schools or districts being penalized if significant numbers of students opt out of this spring’s tests.Learn more
Substantial numbers of high school seniors in a few districts boycotted science and social studies tests last fall. Leaders of parent activist groups are predicting similar boycotts this spring. Both state and federal rules require at least 95 percent participation on standardized tests, and schools and districts that drop below that level risk having their state ratings downgraded.
The panel also agreed that if a ratings timeout is approved, the state needs to provide clear, factual information to districts and parents on what that means.
Faced with mounting teacher and pubic concern about assessment, particularly the amount of testing, the 2014 legislature created the task force and assigned it to come up with recommendations for the 2015 session. The group convened in mid-July, but its work has moved slowly, partly because of philosophical differences among the 15 members, who represent a spectrum of education sectors and interest groups. Friday’s meeting was added to the group’s schedule after little progress was made at a December session (see story).
The task force is scheduled to present its final report to a joint session of the House and Senate education committees on Jan. 28. Some legislative leaders want to delay debate on a testing bill until after the panel’s report is done, but lawmakers are chomping at the bit to get at the issue. Nearly two-dozen draft bills on the issue reportedly are being prepared by legislators.
Before the group started working through proposed recommendations Friday, Creighton said, “There is a desire among the group, where there is common ground, to speak with one voice. [But] common ground doesn’t mean 100 percent agreement. … What are the recommendations to reduce the burden that we can all live with?”
So the group reached its preliminary recommendations Friday by member assent – or lack of dissent – and without taking formal votes. Here are the highlights:
Task force members didn’t really discuss the issue Friday but previously suggested no changes to the current schedule of language arts, math, science and social studies testing in the 3rd through 8th grades.
“There’s absolutely no way we can do anything about three through eight,” said member Syna Morgan, chief academic officer for the Jeffco schools.
Early in the meeting members kicked around the burden of local testing, but the group appears unlikely to make recommendations in that area.
“What the legislature has most control over are state assessments … so we want to speak about where they have the most authority,” said Creighton.
People who’ve been pushing to change Colorado’s testing system have been frustrated by federal testing requirements that make it risky to trim the state system too much lest federal funding be put in danger.
However, federal requirements may be loosened by the new Republican-majority Congress, so the task force also is discussing broader, future testing reform in Colorado. Morgan and Lisa Escarcega, chief accountability officer for the Aurora schools, presented a proposed plan to the group Friday. Among other things, it basically would require students to be tested in only one subject a year. The group discussed that idea for awhile and will return to it in more detail Monday.
Colorado earned a D and ranked 44th out of 50 states on a report card measuring early education in Education Week’s annual “Quality Counts” report. But one expert says the report’s “Early Education Index” doesn’t consider a set of indicators comprehensive enough to make the letter grades fair and accurate.
“If you look at the big picture of everything that’s going on in the [early childhood] space….it’s not a good way to grade the states,” said Bruce Atchison, executive director of policy and operations for the Education Commission of the States. “It’s just a little shallow to me.”
Overall, the top-ranked jurisdictions on the Early Education Index were the District of Columbia, Hawaii and Mississippi. The bottom three were Nevada, Idaho and Utah. The nation as a whole earned a D+ on the index.
He also said the index doesn’t consider Colorado’s work to improve child care quality, licensing and professional development. Also unacknowledged are governance changes that created the state’s Office of Early Childhood, legislation requiring kindergarten entry assessments, and the progress being made by the state’s network of early childhood councils.
“I would give Colorado a B- or C+ absolutely,” Atchison said.
A better approximation of how Colorado is doing on the early childhood front is the annual “State of Preschool Report” from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Atchison said. The 2013 report, the latest available, doesn’t give letter grades, but generally gives Colorado middle-of-the pack rankings when it comes to preschool access and spending. For example, the state ranked 22nd on four-year-old preschool access and 32nd on all reported (not just state) spending.
Among the eight indicators included in the Quality Counts’ Early Education Index, Colorado did particularly poorly on those measuring the number of children in full-day preschool (31.2 percent) or full-day kindergarten (59.7 percent) programs, ranking behind all but a handful of other states. It also scored poorly in the “preschool poverty gap” category, which measures the difference between the percentage of poor and non-poor children enrolled in preschool. In Colorado, that gap is 19.4 percentage points, among the highest in the nation.
The index does contain few bright spots for Colorado. The state posted one of the highest gains in preschool enrollment over the last five years—3 percent compared to the national average of -.3 percent. Its overall preschool enrollment rate of 48.8 percent is also relatively high, earning it a ranking of 16th nationally.
One caveat mentioned by Education Week officials about the Early Education Index is that it’s based on federal surveys that asked families to self-report educational information. It does not include actual enrollment figures collected by states, school districts or programs.
On a separate section of Quality Counts focusing more on the K-12 system, Colorado earned a C and ranked 21st in the nation. That grade, the same as the national average, was based on K-12 achievement, school finance measures, and a third indicator called “Chance for success,” which includes early childhood, K-12 and adult outcomes. Colorado earned a B on Chance for Success, a C on K-12 achievement and a D+ on finance.
Denver Public Schools plans to administer the PARCC assessment in reading and math this spring as planned, even if the state permits districts to back out, superintendent Tom Boasberg said on Thursday.
Boasberg told Chalkbeat, however, that Colorado’s testing program, which includes the PARCC tests and other subject-matter exams, could use some trimming.
Boasberg is not alone in his concern. Colorado’s testing system is expected to be hotly debated by state lawmakers this legislative session. A task force created by the legislature will make recommendations about testing to lawmakers by the end of the month. Students in Boulder led protests last fall about overtesting, and a vocal group around the state has backed a movement to “opt out” of standardized tests.
The state board of education made waves Thursday by voting allow to school districts to choose not to administer PARCC this spring. That vote may or may not actually have any practical effect.
Boasberg said that while DPS plans to administer the assessment this year, “I think the PARCC assessments need to be shorter. I’ve been vocal about that with [U.S. Department of Education] Secretary Arne Duncan and the head of the PARCC consortium.”
“I want to see a significant reduction in testing time,” he said. “Overall, the volume of testing is too much. There are tests, like the 12th grade tests or tests for kindergarten, that don’t make sense. It’s well-intentioned but they take up way to much time.”
He said that test-makers face conflicting demands: “On the one hand you have folks who don’t like tests saying, we hate fill-in-the-bubble tests, we want something that’s got more writing, that’s really an indication of deeper student learning. But often the same people say the tests are way too long.”
His ideal? “I don’t see why they can’t be a total of three or four hours per year, seeing what progress our kids have been making against the standards,” he said. “We may not be able to have all the levels of sophistication that some folks want, but I think that could give teachers a good indication of where students are.”
“I do think there’s a real value in having a benchmark each year of how kids are doing,” he said.
He said that some concerns about the assessments—for instance, that the questions and format on the computer-based test can be difficult for kids to navigate—have been overblown. “Sometimes the kids are farther ahead than the teachers.”
Earlier this week the Colorado General Assembly opened for business and already there are a dozen bills that related to classroom matters.
No doubt, testing and funding will be the headline-grabbing issues. But there are plenty of other ed-related topic on the agenda and we wanted to know from our readers what mattered to them.
On Twitter, Terry Kimber held the line and said lawmakers shouldn’t think of passing any new bills or mandates until school funding is restored to pre-recession levels.
— Terry Kimber (@kimbert7) January 6, 2015
But Margarita Bianco, associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver who runs a teacher prep program, said that legislators need to incentivize districts to hire more teachers of color. A report requested last year by lawmakers and released earlier this week showed there is a huge disparity between the number of teachers of color and students of color.
— Margarita Bianco (@MargaritaBianco) January 6, 2015
In emails, two readers suggested that lawmakers should actually scale back previously passed reforms.
Penny Hodges emailed:
The hot issue must be the education reform. I believe parents are starting to vote for the legislators that are against the common core standards. It is pulling our children behind and if we want to compete in a global level we need to advance our children with smaller class sizes teach traditional math then once they have mastered the traditional way of thinking introduce the common core way to show children different ways of processing answers.
Noelle Green suggested that just scaling back the number of tests isn’t enough:
Real reform would have reduced class sizes, added enrichment classes, and improved teacher professional development and teacher retention. The fact that education reform does not consider any of these proven solutions, but focuses on destroying unions, bashing teachers, and parking kids in front of a computer to self-learn because it’s cheaper, indicates another ideological purpose that does not put children first. This, plus charter school/virtual school accountability (a huge problem in Colorado), need to be addressed by the legislature immediately.
Testing Wars, Part I of...
The state board of education voted 4-3 to allow districts to waive out of administering the first part of the PARCC assessment—though it's unclear whether the motion has legal legs. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, The Gazette )
Sen. Rollie Heath introduced a bill that would give a scholarship to the top three graduates of every Colorado school ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
An argument against using student test scores to evaluate teachers. ( The Atlantic )
A report on Denver's school choice system finds that most Denver families get their first choice school, but that a tension between high-quality schools and proximity persists for many. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Colorado Public Radio )
Trying to get a message through to you
Bright by Three texts literacy tips to parents with young children. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Across the network
A school in Memphis is focusing on social-emotional learning for teachers with a program called FuelEd. ( Chalkbeat TN )
Far fewer are passing a newly-overhauled GED test. ( KUNC )
President Obama is in Tennessee promoting community college. ( KUNC )
The Aspen Institute challenged students to come up with solutions to real social problems. ( 9 News )
Some parents are disappointed that a new elementary school in Boulder won't be completed by 2016. ( Daily Camera )
The Yellow Ribbon program hopes to help address recent student suicides in the St. Vrain Valley. ( Times-Call )
Inspired by his own experience, a veteran Democratic senator has introduced a bill that would provide four-year, full-tuition scholarships at state colleges and universities for the top three graduates of every Colorado high school every year.
Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, on Thursday introduced Senate Bill 15-050, which would create what he calls the ACES program. The acronym stands for Awarding Colorado’s Excellent Scholars. Heath recalled recently that a similar scholarship made it possible for him to attend the University of Wisconsin after he graduated from high school.
Students eligible for the program would the graduates with the three highest grade-point averages, with a 3.0 minimum. (In the case of GPA ties, a district superintendent or charter principal would determine the winners.)
Scholarship winners would have to enroll in a state college immediately after graduation, take full course loads of 15 credit hours, maintain a 3.0 average and (in most cases) finish college in four years.
Heath’s bill is the first of what are expected to be several bills on college affordability, including financial incentives for students who stay in college, student loan forgiveness, caps on some student loan interest rates and better consumer disclosure on loans.
There’s also expected to be debate about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s request to funnel $30 million into a pet project, the new Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, and to not make the usual increase in funding the state’s existing financial aid fund. That fund primarily serves lower-income students. Some Joint Budget Committee members are skeptical of the governor’s idea.
Health’s bill doesn’t yet have a price tag (that’s usually the case when a bill is introduced), and so far he’s the only sponsor, not necessarily a good sign for a bill’s future.
Only two other education or youth-related bills were introduced Thursday. They are:
Senate Bill 15-048 – Requires youth sports organizations to get criminal history background checks on all employees and volunteers who work directly with youth five or more days a month and also for any employees and volunteers who accompany youth on trips with overnight stays. Prime sponsors: Heath; Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont
Senate Bill 15-051 – Changes the appeal process for student athletes who are sanctioned or found ineligible to play. Prime sponsors: Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora; Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson.
More than a quarter of Denver families who send their students to Denver Public Schools used the district’s SchoolChoice system to choose a school in 2013, and most of those who participated were placed in their first choice school.
But Denver families may struggle to balance often-competing priorities—a school’s proximity to home and its quality according to the district’s rating system—when choosing schools.
Those are some of the findings of a new report focused on Denver’s SchoolChoice system released by A+ Denver, a local education advocacy and research group, and the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, a national research organization with a focus on school choice.
The report, released today, includes data from the first three years of the SchoolChoice system, which was introduced in late 2011 to streamline the application process for families. At the time, there were more than 60 applications, each with its own timeline, for the Denver public schools. Now, all the city’s programs, including magnet and charter schools, are listed on a single application.
One aim of the new system was to increase the accessibility of the city’s best schools to families and students throughout Denver.
“I feel really confident that we now have three years of data that show the system works,” said Van Schoales, the chief executive officer of A+ Denver. “It does what it says it’s going to do.”
Some 27 percent of families in the entire district used SchoolChoice this year. That number has remained close-to-constant for each of the past three years. Most of those are families with students entering either Kindergarten, 6th, or 9th grade.
The report shows that most of the same schools have remained popular for each of the three years the system has been in place.
Families with special education students were more likely than families whose students are in general education programs to use the system. That’s a change from previous years, when general education students were more likely to choice into schools.
Families that are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch were slightly less likely to use SchoolChoice.
More than three-quarters of families receive their first-choice school—though the report shows that the percent of kindergarten families receiving their first choice dropped from just over 80 percent to 74 percent this year.
Schoales said low-income families were actually more likely to get their first-choice school than upper-income families. But, he said, those families were also choosing lower-ranked schools.
That is likely because those lower-rated schools are close to home. Citywide, most families still choose schools that are close to home. Just 19.9 percent choose schools out of their own region. But Schoales said that many schools, especially in the southwest and northeast parts of the city, still struggle academically.
Lack of public or district transportation paths to farther-away schools remains a barrier, especially for low-income families or families who live in parts of the city where there are fewer highly-ranked schools, according to the report. The report does note a steady increase in the percent of the city’s schools that earned high scores on the district’s School Performance Framework.
The report has a number of interesting details about who’s using the system and how. For instance, most families either list just one choice or include all five. (Schoales said he had heard of families trying to “game” the system by listing their first choice second; he said that was not likely to achieve the desired result.)
There are also differences among racial and ethnic groups: 84.7 percent of white students participated in the choice program, compared to 75 percent of bi- or multi-racial students, 71.1 percent of Hispanic students, 63.3 percent of black students, and 63 percent of students identified as “other” used the system.
More students who scored in the top quartile on standardized math tests used SchoolChoice than students in the bottom quartile—75.4 percent compared to 63.2 percent.
Denver was one of the first districts in the country to create a unified application system, but such systems are becoming increasingly common. An earlier report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education found that Denver parents felt more well-informed about the choice system then parents in other cities around the country. Denver’s sytem