Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday said there’s no reason to go back on state education reforms and endorsed a new bipartisan bill that would reduce high school testing and streamline assessments in early grades.
While agreeing the testing system needs some change, he said, “We thought it important to re-emphasize that we are not slowing down” on rolling out recent Colorado education reform efforts.
He repeated that message several times during a Capitol news conference, saying, the politics of the moment and increasing criticism of testing shouldn’t slow down reform.
The governor’s news conference was seen by Capitol observers as a move to shore up support for Senate Bill 15-215, a measure significantly based on the recommendations of the Standards and Assessments Task Force, an advisory group on the issue. (See the bill text here.)
The bill is sponsored by Sens. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. It’s currently scheduled for its first hearing in the Senate Education Committee Thursday afternoon, although it’s possible the hearing will be delayed. Neither Hill nor Kerr attended Tuesday’s event because the Senate was in session.
Some Democratic and Republican members of the panel have concerns with the bill, mainly that it doesn’t go far enough to reduce testing.
Standing with Hickenlooper at the news conference were Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. Neither spoke.
The governor said he was sure there will be tweaks as the testing bill moves along. Asked what changes to the bill he’d support or oppose, Hickenlooper said, “I don’t have a list of things I’m for or I’m against.”
Hickenlooper was asked about students opting out of tests. He joked that his son, Teddy, came home from testing the other day and asked if he could opt out.
He said he told his son, “There’s nothing to be feared from tests.”
Parents who who don’t want their children to test “are not doing their kids any favors by opting out,” Hickenlooper said.
He also said he doesn’t favor taking Colorado out of PARCC tests.
“Let’s see how it goes,” he said of the Colorado’s participation in the multi-state testing partnership. “To throw something out before you’ve even tried it doesn’t seem to be the wisest course.”
Representatives from several reform and business groups flanked Hickenlooper at the news conference, including Democrats for Education Reform, Colorado Succeeds, Colorado Concern, Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Hickenlooper claimed the almost-unanimous support of the business community for state education reform programs.
Kelly Brough, a former Hickenlooper aide who now heads the chamber, spoke briefly to stress that Colorado needs a rigorous education system to train a highly skilled workforce of the future.
The Hickenlooper administration has been allied with education reform groups but has not taken as high a profile on education issues as did former Gov. Bill Ritter.
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia has been the administration’s point person on education issues. In a December speech to a school boards convention Garcia said Colorado “can’t back down” on education reform (see story). And last week Garcia urged parents not to opt out of state tests (see story).
Seven testing bills have been introduced so far in the 2015 session, including SB 15-215. Additional bills may surface, particularly if support doesn’t coalesce behind the Hill-Kerr proposal. Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, has had a bill drafted but reportedly is holding off until after there’s some movement on SB 15-215.Testing Bill Tracker
Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.
As the students of Colorado take the first round of the new state tests for math and English, many debates surrounding testing, and these tests in particular, are heating up.
As a math educator for over 25 years, including more than 19 in Colorado, I hear comments and critiques of the tests that demonstrate fear and confusion around PARCC, the testing consortium at the core of Colorado’s new assessments.
I have had the opportunity to participate in several phases of the creation of the PARCC math tests, and each time, I learned more about the test, the expectations for students, and ways that teachers could support students in being prepared for the test. These experiences gave me confidence in these tests. I hope that by explaining my reasons for this confidence, I might help alleviate some of the stress teachers, parents, and students may be feeling.
Just days after Colorado became a PARCC state in August of 2012, I traveled with about 25 other Colorado educators to Chicago to the first convening of the PARCC Educator Leader Cadre. This group met approximately twice a year, and at each convening we had the chance to ask questions, give input, and provide feedback to shape what was important to each of our states.
Through these experiences, I learned that PARCC is built upon an evidence-based design: starting with the standards, identifying the specific skills and knowledge the standards require, then designing tests and items that align to those knowledge and skills. We also had the opportunity to collaborate with, learn from, and share resources with hard-working educators in other PARCC states, and we learned how much of the actual detail around giving the test was a state decision, and that we could make the best decisions for Colorado.
A few months after the first cadre meeting, I was invited to serve on the Performance Level Descriptors (PLD) committee. We created documents that describe the math that students know and are able to do at each performance level. We used, among other things, our collective expertise as math teachers to construct these descriptions.
During the PLD meetings, I helped in reviewing test items as well. We gave feedback on whether an item was acceptable as is, required revisions, or needed to be rejected altogether, based on how well it aligned to the standards, whether it reflected an authentic mathematical context, and whether or not it provided an understanding of a student’s mathematical thinking.
Although my work focused on content, there were other groups that reviewed each item through other lenses, such as bias and sensitivity. All in all, each item is reviewed by about 30 educators before becoming eligible for inclusion on the test.
This process, along with the evidence-centered design of the test, supports the validity of the test items, with many experts affirming that the item is indeed designed to assess the desired content.
Most recently, I participated on the test construction committee. We reviewed each item on all 10 forms of the test, checked that the computer-based items were scoring correctly, and confirmed that all 10 forms (six online and four paper and pencil) were parallel in terms of structure, content, and difficulty level. As a result, I feel confident that the finished product is what PARCC said it would be back at the first cadre meeting in August 2012.
It is important to remember that we have new tests because we have new standards. These new standards are not just a reshuffling of content; they are transformational in that they ask us to engage all students in learning experiences that are proven to be aligned to college and career readiness.
This transformational change requires a significantly different tool for measuring. And if we are truly teaching to the standards, this test is a better measure of what students are learning than any other option out there.
These tests will not be perfect the first year, but they will get better every year. And although change is scary, we owe it to our students to have systems that provide them whatever opportunities they choose after graduation.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of commentary pieces on a variety of perspectives from the testing debate. Check back tomorrow for more.
A bill that would change regulations for online schools died in a Senate committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Colorado Youth Advisory Council showed off their policy chops and collected business cards at the Capitol on Monday ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Question of the week
Do you think parents should have to actively give permission before their students take a survey about student health? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Denver Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust is featured in an Education Week piece on district academic leaders. ( Education Week )
The environment surrounding the new standardized tests in Colorado remains heated. ( Education Week via Associated Press )
Summit schools dive into standardized tests. ( Summit Daily )
Points for Creativity
Four innovative school models that were on display at South by Southwest. ( Hechinger Report )
Bringing Music to Life, which brings musical instruments to students, kicked off an instrument drive. ( 9News )
The Boulder Valley district is opening a new elementary and middle school in Erie earlier than initially planned. ( Daily Camera )
Bit by Bit
The Mead elementary and middle schools are holding a second annual fundraising bash to supplement school funding ( Longmont Times Call )
A bill that would allow parents to exempt their children from "any learning material or activity" is up for a vote (and expected to be killed) in a House committee today. ( Aurora Sentinel via Associated Press )
A group of foundations made big donations to two successful elementary schools in Jeffco, Stein and Peck. ( Arvada Press )
Dougco superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said she didn't sign a letter from most superintendents to the legislature raising concerns about school funding because she feels the letter doesn't go far enough. ( Douglas County )
Award-winning Dougco fitness teacher: "The days of dodgeball are over." ( Douglas County News Press )
A Denver student shared her story about being the daughter of a police officer killed in the line of duty. ( Denver Post )
This year’s proposal to change the regulation of online schools that operate across multiple districts was killed Monday by the Senate State Affairs Committee.
The 3-2 vote was expected. Senate Bill 15-201 had bipartisan backing, but its Republican sponsor, Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, admitted that he didn’t have the time to get the bill into the shape he wanted. He asked the committee to postpone the bill indefinitely.
Multi-district online programs have been dogged for years by persistent problems with low student retention, achievement and graduation rates. Those issues have been repeatedly documented by official reports, annual state data, and media reporting, including an award-winning 2011 series by Education News Colorado, Chalkbeat’s predecessor news service.
But the legislative has passed no significant online oversight legislation since 2007, following a critical 2006 state audit of online programs. Recent legislative attempts to tackle the issue have been stalled by politics and effective lobbying by schools.
SB 15-201 largely incorporated the recommendations of the Online Task Force, an advisory panel that studied the issue over the summer and fall. (Get bill details here.)
Currently the Department of Education reviews multi-district online programs and decides if they can operate. Then districts can agree to authorize a program as a charter. But there’s been concern that some smaller districts don’t have the expertise to oversee such programs, even if they’ve been approved by state. The bill proposed to have CDE review districts and decide if they had the ability to oversee an online program. Only districts authorized by the state could authorize the programs as charters.
Some online advocates feel extra oversight isn’t needed and that it’s sufficient for the schools to be rated by the state’s accreditation system, as all schools are.
Bill sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, R-Lakewood, and task force chair Ethan Hemming made brief, polite plugs for the bill.
Ahead of his request to kill the measure, Hill said, “I need to apologize to Sen. Kerr. I may have bit off a little more than I could chew. … I didn’t have the time to devote to” making fixes in the measure.
Hill is chair of the Senate Education Committee and at the center of education issues in the GOP-controlled Senate. Hill’s testing bill was introduced only last Friday, later than many people had expected. And work on the 2015-16 school finance bill, which Hill will carry in the Senate, also is lagging behind schedule.Buckner allows more time on incident reporting bill
After a two-hour hearing, the chair of the House Education Committee Monday delayed action on a school incident reporting bill and asked sponsors to work with various interest groups to amend the measure.
Given divisions among those groups, Rep. John Buckner told sponsor Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton, to work more on the bill. “It seems to be we might be able to get where we need to go” with further negotiations, he said.
House Bill 15-1273 proposes to update the system by which school criminal incidents are reported to the state and, ultimately, to the public.
Among other requirements, the bill would require separate reporting of marijuana-related incidents and of sexual assaults, two things that now are included in catch-all categories. Current law requires reporting of assaults, incidents involving weapons, robbery, drug offenses in general, and various other kinds of incidents.
The bill also would create a new, supposedly more streamlined way for police and sheriffs’ departments and district attorneys’ offices to report school-related incidents to the state.
Hearing testimony revealed that some law enforcement agencies and district attorneys haven’t been following the reporting requirements of a 2012 law.
That troubled Buckner, an Aurora Democrat. “I don’t understand why law enforcement agencies and DAs don’t comply with the law.” He never got a good answer, other than that the old reporting requirements are time-consuming and that the state didn’t provide money to pay for them.
HB 15-1273 also would require the state Department of Public Safety to make statewide school crime reports publicly available. (Get more information on the bill’s details here.)
School districts oppose the bill because they feel the sexual assault reporting requirements, which would be based on federal Title IX standards, are too stringent. County sheriffs oppose the bill because they feel it would mean more work with no funding.
But witnesses representing victim rights groups want the bill expanded to cover reporting of dating abuse incidents.For the record
Another measure related to student discipline, House Bill 15-1240, passed the full House Monday morning 34-31. The bill would encourage school districts to reach formal agreements with local law enforcement on how to handle student-police contacts. The goal is reduce the number of school problems that get referred to police. The bill probably won’t get far in the Senate.
Joshua May of Grand Junction had the attention of a dozen state legislators. They had heard the series of water policy recommendations he and his colleagues came to share, and now it was time to bring the point home.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a really big statistics guy. I don’t like doing anything without the numbers to back it up,” May said.
“Of the top ten states that are fastest-growing, four of them rely on the Colorado River for their water,” he said. “For us to consider living in a future Colorado, we want to make sure it is growing, but that it’s growing sustainably.”
Do you ever wonder whether teenagers care about public policy? Josh is a junior in high school.
His colleagues were a group of teenagers from across the state who are participating in the Colorado Youth Advisory Council, created by the state in 2008. Students apply to participate in the council, and remain members for two years.
The advisory council’s 40 members gathered at the capitol building in Denver Monday to present a set of recommendations about water policy, mental health, K-12 testing, and public safety.
The teens had been working on the proposals for months before their trip to Denver, first identifying their concerns, researching and surveying their peers, and developing a set of recommendations.
The education policy group zeroed in on an issue that has been a hot topic across the state: Standardized testing.
Students surveyed their peers and found, among other things, that just 3 percent felt standardized tests benefitted them. They also found that more than half of their fellow students would rather take paper-and-pencil tests than online exams.
The students recommended that the PARCC test and any consequences based on its results be postponed, and that the state provide paper tests, especially to schools in rural areas.
The issue was close to home: Most of the students are either in the middle of their standardized testing or just finished one round.
East High School student Adina Glickstein said that the students wanted to make clear to the legislators that their recommendations are nonpartisan. “We’re students, and this affects us.”
The legislators pushed the students on their presentations: After the water policy team spoke, several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the impact rainwater collection would have on the state’s rivers and streams. During the education section, the students had to cut off questions from interested legislators.
Legislators commended the students for their work. The final question of the day from the panel of legislators: “Would you like to take our seats?”
Student Matthew Barad, from Colorado Springs, said he had at least one concrete piece of evidence that the legislators were paying attention. “I have three business cards in my wallet of people who want to talk more about education,” he said.
Below, watch two East High School students describe the testing policy recommendations they presented to the state legislators.
Last week, the State Board of Education delayed taking any action on the Healthy Kids Colorado survey.
Some parents and state board members have expressed concerns about how parents are notified about the survey, which includes questions about sex, drugs and suicide. Currently, districts can choose between “passive consent,” which means students are administered the survey unless parents sign a form opting them out, and “active consent,” under which districts must receive parental permission before administering the survey.
An official from the state health department who spoke at the meeting emphasized that the survey is voluntary at every level—for districts, schools, teachers, and students. But by the end of the discussion there was still disagreement about whether it’s truly voluntary or if the wording amounts to semantics.
That brings us to our question of the week:
Once you’ve chosen your side, sound off in the comments below.
Each week, 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.
The number of Denver families using the district's choice system is up this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Stakes get raised
Newly introduced bills on testing, school safety and charter schools will ramp up the intensity of legislative education debates. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Adams 14 district has backed off a demand to recover supervision of a charter school from the state Charter School Institute. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A formal attorney general's opinion is being sought to clear the air about parent consent requirements for the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Three Colorado school districts are working on plans to give students formal diploma recognition of being bilingual. ( Denver Post )
More than 100 Mesa County parents have opted out of PARCC testing. ( Daily Sentinel )
Students in the Poudre district promise to continue their campaign against state tests. ( Coloradoan )
Legislative leaders explain why they're pushing a new bill that could open school districts to lawsuits in cases of school violence. ( Gazette )
The new administrator contracts in the Roaring Fork district mean chief academic officer Rob Stein eventually will become superintendent. ( Aspen Times )
Lakewood seventh grader Sylvie Lamontagne won the state spelling bee with the word "sympatric." ( Denver Post )
An investigation into a Denver principal's decision to change student grades also will look at the district's policy for when a principal can change such marks. ( Denver Post )
A bill that would open districts to school-violence lawsuits in some cases has a serious flaw. ( Denver Post )
Rolling back standardized tests could take us back to a time when school boards and administrators kept people in the dark about student achievement, writes Vincent Carroll. ( Denver Post )
The former mayor of Firestone explains why his kids aren't taking the state tests this spring. ( Times-Call )
New bills on testing and on the liability of schools for violent incidents were introduced in the legislature Friday. The bills add another big element to the testing debate and introduce a new hot-button issue to the legislative session.
The testing measure, Senate Bill 15-215, is notable for a couple of reasons. (Read the full text here.)
The proposal is bipartisan and has sponsors in both houses. Senate sponsors are Republican Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Democrat Andy Kerr of Lakewood. In the House Democrat John Buckner of Aurora and Republican Jim Wilson of Salida are the prime sponsors.
The mix of sponsorship is important, given that Republicans control the Senate and Democrats run the House.
To a large degree SB 15-215 incorporates the key recommendations of the Standards and Assessments Task Force, which proposed reducing high school testing and streamlining school readiness and early literacy assessments.
The six testing bills introduced earlier have more partisan sponsorship, and some of the Republican bills propose sweeping changes like Colorado’s withdrawal from the Common Core State Standards and PARCC tests and greater flexibility for school districts to use their own tests.
(For detailed information about all 2015 testing bills, see our new Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom on this story.)
Despite its sponsorship, SB 15-215 doesn’t represent a grand compromise supported by a wide number of legislators.
It may not go far enough for many education interests. And there may be additional bills introduced including one on parental opting out of tests. There’s also interest by some groups in using a testing bill as a way to reduce the current requirement that student growth data, which is derived from test results, be used for a teacher’s evaluation.
The other major bill that surfaced Friday was Senate Bill 15-213, a bipartisan measure that would limit school district immunity from lawsuits for claims stemming from violent incidents at schools. This is a bill driven by the fatal shooting at Arapahoe High School. (Read the text here.)
Significantly, among the prime sponsors are Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. But district interests may fight this one.
Another bill introduced Friday also is related to student safety. Senate Bill 15-214 would create a permanent legislative study panel on school safety and youth mental health.
House Bill 15-1275, which was introduced earlier, would tighten up requirements for reporting and compilation of violent and criminal incidents in schools. It will be considered by the House Education Committee on Monday afternoon.
The other new measure of interest introduced Friday was Senate Bill 15-216, which would place new restrictions and requirements on school districts that want what’s called exclusive chartering authority. (If a district has such authority it means the state Charter School Institute can’t authorize a charter within that district’s boundaries.) Among other things, the bill would tie chartering authority to a district’s accreditation rating. The measure is sponsored by the interesting duo of Hill and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.For the record
The House Friday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1240, Fields’ proposal to encourage school districts and police departments to make formal agreements about how school incidents are handled.
The Aurora Democrat wants to reduce contacts between police and students for what she sees as disciplinary problems that should be handled by teachers and school administrators.
The debate largely reprised committee discussion earlier this week. Fields argued the bill makes an important statement that would motivate school districts to change policies. Republicans countered that the bill isn’t needed because districts are free now to enter formal agreements with police departments.
Another discipline-related measure, Senate Bill 15-184, passed the Senate Education Committee Thursday. The bill aims to end jailing of truant students who ignore court orders to return to school.
Despite passing on a 5-4 partisan vote, the committee had a long, thoughtful and non-partisan conversation about how to handle truancy. The bill would take truancy cases out of juvenile courts and assign them to administration judges, who don’t have the power to send people to jail.
Some members were concerned passage of the bill would cut off promising truancy court programs that have been developed in a few counties. An amendment that would have turned the bill into a study of truancy policies and practices was defeated. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and Fields is the House prime sponsor.Testing Bill Tracker
Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.
Participation in Denver’s unified enrollment system, which parents can use to apply for any of the district’s public or charter schools, jumped nearly 10 percent this year, the district reported Friday.
Close to 25,000 students applied through the system, compared to 22,729 last year. That means well over a quarter of the district’s 90,000 students used the SchoolChoice system.
Families learned by email today which schools their children will be attending.
SchoolChoice was introduced four years ago to replace a convoluted system in which there were dozens of applications to various public and charter schools in the city.
This year, 95 percent of students were placed in one of their top five schools, compared to 94 percent last year. That’s a reversal from last year’s trend, when there was a drop in the number of students who were placed in their requested schools.
DPS officials say they will work directly with any families who did not receive a placement in any of the schools to which they applied.
Most families who used the enrollment system are preparing for transition years: Kindergarten, sixth, or ninth grades. This year, kindergartners were most likely receive first-choice schools: 83 percent, compared to 74 percent of sixth graders, 77 percent of ninth graders, and 78 percent of students overall.
Areas of the city that now have shared enrollment zones saw particularly high participation. Under the shared zone system, students are not guaranteed a spot in one particular school, but are guaranteed a spot in one of a number of schools within a limited geographic area.
DPS said the enrollment zones in west and southwest Denver saw the biggest bumps in participation in SchoolChoice, with 91 percent of students in those zones submitting applications compared to 67 percent last year.
The district created two new shared enrollment zones this year, including the one in southwest Denver.
District officials are also predicting that more middle school students will enroll next year than ever before. In Stapleton and the Far Northeast there were particularly big jumps. For instance, in Stapleton, 417 sixth graders enrolled in DPS schools in 2009, compared to 735 projected to enroll this year.
The district has at times walked a tightrope as it tries to create broad selection of school choice options while also supporting neighborhood schools.
In a press release, Superintendent Tom Boasberg emphasized that neighborhood schools still have a role. “We always recommend families look first to their neighborhood schools,” said Boasberg. “We know it is also important to provide schools throughout the city that meet the unique needs of our students.”
A report from A+ Denver, a local education advocacy group, released earlier this year found that most families in Denver that used SchoolChoice were placed in their top choice school, but that there are still inequities in the quality of schools where low-income and higher-income families enroll.
DPS officials said they would provide more information about school choice participation later this spring.
The Adams 14 school district’s board has rescinded a resolution that attempted to reassert its authority over a local charter school run by the state Charter School Institute.
The reversal comes after several months of discussion between Adams 14, the Institute, and leaders of Community Leadership Academy, the charter school in question. Adams 14, in Commerce City, had relinquished control of the school to the state Charter School Institute in 2011.
The K-8 school recently expanded to a new high school campus known as Victory Prep. The school’s leader also sent a letter to his school’s parents announcing plans to increase enrollment significantly, from 890 to about 4,000, and criticizing Adams 14’s academic performance as well as a mill levy request that was on November’s ballot. (Read more here.)
That pair of events triggered the concerns of Adams 14 leaders and board members and reignited an already contentious dynamic between the charter school and district. Adams 14 leaders said they weren’t sure the charter school had the authority to add schools and expand so dramatically.
Community Leadership Academy and Victory Prep are currently the only charter schools within Adams 14’s boundaries.
As part of a compromise, the district and the Charter School Institute created a Memorandum of Understanding under which the Institute will consult with the district on developing charter school procedures and materials, and clarifies how the Institute will communicate to the district any changes to its schools’ charters. The Adams 14 board voted to approve that agreement on Tuesday.
The board also voted to officially rescind a resolution it passed in late 2014 asserting its authority over the charter, and requiring the school to reapply for a charter or close its doors altogether. State officials had said that resolution was illegal.
“They were in no man’s land, and once the Chalkbeat article came out, there was a lot more attention on the fact that they could not do what they were trying to do,” said Ron Jajdelski, the director of the charter schools.
Jajdelski said that he still has plans to expand enrollment at Community Leadership Academy and Victory Prep to 4,000 students. That’s more than half of Adams 14’s current enrollment, and more than quadruple the schools’ current enrollment.
“I think we’re obligated morally, ethically to expand and do all we can to get kids out of failing classrooms,” he said.
Pat Sanchez, the superintendent of Adams 14, said “that MOU sets the stage for renewed cooperation and future partnership between both of our organizations [the district and the Charter School Institute].”
He said the district has begun discussions with the Institute about potentially creating a dual language charter school in Adams 14. “With the MOU, we now have the opening to actually utilize CSI’s resources and capabilities in the charter community to partner with us on that endeavor.”
Ethan Hemming, the director of the Charter School Institute, said his organization has agreements with several Colorado districts. He said he hoped that in the case of Adams 14, “if we can have communication directly between the district, CSI, and the school on any issues that arrive that cause conflict and strife, that we can avoid unnecessary appeals or actions in the future.
The ongoing debate about the controversial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is becoming a story about a legal opinion pile-up.
The State Board of Education and the state health department each recently sought separate informal opinions on the topic from different assistant attorneys general. Now, the health department is seeking a formal opinion from the Colorado Attorney General’s office. That opinion, unlike the informal opinions, will be legally binding.
The issue at stake is what kind of parental consent is required before students take the biennial adolescent health survey. Currently, most districts use “passive consent,” which means students at select schools are given the survey unless parents sign a form opting them out.
But some critics of the survey, citing sensitive survey questions about sex, drugs and suicide, say advance written permission from parents–called active consent–should be required.
The original informal opinion presented to the State Board of Education in February stated that active consent is required for the survey under federal and state law, but at Thursday’s board meeting the attorney who wrote it said that the state law doesn’t apply to voluntary surveys. (Health department officials say the survey is completely voluntary, but some state board members say it may not be perceived that way.)
The second informal opinion provided to the health department late Thursday will not be publicly disclosed, said Mark Salley, director of communications for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
While it’s unclear if that second informal opinion aligned with the first, neither are legally binding. It will be the formal opinion now sought by the health department that will represent the final legal decision from the Attorney General’s office.
Salley said the formal opinion will be released publicly.
Full day for SBE
Some state Board of Education members say parents need clearer, understandable information about student data collected during testing to dispel public fears about privacy and security. The comments came during a two-hour hearing intended to answer public questions about student data security. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Gazette )
Denver Public Schools plans to cut the number of peer observer positions from 49 to 28 next school year as part of an effort to shift evaluation responsibilities to the school level. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
After three months of meetings, the Roaring Fork School District has finalized top administrators' contracts. Superintendent Diana Sirko will stay on for two more years, as will Assistant Superintendent Rob Stein. These contracts had raised a bit of controversy in the district. ( Aspen Public Radio )
A bill to be introduced Friday in the legislature would allow the victims of school violence to sue for damages to force districts to provide information about what led to the mayhem. ( Denver Post, 9News )
College cost lifeline
Colorado Mountain College will offer a $1,000 scholarship to every high school graduate living in its multi-county district. ( Post-Independent )
Aurora's Crawford Elementary School is making strides with its literacy program. ( Aurora Sentinel )
A University of Colorado professor gives an in-depth analysis of the PARCC tests. ( Denver Post )
The way to handle growing concerns about testing is through legislation, not by encouraging students to opt out. ( Denver Post )
Denver Public Schools plans to cut the number of peer observer positions from 49 to 28 next school year as part of an effort to shift evaluation responsibilities to the school level.
Peer observers are central office employees charged with providing unbiased observations, evaluations, feedback, and coaching to teachers across the district. Observers also consult with principals and assistant principals on their observations and evaluations.
The district first introduced the role in 2010. Most of the district’s peer observers are former teachers, though some are also former principals.
Mario Giardiello, the district’s executive director of school support, said the reducing the number of peer observers is part of a”move towards building the capacity of teacher leaders and school leaders to do observations and give feedback.”
“If we really believe that decisions and support closest to classroom have the greatest impact on kids, then moving from central office to school-based is part of our strategy,” he said.
The district recently announced plans to expand a teacher leadership program it calls Differentiated Roles to all of its schools in coming years. That program means some teachers also observe, coach, and evaluate their colleagues. Next year, peer observers will help train teacher leaders and school leaders in giving unbiased observations.
Rob Gould, a peer observer since 2010 and one of the 28 who will remain in the position next year, said that most observers were enthusiastic about training others. But he said he has concerns about the decision to cut so many positions.
“We were very surprised by the cuts, mainly because it had been communicated to us the great things that our team does, and what an essential component of the system we are,” he said.
In a letter to DPS staff, Giardiello and Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust wrote that while the district plans to keep some peer observers, “at the same time, we also want to respect the feedback we have heard from teachers who feel that they already have adequate support and therefore don’t need or want an additional observation from a peer observer.” The letter says that any teacher who wants a peer observer will be assigned one.
Giardiello emphasized that the peer observer program is not going away altogether. “I believe personally we’ll always have a need to support our teacher leaders, particularly on evaluations.”
Despite those reassurances, Gould said he is concerned that the program will be permanently phased out as part of the district’s focus on placing most decision-making in the hands of school leaders.
Peer observers focus on teachers who share their subject area or specialty, partly to compensate for the fact that any given principal may not have expertise in every subject taught in his or her school.
The function of peer observers has shifted in the five years the program has existed. For instance, last school year, any teacher who scored below ‘effective’ was assigned a peer observer. This year, about half of the district’s teachers had peer observers, with the assumption that rest would be observed next year.
With the proposed cuts, only teachers who opt in will receive a peer observer next year, with the exception of novice teachers at a handful of schools.
Henry Roman, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said that the union is concerned that the cuts mean “there are not going to be enough peer observers to serve as a third party, as checks and balances in the system.” He said the association was not consulted before the change to the program was made.
Gould said that he is concerned that the district may not have enough peer observers to meet demand in some subject areas, and that the fact that observers will now only observe a group of teachers who have opted in could reduce the reliability of observers’ scores.
Giardiello said the district had made the decision to cut positions based on estimates of how many teachers had requested peer observers in the past. He said the district might contract out to peer observers in some subject areas. Observers in less sought-out subject areas might spend more time training teacher leaders or consulting with school administrators.
Peer observers whose jobs are being cut have not yet been placed in new roles. Giardiello said they are being encouraged to apply either for school leadership or teacher leader roles.
The cuts will save the district about $2 million. Giardiello said that money would likely eventually go to funding the expansion of the teacher leader program.
Some State Board of Education members say parents need clearer, understandable information about student data collected during testing to dispel public fears about privacy and security.
“There has to be a reason for the public angst” about testing and data security,” board member Debra Scheffel said during a two-hour hearing focused on the student data collected during state testing. “Is this a public relations issue merely or are there real issues?”
Executives of the Pearson testing company tried to reassure the board about they handle student data.
“We do not share student information used in our assessment programs unless requested or authorized by the state,” said Walter Sherwood, president of Pearson State Assessment Services. “We do not sell any state assessment information to anyone.”
The comments came during a hearing Thursday morning at which the Department of Education and Pearson executives answered questions about the use of student data they collect. The questions were compiled from those posted by the public on CDE’s website over the last few weeks and from questions submitted on cards before the meeting.Do your homework
Pearson, a mutinational testing company, is the contractor who administers both the PAARC language arts and math tests and the Colorado-only science and social studies tests given to Colorado students.
There are concerns among some parent groups about alleged collection of inappropriate or unnecessary student information and about what organizations have access to that data.
Here are the highlights of what Pearson and CDE had to say:
What data is required – “Every piece of data we collect we are required to collect under state and federal requirements.” – Joyce Zurkowski, state testing director
“Secret” tracking of students – “We do no keyboard monitoring nor are cameras on the devices [laptops and computers] during testing.” – Randy Schuessler, Pearson vice president of assessment technology solutions
Security – “We have state of the art technologies” for data encryption, monitoring of security breaches and other issues. Those include employee background checks, multiple layers of security and compliance with an alphabet soup of industry data security standards. – Schuessler
What’s not collected – Government identification numbers; addresses; online addresses, academic records or grades; disciplinary, criminal or health records or non-academic personal information. “We don’t do anything to collect personal biographical data on students.” – Schuessler
Data mining – “We do not do any data mining on student data.” – Schuessler
Collection of data on students’ “emotions” – Some testing critics allege that the tests somehow can gather information on students’ emotional states through such data as how long they take to answer questions. “We do not collect any such data.” – Schuessler
But the discussion didn’t totally reassure some board members.
“I don’t think all of these complaints have been created out of whole cloth,” said board member Steve Durham, a Republican from Colorado Springs.
Durham also was skeptical about whether Pearson needs much student information at all. “So can we just get this data collection back to name rank and service number?” he asked. “Your job is to grade papers,” he told the Pearson executives.
Scheffel also was worried about sharing of test data with the U.S. Department of Education. She implied that the state has no control over what the federal government does with the information, including giving it to other entities.
Zurkowski responded, “we will not be handing off individual student data to the federal government.”
Scheffel said, CDE “shares data, and that data can be sold.”
There also was a question about allegations that students are being asked about family religious affiliation and gun ownership.
“There is not a question that asks about religious affiliation, gun use of anything like that,” Zurkowski said.
Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said, “We’ve tried everything we can to run that down” but haven’t been able to verify the rumor.
Pearson executives didn’t have direct answer to Scheffel’s question about how parent worries can be eased, other than saying it’s difficult to translate complicated contract terms into easily understandable language.
“I hope we can really distill this information,” Scheffel said.
Democratic board member Angelika Schoeder of Boulder agreed, noting that parents are worried by “this eerie Big Brother feeling you get,” akin to when one does shopping online and then gets followed by customized ads.
The State Board of Education Thursday afternoon voted unanimously to table any decision on the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey until its April meeting.
Several members said they want to see the letters that go out to parents, and other documents, before determining whether the survey is voluntary. If they decide it’s voluntary, then a state law requiring advance parental consent for certain kinds of surveys wouldn’t apply.
Thursday marks the second time this year the state board has delayed action on the survey given to middle and high school students every other year.
Some parents and state board members have expressed concerns about how parents are notified about the survey, which includes questions about sex, drugs and suicide. Currently, districts have a choice about what type of parent permission to get, and most choose “passive consent,” which means students are administered the survey unless parents sign a form opting them out.
An official from the state health department who spoke at the meeting emphasized that the survey is voluntary at every level—for districts, schools, teachers, and students. But by the end of the discussion there was still disagreement about whether it’s truly voluntary or if the wording amounts to semantics.
Board member Debra Scheffel, a Republican from Douglas County, said most parents don’t know enough about the survey to opt their children out. In advance of next month’s meeting, she said she wants to hear from individual parents, not parent groups, to determine if they perceive the survey as voluntary. The Colorado PTA was the most prominent parent group that spoke in favor of the survey and the current notification model.
The PTA representative was among more than a dozen commenters, including students, parents, district administrators, and public health advocates. Many talked about the survey’s benefits in setting policy priorities, identifying service gaps, and writing grants for adolescent health programs. All the speakers favored leaving the current notification system in place.
After the 45-minute public comment period, Board Chair Marcia Neal, a Grand Junction Republican, praised the speakers for their impassioned, reasonable and sensible arguments, and drew a laugh from the crowd when she said, “It was really a pleasant experience.”
Board member Pam Mazanec, a Republican from Douglas County, said the commenters represented only one side of the issue and read a letter from a parent who opposed administering the survey in public schools regardless of what kind of parental consent is used.
Board member Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said the title of the survey is misleading and some parents may not realize they should ask more about it. After some board members asked what the board’s legal authority allows them to do, Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl said they can determine whether the survey is voluntary.
At the board’s February meeting Dyl presented an informal opinion stating that parents must give prior written consent before their children take the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, citing both federal and state law. But on Thursday Dyl said the state law requiring active consent wouldn’t apply to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey if the board determines it to be voluntary.
Both the middle and high school surveys (the middle school version doesn’t ask about sex) state on the first page that they are voluntary and that students can skip questions that make them uncomfortable.
While schools and districts are not required to administer the survey, there may be financial incentives to do so. For example, a recent grant application for youth substance abuse funding from the Colorado Department of Education includes a requirement that recipients participate in the survey.
The State Board of Education voted 4-3 Wednesday evening to reject the proposed cut scores needed to set proficiency levels on the 12th grade science and social studies tests given last fall. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The board also voted 4-3 to again delay consideration of waiver requests from more than two-dozen school districts that want to be exempted from part of state testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The State Board of Education on Thursday will again tackle the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, including the hot-button issue of how parents give permission for children to take the survey. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Other capitol news
Lawsuit or no lawsuit, the tiny Sheridan school district owes the Colorado Department of Education $900,000 a department spokeswoman said Wednesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Sometimes events don’t follow the script at the Colorado legislature, which was the case Wednesday when a bipartisan committee majority passed a bill that would pay extra stipends to highly effective teachers who work in struggling elementary schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
This year, Denver Public Schools has trained dozens of educators in a method known as cognitive coaching, aimed at helping teachers "feel self-directed in their own classrooms." ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The fate of the every-other-year health survey is the latest political battleground over parental rights ( Denver Post )
Adjunct professors at the state's community colleges often are paid poverty-level wages and struggle to make ends meet. ( I-News )
A former Denver school board member and a Cherry Creek math teacher debate the merits or lack thereof of the PARCC tests. ( 9News )
Colorado reported its best month yet for recreational marijuana sales in January, with a tenfold spike since last year in the tax stream designated specifically for schools. ( Gazette )
The St. Vrain Valley School District's latest enrollment projections show the district growing by 775 students next school year, for a total of 30,792 students in grades K-12. ( Daily Camera )
Pueblo City Schools (D60) denies it didn’t properly take care of a disabled student whose mother alleges in a lawsuit that the student was severely injured due to staff negligence. ( Pueblo Chieftain )
Sometimes events don’t follow the script at the Colorado legislature, which was the case Wednesday when a bipartisan committee majority passed a bill that would pay extra stipends to highly effective teachers who work in struggling elementary schools.
The bill was changed so much by Democratic amendments that prime sponsor Rep. Kevin Priola ended up voting against his own bill. The House Education Committee session lasted three hours but felt rushed, particularly at the end when the panel had to vote hastily before vacating the hearing room to make way for another committee.
The proposal is something of a crusade for Priola, a Henderson Republican. He introduced House Bill 15-1200 this session after seeing a similar measure defeated in 2014.
As originally written by Priola, the bill proposed creation of a $4 million grant program that districts could use to offer salary bonuses to teachers rated as highly effective who move to the two lowest-rated categories of schools — “priority improvement” and “turnaround.”A smaller bonus was proposed for such teachers who chose to stay in low-performing schools.
The program would be voluntary for both districts and teachers, and it would be a four-year pilot.
“This is a serious proposal with hard data to back it up,” Priola said. “This bill puts the best resource you can possibly have in the classroom … a highly effective teacher.”
He was less enthusiastic about the bill after amendments were approved. One made nationally board certified teachers eligible for the stipends. The second limits the definition of highly effective to the results of evaluations of teachers by supervisors and doesn’t include student growth measures.
“I’m kind of just amazed that we watered down something that is supported by research. I’m going to be a no vote on my own bill,” a visibly irritated Priola said.
The amended bill passed on a bipartisan 7-4 vote.Testimony recycles old debates
The bill before amendments was supported by education reform groups such as Colorado Succeeds, Stand for Children, and the Colorado Children’s Campaign but opposed by the Colorado Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
Committee members’ discussion and witness testimony reprised some of the reformer vs. union debates of recent years, complete with liberal use of the phrase “research shows” and education jargon like “inputs” and “outputs.”
Opponents and supporters differed repeatedly on the question of how much teachers, if at all, are motivated by money. Such discussions have been rare this year, with lawmakers focused on issues like testing and the education system’s role in workforce development.
Kerrie Dallman, president of the state union, said the bill “is an insult to every teacher who has dedicated their career to serving these students. … It really sounds like Rep. Priola is proposing combat pay for teachers in these kinds of schools.”
Martin Mendez, a Mapleton district parent who testified later in favor of the bill, quipped, “I don’t think this is combat pay. I think it’s inspiration pay.”
Dallman’s tone was stern as she testified, and she sparred a bit with some Republican members.
But the star witness was Adams 14 teacher Michele Deats, who opposed the bill but captured the attention and smiles of committee members with her fast-paced and articulate testimony.
Saying she used to work in sales, Deats said, “I’m at a third of my old pay, and I couldn’t be happier. … It’s not about the money, it’s really about working conditions” for teachers, she said.
Deats teaches sixth grade language arts at Kearney Middle School. Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, former Salida superintendent, was so impressed he half seriously tried to recruit Deats to move to the mountains.
The amended bill’s prospects are highly uncertain from here on out. Its $4 million price tag makes it vulnerable in end-of-session debates over K-12 spending. And if HB 15-1200 makes it out of the House its Democratic amendments may not survive long in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The State Board of Education voted 4-3 Wednesday evening to reject the proposed cut scores needed to set proficiency levels on the 12th grade science and social studies tests given last fall.
The action means the Department of Education won’t be able to release district, school and student scores to school districts.
Cut scores are the benchmarks that sort a student’s results into one of four achievement levels. CDE had recommended cut scores that would have put only 1 percent of seniors taking the social studies test in “distinguished command,” the highest level of achievement. Only 9 percent would have been rated with “strong command.” The percentages for science were 2 percent distinguished command and 17 percent strong command. (See department proposal.)
Similar low achievement levels for last spring’s elementary and middle school science and social studies tests were recorded because of high cut levels (see story). The board, with slightly different membership, approved the recommended cut scores for those two tests.
Debate before the vote was heated at times as members clashed on the motion to reject.
“The test is fundamentally unfair,” said Republican board member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs. He made the motion to reject the cut scores.
“You can’t get past the fundamental problem these are going to be used as a demonstration of failure for our education system,” said Durham. “For some schools we have set an impossible barrier.”
But rejecting the cut scores was “just devastating to me,” said board chair Marcia Neal, a Grand Junction Republican, noting the years of standards-setting and work that led up to the tests. “I just think this is a terrible step backwards, and I’m sorry to see us take it.”
Referring to the new board members, Neal said, “You’re wanting to redo six years of State Board work because you’re smarter than we were.” Shortly afterwards she apologized for that remark. (Neal is starting her second six-year term.)
Republican member Deb Scheffel of Douglas County questioned the whole process that led to the proposed scores, calling them “very arbitrary cut scores.”
Durham also was dismissive of the panel of teachers and other experts who proposed the cut scores, saying “I’d rather the first 100 people in the Denver phone book set these cut scores. I have no reason to believe there is any validity whatever” in the process that created them.
Durham rejected two suggestions from CDE staff to delay the vote so they could figure out what to do next.
Asked by Chalkbeat about what’s next, education Commission Robert Hammond said, “We’ll have to think this thing through.”
The decision was the last item considered during a long, often chaotic meeting which saw members hopscotching around their agenda and running behind schedule all day.
The vote was third bombshell dropped by the board since two new members joined in January. That month a divided board voted to allow districts to seek waivers from parts of state testing. (Something that since has been declared illegal.) In February the board voted to exempt school districts from any penalty if student test participation is below required levels.
Wednesday’s motion was supported by what appears to be the board’s new majority – Durham, Republicans Scheffel and Pam Mazanec of Douglas County and Democrat Val Flores of Denver.
Democrats Jane Goff of Arvada and Angelika Schroeder of Boulder voted no, as did Neal.
Durham and Flores are the new members. Flores, who won the primary last year against a candidate heavily backed by Denver education reform groups, has quickly emerged as the wild card on the board.
The vote sent a ripple effect through the education world. Informed about the vote by Chalkbeat, one veteran education lobbyist simply replied “OMG!”
That’s CDE’s response to news Chalkbeat reported late Tuesday that the tiny Sheridan School District southwest of Denver is suing the state over about $1 million in student funding.
What’s in dispute is how the Sheridan district counts some of its students who are in a “concurrent enrollment” program and how it wants the state to calculate its graduation rate for accountability purposes. Students who are in concurrent enrollment programs are high school students who take college-level classes either at their school or a nearby college.
Sheridan, which serves mostly low-income and Latino students, offers three diploma levels, among them an advanced degree that includes college credits that could add up to an associate degree from a community college.
Many students who are seeking the advanced diploma, which the district calls a 21st Century Diploma, have earned enough high school credits to graduate from high school with a traditional diploma. The district, in a pitch to the State Board of Education last year, said those students should count toward the district’s graduation rate and remain in the school system, bringing in state per pupil funding that Sheridan would pass along to the community college to cover the cost of tuition.
Sheridan is at the end of the state’s accountability watch list timeline. The district faces state intervention if does not prove it has done enough to boost student achievement, and its graduation rate, by the end of the school year.
Sheridan’s superintendent Michael Clough, in a statement this morning, said the lawsuit is about more than the money, but about a fundamental problem of how the state runs its concurrent enrollment:
“The state’s current approach for managing concurrent enrollment programs is haphazard, at best, and we believe the court will concur. As a district, our approach to providing college-level opportunities for students was unchanged for many years before a question regarding accreditation caused a sudden, abrupt change in the state’s approach. The end result is an attempt by the state to punish our district in a way that is, at the very least, arbitrary. Our students don’t deserve an arbitrary system. In addition, taxpayers statewide expect to have a state-funded concurrent enrollment program that is fairly administered across the board.”