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Rise & Shine: Why students in poor schools struggle with standardized tests

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 09:05

State of Public Schools

A task force created by the General Assembly met Tuesday to talk about how public schools assess their students, how exams scores impact education reform policies, and whether students and teachers need relief from standardized testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Slow But Sure

The task force members left the three-and-a-half-hour meeting with a lot to process, according to the task force's chair Dan Snowberger. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Domino Effect

Companies responsible for creating state and national exams also publish the textbooks that contain the answers. Unfortunately for students, low-income schools can't afford them. ( The Atlantic )

CSI: College

Fourth and sixth grade students are spending three days at Northeastern Junior College learning about forensic anthropology as part of the CSI Investigators Kid College. ( Journal-Advocate )

Finding Federal Loans

According to a study by the Institute of College Access and Success, nearly a million community college students who need help paying for school don't have access to federal student loans ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing study panel faces steep learning curve

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 18:17
“I think we have digested an awful lot today. I think there’s a lot of processing we need to do.”
– Dan Snowberger

That’s how Snowberger, chair of the state’s new Standards and Assessments Task Force, summed up the group’s first meeting Tuesday as the three-and-a-half hour session at the Capitol ended.

The task force, created by a law passed earlier this year, elected Snowberger chair, did some other organizational business and then got a rapid-fire briefing on the ins and outs of the state’s testing system from Joyce Zurkowski, director of assessment for the Colorado Department of Education (see her slideshow here).

Do your homework

Taking in all that information in a short time prompted Snowberger’s comment, along with a similar remark by Nancy Tellez, a Poudre district board member. “We have just taken in a whole lot of information here. I would like a little more time to process it.”

The task force’s assignment is to study the impact of testing on teaching time, the interaction of testing with the state accountability and educator evaluation systems and the feasibility of waiving some assessment requirements, among several other issues. (See the full list of duties below.)

The group is to report findings and recommendations to the legislature by next Jan. 31, giving the 2015 session plenty of time of consider the issue. House Bill 14-1202, the law that created the group, allows the group’s recommendations to include minority reports.

But Snowberger, who’s superintendent of the Durango schools, and some others repeatedly mentioned the desirability of having a single report.

“Ultimately we all share the same goal,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, who kicked off the meeting but isn’t a task force member. Ferrandino said he hopes the panel can reach consensus. “It’s a very heavy lift for you guys. The legislature will take whatever recommendations you have very seriously.”

Members had a scattering of questions for Zurkowski, including one from Tony Lewis, representing the board of the Colorado Charter School Institute. He asked about possible federal penalties if a state cuts back on NCLB testing requirements.

“There is about $326 million that we receive from the feds that could be at risk,” Zurkowski quickly replied.

Flexibility and waivers are expected to be among the tough issues the panel will have to discuss.

The task force’s next meeting is expected to be the week of Aug. 3, after a subcommittee comes up with a proposed schedule of meetings and list of topics to be covered at each session.

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Categories: Urban School News

As a state panel convenes to examine state testing, a look at the big issues

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 10:25

On Tuesday morning, 15 Coloradans will gather at the state Capitol to kick off a six-month marathon of meetings intended to dissect and evaluate Colorado’s testing regimen.

Created by the 2014 General Assembly, the panel is tasked with understanding how Colorado’s public schools are assessing their students, how exam results impact certain education reform policies, and whether relief from standardized tests are needed for students and teachers.

Before the panel begins its query, here’s a look at some of the issues.

Why is the commission meeting and what are they supposed to do?

Since last fall, a growing chorus of voices has raised concerns about the amount of student testing in the United States. The protests became louder as states began ramping up their efforts to deploy the new Common Core State Standards (which Colorado adopted) and their aligned tests.

Locally, the suburban Douglas County School District hosted a series of town hall meetings they called “Testing Madness” to discuss with parents what district officials believe is a heavy testing burden levied by the state. The district wants to control which tests and how many they administer to their students. The school board, working with lawmakers, drafted a bill that would allow school districts that meet a certain level of achievement to opt-out of the state’s testing regimen.

Conventional wisdom said the bill was dead on arrival in the Democratically-controlled General Assembly. Democrats in Colorado have strong ties to the many advocacy groups that have pushed the testing-accountability apparatus. But lawmakers, recognizing increased public anxiety around standardized testing, compromised to form a panel to study the issue.

The 15-member panel will now look at a variety of questions regarding standardized testing. But the big three, as outlined by the bill, are:

  • How do the statewide assessments affect teacher evaluations and the state’s school accountability system?
  • How do statewide and local district standardized tests work together — if they do — and how much instructional time is used to administer the tests?
  • And can the state could waive certain testing requirements for local districts?
So, what are standardized assessments and what are we supposed to learn from them?

Standardized tests, like the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) exams that students took this spring, are designed to gauge how proficient a student is to the standards approved by the state and local school boards.

There are broadly two types of standardized assessments: summative and informative.

A summative assessment, like the TCAPs or the forthcoming PARCC tests, is meant to provide education professionals, parents, and students a snapshot of just how much a student learned throughout the year and how they compare to their academic peers.

An interim assessment, such as the Galileo or MAP tests commonly used by Colorado schools, is meant to provide teachers with information to inform their instruction throughout the year. For example, results from a formative assessment might tell a teacher she needs to revisit the difference between similes and metaphors because most of her students failed to demonstrate they understood the difference.

What standardized tests does the state require students to take?

Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, all Colorado students in grades three through 11 will be required to take a summative English and math test. Students in those grades who are identified as learning English as a second language will also be required to take the state’s ACCESS test. Beginning this fall, fifth, eighth and 12th graders will be required to take a science test; fourth, seventh and 12th graders will be required to take a social studies test.

Eleventh graders will also be required to take the ACT test. And all pre-schoolers will be assessed using the school readiness TS Gold program — although teachers, not toddlers, do most of the work with that assessment.

The state does not require any of the formative assessments most districts employ throughout the year.

Who is affected by the results from summative assessments? And how?

Before 2001, there were few if any consequences for the results from the standardized assessments states gave their students. (Colorado began proctoring standardized assessments in the early 1990s.) But the federal No Child Left Behind law, which was passed with broad bipartisan support, attached high stakes — including an increasing level of sanctions for schools that failed to meet the law’s benchmarks — to the results. Since then, other state and federal laws and policies have increased the stakes.

And now nearly everyone in the education ecosystem feels the impact of the results.

Colorado students are perhaps the least affected by their results on the state’s standardized tests. While some schools may use students’ results to group them with peers with similar academic needs, students can’t be held back a year based on their results and their diploma is not on the line.

Beginning in 2015-16, half of a teacher’s annual evaluation will be based on his or her students’ academic growth as measured by multiple scores on state and other tests selected by districts. In the upcoming 2014-15 school year, districts have flexibility in deciding what percentage student growth comprises of a teacher’s evaluation. All districts will have to collect student growth data on teachers, but each can choose to use any percentage between 0 and 50 in the evaluation. (The other half of evaluation is based on supervisor observation of a teacher’s professional practice.) Districts are getting the year of flexibility because the switch to new state tests means there will be a one-year gap in the data needed to calculate student growth.

And schools that post among the lowest scores and do not improve in five years face state sanctions, including being shut down or turned over to a charter operator.

Similarly, entire school districts face state sanctions if they find themselves with chronically low scores. The State Board of Education must strip a school district of its accreditation if the district falls among the lowest 5 percent of school districts in the state. When that happens, the local school board may be asked to close schools, merge with another school district, or dissolve itself into smaller districts.

Who supports the use of summative standardized tests and why?

Supporters of standardized tests include elected officials of both political parties, special interest groups, school leaders and teachers, and parents. Boosters of the testing regime have a common mantra: that which gets measured improves. They believe standardized tests hold the public education system accountable to advance student learning and achievement. This accountability system, they believe, forces school boards, leaders, and teachers to take a hard look at their practices and allows them to figure out what and who is working toward improving public schools — what they believe has been a failed system.

Who opposes summative standardized tests and why?

Opponents of standardized tests also include elected officials of both political parties, special interest groups, school leaders and teachers, and parents. Their opposition, however, isn’t monolithic. Many different people oppose standardized tests for many different reasons. Some believe testing stifles both teacher and student creativity. Others believe the tests eat up too much classroom time that should be used for more instruction. Some believe testing is an important part of the education cycle but oppose the high stakes attached to the test results. And others are fearful of the influence of private businesses making a billions worth of nickels in creating and selling the tests while violating student privacy.

Just how much time is used to take the state’s standardized tests?

Remember, the state only requires certain summative assessments that are mostly given for about two weeks in the spring. In previous years, the state estimated about 3 percent of classroom time is used for students to test. However, that’s not counting any of the interim assessments districts and teachers choose to use throughout the school year. And it’s not counting test prep time when teachers give sample tests to prepare students for the testing environment. State officials have conceded the new computer-based tests will take more time but still argue that it is time well spent.

Meanwhile, recent teacher surveys conducted by the state’s and Denver’s teachers unions estimate total testing time — and all that goes with it — occupies nearly a third of the school year.

What do anti-testing folks propose the state use instead of the PARCC tests?

At this time, there is no unified suggestion. Some ideas for possible alternatives that have been floated include a portfolio approach, in which students are evaluated on a variety of work samples; a scaled-down version of annual exams like the PISA or NAEP tests, which only test a sample of students each year, and have no stakes attached; and simply eliminating standardized exams entirely.

What would happen if Colorado abandoned its current testing regime?

If Colorado lawmakers decided to leave the PARCC consortium of states and/or abandon the Common Core State Standards, the legislative body and the Colorado Department of Education would have to act fast or face federal sanctions. While neither the  adoption of the Common Core nor deploying one of the two tests created for the multi-state partnerships is required, the adoption of similar standards and computer-based tests are. If Colorado didn’t put something similar in place — and quickly — it could put the state’s waiver from NCLB in jeopardy.

Is there some middle ground?

It’s possible — and the conversation certainly is shifting. Previously, Colorado lawmakers and education reform-minded advocacy groups drew a hard line about the need for standardized assessments. However, throughout the year, some lawmakers and policy advocates have considered publicly and privately whether the state’s diet of tests is too bloated. The questions appears to be who can cede ground on their core beliefs about the purpose of testing and what policy solutions can be created to keep Colorado aligned with federal mandates, which don’t appear to be changing anytime soon.

How are the new tests different from what came before?

Very. Not only are the new tests taken electronically — compared to the paper and pencil of yesteryear — the tests ask students to do more. Gone are the open-ended essays in which students could write just about anything. Students on the English portion will now be asked to read multiple passages, watch short films, and write argumentative essays based on reason and facts.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teen who placed bomb-like device in a Lafayette HS sentenced

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 08:59

Monster Mash

In one teacher's classroom, an imaginary art monster entertains students and encourages their learning. And its evolution says a lot about how the teacher runs his classroom. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Slot machines for schools

Backers of a measure to expand casino gambling and put the resulting tax proceeds towards schools say they have the signatures to get their proposal on the ballot. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

School violence

A teen who placed a bomb-like device in a Lafayette high school received his sentence yesterday. ( Daily Camera )

Toddler tax

In his annual state of the city address, Denver' mayor reaffirmed his commitment to the tax to fund city-wide preschool. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Awards for educators

A Montezuma-Cortez teacher was among those honored by the Boettcher Foundation for their teaching. ( Cortez Journal )

Vying for a spot

Four candidates applied for an open position of the Steamboat school board. ( Steamboat Today )

Summer jobs for the future

In a program meant to reduce drop out rates and build career skills among low-income students, 16 students worked at local companies to gain experience. ( Daily Camera )

Around the network

A summer school teacher uses everything from phonics to Shakira to keep her fourth-graders engaged. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Indiana schools that let too many students graduate who don't pass state tests will face scrutiny this year. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

A voucher law likely to pass in Tennessee would transform the school system -- and the prospects for one private school network committed to educating low-income students. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Categories: Urban School News

Casino backers say they’ve got the signatures to advance school funding measure

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 18:54

Supporters of a proposed ballot measure to expand casino gambling announced Monday they’ve gathered well more than the required number of signatures to put the plan on the Nov. 4 ballot. A percentage of the projected gaming revenues would go to K-12 education.

“Today is a significant milestone for our citizens committee and the thousands of supporters we have across the state,” said former state Sen. Bob Hagedorn, an Aurora Democrat who is one of the initiative’s backers. The signatures still have to be reviewed by the Department of State.

The plan that is currently labeled Initiative 135 would allow creation of casino-style gaming at the Arapahoe Park racetrack in the metro area and at tracks in Pueblo and Mesa counties in the future.

The committee behind the plan calls itself Coloradans for Better Schools, and the group’s website promises the initiative “will provide more than $100 million in new funds every year to enhance K-12 education in our state – without costing taxpayers a dime.” The money would go into a new account called the K-12 Education Fund.

The state-approved ballot title for the measure estimates $114.5 million in net gaming revenues. Money in the fund would be distributed directly to school districts on a per-pupil basis by the state treasurer. That distribution would bypass the existing school finance system, and the amendment’s language says it’s supposed to be “in addition” to current school funding.

The Prop 135 split

  • Assuming $100 million in tax revenue, the per-pupil amount would be $114, based on current state enrollment of 876,999
  • Denver, the largest district, would receive $9.8 million. Current per-pupil funding is $7,398
  • Agate, the smallest district, would get $1,368. Current per-pupil funding is $14,883
  • Current basic K-12 funding – $5.93 billion
  • Current funding shortfall – $900 million
  • Search your district’s current funding in the Chalkbeat Colorado database

The amendment says the new money would be for “addressing local needs,” including reducing class sizes, acquiring technology, enhancing safety and security and improving facilities.

The text of the amendment doesn’t specify dollar amounts. Rather, it require that 34 percent of adjusted gross proceeds from casinos be distributed to schools. Casinos created by the amendment would be allowed to have up to 2,500 slot machines, plus card games, craps and roulette. They could be open 24 hours a day, if the communities where they’re located agree.

No education advocacy groups currently support the measure. The Colorado Education Association isn’t taking a position, and the Colorado Association of School Executives won’t consider the issue until September but won’t necessarily take a position. The Colorado Association of School Boards also won’t look at the proposal until a September meeting. Some members of that group already are using opposition. Such groups in the past have been reluctant to support such “sin taxes” because of their perceived unreliability as revenue sources.

Get ready for lots of TV ads

The Better Schools group already raised $2.1 million in campaign funds, much of it in-kind contributions from Mile High USA Inc., the company that owns the Arapahoe Park racetrack and that is a subsidiary of Rhode Island-based Twin River Casino. The committee has spent $1.6 million since it registered with the Department of State in March.

The proposal already has sparked fierce opposition from mountain casino interests, whose spending helped defeat a similar measure in 2003. A committee named Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos, also formed in March, has raised $9.1 million, most of it from mountain casino interests, including Isle of Capri Casinos and Ameristar Casino.

Not the first time around the track

This year’s plan isn’t a brand-new idea.

In 2003, racing interests pushed Initiative 33, which would have required creation of gambling facilities with “video lottery terminals” at racetracks. Such terminals are basically slot machines. Tax revenues would have been devoted to tourism promotion and outdoor recreation projects. Mountain casino interests fought the measure, the two sides spent a combined $11.5 million and voters killed the idea, with more than 80 percent voting no.

Do your homework

In 2012 racing interests took their idea to the legislature with House Bill 12-1280, which was based on the controversial legal theory that since the gaming machines at three locations would be overseen by the Colorado Lottery Commission and would be classified as “lottery terminals,” no voter-approved constitutional change was necessary. (The constitution currently limits full casinos to the three historic mining towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, which are overseen by the Colorado Limited Gaming Commission. Two Native American casinos in southwestern Colorado aren’t subject to state jurisdiction.)

That 2012 plan would have funneled tax revenues to community colleges and higher education scholarships, with a bit of money for the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. A slimmed-down version of the bill was killed in a House committee on the last day of the 2012 session.

State law requires 86,105 valid signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot. Initiative proponents typically gather significantly more signatures that required in order to compensate for signatures that are thrown out. For instance, last year backers of Amendment 66, the K-12 tax increase, collected 165,710 signatures, but only 89,820 were ruled valid. The Department of State has 30 days to review petitions after they’re filed.

If sufficient Proposition 135 signatures are verified, it will be assigned a different, permanent number for the ballot.

Categories: Urban School News

Inside a classroom where a hungry art monster feeds students’ creative process

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 18:39

In the corner of art teacher Barth Quenzer’s classroom is a door decorated with pictures of famous works of arts — and famous monsters.

Behind the door lives the “Artivore,” an imaginary monster who feeds on art and plays a central role in Quenzer’s classroom. Kindergarteners feed it scraps of paper, a group of fifth graders is writing a book about it, and countless students have tried to imagine what it looks like.

But Artivore’s origin story reveals the most about Quenzer’s teaching style. The art monster was the brainchild of a kindergartener, Jack, who simply began wondering what was in the closet.

Since then, Jack and his successors have built up the mythology of the Artivore, gradually adding details from what it dreams about to what it eats. Quenzer has turned the monster into a teaching tool to help explain different aspects of the artistic process, from the generation of interesting ideas to the letting go of bad ones.

Here’s an interactive tour of Quenzer’s classroom. Hover over the black and white dots to take a closer look at the tools Quenzer uses to run his classroom (and click here to view a larger version):

The evolution of Artivore is representative of the open-source approach Quenzer, an art teacher at Brown Elementary School in northwest Denver, takes to his teaching. Quenzer, who has been at the forefront of Denver’s implementation of the state’s arts instruction standards, uses everything from student input to the state mandates to shape the way he runs his classroom. And he has extended that inclusive approach to the kind of learning he inspires in his students.

(Quenzer is also one of the panelists at Chalkbeat’s event how to use art in classrooms on Thursday, July 17th. See here for more.)

Quenzer’s classroom often rings noisily with students’ voices as they work in groups and bounce ideas off each other. But the clamor of his classroom and his students’ independence mask the groundwork he lays.

What does Artivore look like?

Each class is constructed around concrete ideas on how students learn best, ideas that come out of his own observations from eight years of teaching at Brown.

When Quenzer began teaching, he started noticing trends in the way students of different ages learned.

“He was listening to students from the perspective of what was essential to their learning and identifying what was enduring,” said Capucine Chapman, the district’s fine arts coordinator and a mentor to Quenzer.

For example, Quenzer noticed that kindergarteners focus primarily on their own projects and don’t collaborate well.

“They run around, telling their own story,” he said. “By second grade, they are such good collaborators that all they want to do is work in the context of their own peers.”

So Quenzer made collaboration a central part of his instruction for second grade and provided opportunities for kindergarteners to improve their ability to work together.

Those kinds of instructional adaptations, he said, have been supported by the state’s grade-level standards for arts instruction, which went into effect in 2009. Denver Public Schools is in the process of testing out and refining assessments tied to the standards for each grade level, a process to which Quenzer is contributing.

Quenzer is also working with a group of other teachers and Chapman on a district-supported project called the “Trajectory of Learning.”

“If an idea’s a good idea, how can we extend it?” said Chapman. The project aims to combine what teachers like Quenzer have learned from their own classrooms with the state mandates in order to provide teachers guidance on implementing the grade-level standards.

Quenzer hopes the ideas will help other teachers begin to be more responsive to their own students and create a space for student-driven ideas.

“[What] if we can design something like curriculum that serves [students'] individual developmental needs?” said Quenzer.

For example, Quenzer never introduces a project assignment with a direct instruction but rather asks students if it’s something they’d like to do. If they say no, he asks them why and attempts to adjust the project to their desires. When a project comes to a close, he checks back in with the class to ask what went well and what didn’t.

“It’s a feedback loop,” Quenzer said. “The kids have become involved in the prototyping process [for my teaching].”

Just as Quenzer is using student feedback to refine his teaching, he’s trying to create opportunities for students to participate in each other’s work in order to grow as artists. The philosophy extends to everything from the basic layout of his classroom, which has “table teams” where students work together, to cleanup at the end of class, when older students leave beads and other small art supplies where they fell for the youngest students to pick up and use in their own art.

And students get the chance to edit their own work as well. Most projects in Quenzer’s class go through multi-week cycles of refinements, with students editing and adjusting their initial work.

On a spring afternoon towards the close of school, he kicked off class with a group of third graders with a discussion of “what to do with an idea.” In previous classes, students had drawn what they thought an idea looked like, as a living thing, and built homes to protect their ideas.

“You have to be kind to your ideas,” Quenzer told his students.

Student responses to the question: “What do you do with an idea?”

The students spent the first 15 minutes of class practicing how to share their ideas and critiquing each other’s projects.

And as students dispersed to their tables, they launched into creations of their own design. All Quenzer provided was the initial discussion and the art supplies.

This kind of undirected learning that Quenzer’s students say takes place in few other classrooms.

“In most classes, you have lots of instructions,” one girl said. “I like being able to do what I want.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for students. “Some projects are very hard,” she said.

For example, when Quenzer gave third graders the challenge of creating “stitch-monsters” from cloth without using glue, he gave them no other instructions on how to put the monsters together. They had to independently plan out all of the steps to produce the monster they’d created in their minds. Students struggled through the process, from teaching themselves how to sew to figuring out how to sew on body parts and deciding when to add the stuffing.

“There’s no one way to do it,” Quenzer told a struggling student. “There’s only the way you do it.”

And that’s where the rigor comes into Quenzer’s free-form classroom, he said. Rather than follow specific instructions, students must problem-solve to address the dilemmas Quenzer lays out for them.

His students say that process helps them learn in their other classes.

“Art is hard to understand,” one student explained. “It makes it easier to understand things in other classes.”

Categories: Urban School News

Summer school enrollment down under new promotion policy

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 17:38

CPS students scored better than predicted this past year on the new and tougher statewide tests used to decide promotion, schools officials said.

But that news, coupled with a revised district promotion policy, means that far fewer students are in now summer school than last year.

“This is interesting in a good way,” said Annette Gurley, CPS’s chief of teaching and learning, in a phone interview Wednesday. “The NWEA is a much more rigorous assessment than the ISAT […]. We actually thought we’d have fewer students scoring at or above the 24th percentile.”

With that predicted decline in mind, last fall CPS officials unveiled a new system that uses test cut scores and grades to determine promotions for third-, sixth- and eighth-grade students. They expected that enrollment in the district’s Summer Bridge program wouldn’t change much under the redesigned promotion policy.

Instead, enrollment fell from some 14,000 last summer to about 10,000 today – a nearly 29-percent drop from one year to the next.

The enrollment drop also means big savings for CPS. Last year the district spent about $12.3 million on Summer Bridge. This year, it’ll spend an estimated $10.7 million.

Gurley credited schools’ use of web-based assessment programs for the better-than-expected scores. Most schools have purchased at least one a variety of expensive data-driven programs that allow teachers to monitor students’ grasp of content in real time – and focus attention on those who most need the help.

Catalyst Chicago learned of the decline in summer school enrollment from principals, teachers and counselors who said they were surprised by the low number of students required to attend summer school. One educator even said that for the first time in at least six years, none of her school’s students went to summer school.

The drop in enrollment caused some concern that students are missing out on extra help they need, although district officials assure that targeted supports are on the way for students who would have gone to summer school under last year’s policy.

Meanwhile, opponents of high-stakes testing criticized the new policy for depending too much on the results of a single test to decide something as critical as promotion.

“The exact numbers of how many kids they sent off to summer school isn’t the big issue,” says Cassie Cresswell, who leads the anti-testing group, More Than a Score. “Our issue is with using a test score to determine everything. We’re concerned with how they make the decision about whether a kid should or shouldn’t go to summer school.”

Shift to new tests aligned to Common Core

Last fall, the Board of Education changed its promotion policy as part of the district’s shift from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) to the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessments, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Charter schools are not required to follow the district's promotion policy, unlike neighborhood and contract schools, officials said.

Previously, students needed to score at or above the 24th national percentile on the portion of the ISAT known as the SAT10, in addition to getting a C or above in reading and math, in order to get promoted. Last year, Gurley said, 80.1 percent of students met both requirements and moved onto the next grade without going to the district’s Summer Bridge program. Students who were chronically truant -- that is, missed at least nine school days without a valid excuse -- were also sent to summer school.

Under the new policy, students who score at the 24th national percentile or higher on the NWEA are promoted automatically – unless they’re outright failing reading or math. This means students who got Ds in those subject areas but fared well enough on the test can move on to the next grade without summer school. This year, 80.1 percent of students fell into this category – exactly the same as last year despite the different test and lower grade requirements. CPS also dropped the attendance requirement under the new policy.

On Wednesday afternoon, district officials could not provide Catalyst with the percentage of students who scored at or above the 24th national percentile on the NWEA this year, regardless of their grades, or comparable statistics from last year.

One eighth-grade math teacher who asked not to be identified told Catalyst she had a handful of students who earned Ds in her class but scored just above the 24th percentile cut score.

 “I told them they should consider themselves very lucky because they tested well,” she said. “Even though they got Ds they are now going to high school, though in previous years these same students would have had to go to summer school.”

Meanwhile, students who scored between the 11th and 23rd percentile on the test avoid summer school if they have a C or higher in reading and math. Gurley said an additional 5.6 percent of students were in this group.

The only students automatically sent to summer school, regardless of their grades, are those who score at or below the 10th percentile on the NWEA.

One principal who asked not to be identified said he was not expecting the drop in summer school enrollment he saw this year and worries about some of his struggling students. Part of the reason is because he didn’t realize that students’ scores on the NWEA from the 2012-13 school year – which Gurley said students took even though the test wasn’t used for promoting purposes that year -- could also be used to determine promotion this year. Under both the new and old promotion policies, CPS uses students’ best test scores from the previous two years in determining whether they move on to the next grade.

“Are they missing out? Yeah, I think so,” the principal said. “All of our kids need the extra support.”

Gurley said targeted help is on the way for students who, for different reasons, avoided summer school under the new district policy. This summer, CPS will send letters to principals that identify both the students who got Ds but scored at or above the 24th percentile on the NWEA – and those with good grades but lower scores.

Principals will be asked to provide social-emotional support for those in the first group, such as special one-on-one attention from an adult. Those in the second group might get more traditional academic support, such as tutoring, Gurley explained.

Summer school on the decline nationally

Enrollment in the Summer Bridge program has been falling steadily since 1996, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley instituted a tough promotion policy as a way to end social promotion. (Catalyst reported on the topic of social promotion in 2011).

At first, the district sent more than 20,000 students to required summer school each year. But due to outside pressure, including a major 2004 study by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research that showed the harmful effects of retention, CPS began adjusting the policy to make it easier for students to pass through to the next grade.

Chicago isn’t the only city that saw a significant drop in summer school enrollment due to a change in the promotion policy. In New York City, some 25 percent fewer students were sent to summer school this year after the district banned the use of state test scores as a major factor in promotion decisions, according to a recent Chalkbeat New York report. The new policy gives principals more discretion about who should go to summer school.

At the time the city changed its promotion policy, NYC officials said they didn’t think enrollment figures would change. Their projections, it turned out, were simply wrong.

Cresswell and other anti-testing advocates say they wish the district had also placed less emphasis on tests when developing the promotion policy last year. Instead, said Julie Woestethoff, who heads the organization Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), they want CPS to better identify struggling students during the school year to give them the additional support they need, rather than telling them at year’s end that they must go to summer school or else be held back.

“Our proposal has been to go back to using the report card,” Woestehoff said. “If we continue to not trust teachers’ grades, then why do we continue to waste people’s time with report cards?” 

Categories: Urban School News

In state of the city address, Denver mayor says it’s time to reauthorize preschool tax

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 16:46
In this city of opportunity, we must remain focused on eliminating the achievement gap. That is why we are committed to boosting the number of kids receiving Early Childhood Education. Today, almost 70 percent of Denver’s four-year-olds are enrolled in the Denver Preschool Program, one of the best participation rates in the United States. Those students are outperforming their peers.
– Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock

That’s why Hancock plans to ask city voters in November to reauthorize a sales tax to fund the Denver Preschool Program.

The mayor, in his state of the city address Monday, went on to link the program to Denver’s future.

“Denver, when we summon the will, there is nothing we cannot do,” he said. “We are forging toward tomorrow with a renewed energy.”

Denver voters narrowly approved the .12 percent sales tax in 2006. The mayor announced the forthcoming reauthorization campaign in June. Denver City Council is expected to refer the question to voters. The ballot question’s first hearing is at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Government and Finance subcommittee.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: new principals

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 13:48

These interim principals have become contract principals at their schools:  David Narain, King High School; Carlos Patino, New Field Elementary; Frederick Williams, Chopin Elementary.

The following also have become principals: Stephen Fabiyi, Metcalfe Community Academy, formerly assistant principal at Bass Elementary;  John Fitzpatrick, Locke Elementary, formerly acting principal at Locke; and Eric Steinmiller, Sutherland Elementary, formerly resident principal in CPS’ Talent Office.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Budget matters, teacher licensing clout, bad help for student loans

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 11:44

Budget matters. The Chicago Tribune’s school budget analysis shows that the143 charter and contract schools are getting a funding increase of $72 million---exactly the same amount as the cuts for the 504 traditional schools. The story does not say how this breaks down per student, but CPS officials say most of the increase has to do with the fact that they are predicting 3,400 more students in charter schools and 4,000 fewer students in district-run schools. Note, however, that more than half of traditional schools are either getting more money or staying level, while schools that are losing money are either "welcoming schools" that took in students displaced by closings, or neighborhood high schools. 

The principal of welcoming school Mollison Elementary made a personal appeal to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to increase funding for all welcoming schools, saying it’ll take more than a year of extra help “to heal from these wounds."

CPS will hold three simultaneous public hearings on next year’s proposed $5.7 billion budget on Wednesday. The hearings begin at 6 p.m. at the theaters of Wright College, 4300 N. Narraganset Ave.; Kennedy-King College, 740 W. 63 Street; and Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren Street. On-site registration begins an hour earlier. The budget is available in an interactive format online and will be up for a vote on July 23. Because all that data is a bit tricky to navigate, the parent group, Raise Your Hand Illinois, will offer a two-hour training at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Eckhart Park, 1330 W. Chicago Ave.

2. Teacher licensing clout. A Chicago Tribune investigation found that lawmakers are stepping in to help constituents get teacher licenses, which have traditionally not been used as a clout bargaining chip. In some cases, lawmakers just helped speed up the process, including one young woman who was helped by House Speaker Mike Madigan. But in others, teachers with troubled pasts were helped. One lawmaker who couldn’t get a requirement waived got the law changed, so that some of his constituents would qualify to as administrators.

3. Librarian “shortage.” The Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky knows where CPS could find some. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett indicated that one reason so many CPS schools with libraries didn’t have librarians is that there’s a shortage of certified librarians. An official with the Chicago-based American Library Association, however, says she has plenty of resumes from certified librarians that she can send CPS. Joravsky also points out that some certified librarians in CPS are working at other jobs because their schools don’t have librarian positions. 

The U.S. Department of Education reports a nationwide shortage of certified librarians. Because of the shortage, CPS considers certified librarians as a “special needs position” and waives the residency requirement. However, usually when principals are asked why they don’t have a librarian, they cite lack of money rather than a lack of candidates.

4. Mayor Lewis?  CTU President Karen Lewis could take on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, if she ever decided to throw her hat in the race. That’s according to a new Chicago Sun-Times poll, which shows that 45 percent of voters would side with the teachers union boss -- and only 36 percent with the incumbent mayor. The remaining 18 percent of likely voters are undecided. =Emanuel would face an even tougher opponent if Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle decided to give it a go, with some 55 percent of voters favoring her over the mayor.  Asked about the poll results, Emanuel’s people told the Sun-Times said they were “laughable.”


5. Getting help with student loans. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is reportedly going to sue companies that promise to help lower student loan payments. These are the same type of debt settlement companies that offer to help with credit card debt and mortgages. According to the New York Times, Madigan contends that some people paid hundreds of dollars upfront for debt assistance that that could have gotten for free from the Education Department. Also, in some cases, the companies said they had relationships with federal relief programs when they didn’t.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colo. Springs’ D-11 will help write new grad requirments

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 09:52

Science in 3D

At the Denver Public Library's 2014 Summer of Tech, more than a dozen students got to flex their 3D modeling muscles Thursday. The students are spending the summer learning about science and technology. ( Chalkbeat )

Get 'er done

Colorado Springs' District 11 will help the State Board of Education develop new graduation requirements with an emphasis on 21st Century skills. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

Dan The Man

Jeffco's new superintendent didn't reconsider taking the position despite a public outcry. Meanwhile, one board member who opposed the hiring process and Dan McMinimee's salary pledges to work with him. ( Denver Post )

Welcome wagon

Aurora Public Schools hopes to play a big role in developing a new hub for the city's immigrants. Aurora today has more than 105 different ethnic groups living within the city’s borders. ( Aurora Sentinel )

summer learning

Entrepreneurial skills, not arts and crafts, are the main focus at one Jefferson County summer camp. ( 9News )

Out of retirement, into the fire

A renowned Pueblo educator is coming out of retirement to lead a troubled charter school. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Out of harms way

Seventy Colorado students have returned home early from a trip to Israel. The students left amid a rising conflict between Israel and Palestine. ( Fox 31 )

the early bird catches the worm

Four Denver students have received $1,000 scholarships to put toward their college tuition. The youngest recipient was 9. ( 9News )

A helping hand

A former Colorado educator is playing a big role in the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico boarder. Mikes Miles, who now runs the Dallas Independent School District, has offered three empty schools to be used to help house the many immigrant kids stranded at the boarder. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

First-of-its-kind

California plans to give more money to schools in an attempt to meet the needs of students living in foster care. But first they have to find those students. ( AP via CBS 5 )

In (union)son

The nation's second largest teachers union has dropped its support of the Common Core State Standards. The American Federation of Teachers previously supported the standards. The announcement comes after the National Education Association kicked off a campaign to end "toxic testing." ( Politico )

And following the NEA's lead, the AFT voted on a resolution asking U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to resign. Duncan, in response to the resolutions, said he looks forward to working with the unions. ( Politico )

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: AFT takes a tougher line on the Common Core

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/11/2014 - 18:26
  • The AFT, Randi Weingarten’s national teachers union, is softening its support for the Common Core standards. (Politico)
  • A New York City teacher says New York’s early adoption of the Common Core bodes well for his home state of Mississippi. (Rethink MS)
  • Here are four tips for getting the most out of murky education research. (Atlantic)
  • Fatigue, “administrative hassle,” and a desire for more led one experienced teacher to retire this year. (Accountable Talk)
  • This case against an ultra-elite New York City high school isn’t that it’s not diverse but that it’s not nurturing for students. (Slate)
  • In a frank interview, a charter school teacher says he’s kind of subversive. (Honest Practicum)
  • Four acclaimed teachers went to lunch with President Obama. Here’s what they said. (Answer Sheet)
  • A teacher is puzzled when two brothers who seem to be headed in opposite directions swap paths. (Yo Mista)
  • The U.S. Department of Education is going to study whether Khan Academy works. (Inside School Research)
  • The founder of a high-performing Nashville charter school explains why he’s replicating in Mississippi. (Hechinger Report)
  • It’s conventional wisdom that schools should develop students’ “grit.” What about teachers’? (TNTP)
  • For history buffs: Can you identify who said what about teacher tenure, and when? (Urban Ed)
  • Turning former Indiana superintendent Tony Bennett’s downfall into an allegory about the Common Core, teacher evaluations, and other policies. (Rick Hess)
  • Increasingly, New Orleans charter schools are taking on students’ mental health challenges. (The Lens)
Categories: Urban School News

Denver youth build video games at Denver’s IdeaLAB

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/11/2014 - 18:23

PHOTO: Monique Collins/Chalkbeat

Most people haven’t heard of 3D modeling, and they probably have never created a video game from scratch, either, but a group of Denver students who participated in Denver Public Library’s 2014 Summer of Tech knew exactly what they were doing.

The 19 students — most not much older than 12 — met on Thursday afternoon. Almost all of them, when asked by the workshop’s leader Chris Brown, said they had heard of and used the 3D modeling and gaming software to make their own first-person video game.

The software used to build the games is free to download, which was an important aspect for the workshop’s leaders because it gave participants the opportunity to access the software outside of the lab and work on the skills on their own time, Brown said.

In class, the students spent the time creating a simple, three-dimensional world for their characters, then used different software to enable characters to interact with one another.

This was just the beginning of a month-long science, technology, engineering and math program offered at the library’s ideaLAB, a free digital media center for teens. The ideaLAB’s goal is to create a space for local teens to practice vital (and potentially lucrative) computer skills and prepare themselves for the future.

Throughout the summer, students will have the opportunity to turn their video games into movies, create songs, make mobile games and more. The program runs every Thursday from 3:30-5:30 p.m., through August 14.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Littleton receives federal tragedy grant

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/11/2014 - 09:14

Band of schools

The state released the names of who would be joining the voluntary turnaround network. So why did these schools hop on board? A variety of reasons. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Facelift

Thanks to a grant, a playground that has been a dirt lot for fifty years will get a makeover. ( Gazette )

(No longer) a shot in the dark

Parents can now request the opt-out rates of immunizations at schools and daycare clinics, due to a law originally intended to cut back on exemptions. ( Chieftain )

Arapahoe High School shooting

Littleton Public Schools received a federal tragedy grant to cover counseling and security measures in the wake of the Arapahoe school shooting. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Around the network

Former Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett was found guilty of an ethics violation for working on campaign efforts during work hours. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

At the rebuilt National Civil Rights Museum, student engagement is part of the design. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

An assistant principal in New York sees "a tale of two schools" in public education. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Categories: Urban School News

8 struggling schools opt in to Colorado’s new turnaround network

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 23:10

When Rob Stein, chief academic officer for the Roaring Fork School District, learned third-grade reading scores at Crystal River Elementary School dipped this year, he called his old friend and former colleague Peter Sherman to ask for some advice.

Unlike his other elementary schools, which saw spikes in reading scores, something just wasn’t working at Crystal River, which has been on and off the state’s school accountability watch list for four years.

Sherman, the state’s executive director of school and district performance, suggested Crystal River apply to be a part of his new endeavor: the Colorado Turnaround Network, a state-run but voluntary co-op of schools working together to boost student achievement.

The network borrows some inspiration from efforts by other states that share a federal mandate to track and improve low-performing schools.

But unlike controversial initiatives in Louisiana and Tennessee, which have concentrated weak schools in districts run directly by the state, Colorado is leaving control of the turnaround schools up to local districts. Colorado also formed the network quietly, rather than trumpet its tough-on-struggling school approach, as some other states have done. And instead of requiring all low-performing schools to undergo the same changes, Colorado is asking schools to opt in — and to decide for themselves what changes would help students.

Colorado’s Turnaround Network

  • Adams 12 Five Star Schools: Hillcrest Elementary
  • Adams County School District 14: Rose Hill Elementary
  • Pueblo City Schools: Haaff Elementary, Irving Elementary
  • Calhan School District RJ1: Calhan Elementary
  • Roaring Fork School District: Crystal River Elementary
  • Lake County School District: West Park Elementary, Lake County Middle

The collaborative approach piqued Stein’s interest. “What I like about the network is that it’s do-with, not do-to,” he said.

The eight schools in the network — which include Stein’s Crystal River — met for the first time last month to hear more about Sherman’s vision for school-based solutions to four kinds of challenges: culture, internal operations, personnel, and district relations.

Entering the turnaround network doesn’t take schools or districts off of the state’s “accountability clock,” in which persistently low-scoring schools get five years to improve or their school districts could face state sanctions.

But it does offer a last-ditch effort for schools that have failed to boost performance for as much as four years already.

“Our belief and one of our theories of action is that we can provide some resources, some frameworks, for what we believe is necessary for success,” Sherman said. “We believe strongly that solutions for low-performing schools will come from the local communities.”

Balancing its influence against Colorado’s cherished local control could be a challenge for the turnaround network.

Pat Sanchez, the superintendent of the Adams 14 School District, said he got on board only after becoming convinced that the state’s priorities for Rose Hill Elementary, his lowest-scoring school, corresponded to the district’s own. The state network will provide training for the school’s new leader and will offer support to help the school reach the district’s reading and math goals.

“A big selling point is that the network will not create a new set of priorities for my principal,” Sanchez said. “She won’t have two sets of marching orders. The state is about supplementing that will hopefully help accelerate learning.”

Colorado’s approach has benefits, according to Ashley Jochim, a researcher for the Center on Reinventing Public Education, or CRPE, who has researched the role of state education agencies like CDE.

Because the state is acting more like a broker of resources and advice than directly running the schools, the state’s limited turnaround staff of five isn’t likely to be strained.

But Jochim said the resources will only be fruitful if principals are allowed to adopt the best ideas, even if they run counter to district polices — something that could be a challenge when it comes to personnel, budget, and curriculum.

If Colorado stumbles, it won’t be alone, Jochim said.

“We’re not in a place where anyone has done [a turnaround network] right,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

Littleton schools get federal grant for shooting recovery

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 12:00

The Littleton school district has received a $121,200 federal grant to help pay for counseling and school security measures in the wake of last December’s shootings at Arapahoe High School.

A U.S. Department of Education news release reported that “administrators and guidance counselors have seen an increase in student absences, health office visits, discipline referrals and suicide and threat assessments” since the shootings.

Last Dec. 13, student Karl Halverson, 18, entered the school armed with a shotgun and three Molotov cocktails. During the brief incident he shot and killed student Claire Davis, 17, and then killed himself. Halverson reportedly was looking for his debate coach, with whom he had a disagreement.

The funds came from a DOE program that provides grants to schools that have experienced violence or disasters. The Colorado Department of Education earlier received a separate $750,000 grant to help districts affected by last year’s floods. That money was used to reimburse districts for things like transportation costs, additional staffing for relief work, mental health costs and overtime costs.

Categories: Urban School News

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