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Colorado schools likely won’t see big increase in revenue as once hoped

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 17:45

It’s become increasingly apparent in recent weeks that the state’s schools would receive only a modest funding increase next year, and that fact was underlined with Tuesday’s introduction of the annual school finance bill.

The measure proposes only a $25 million reduction in the state’s school funding shortfall, commonly known as the negative factor. The shortfall currently is about $880 million.

“That’s our starting point,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. She’s the House prime sponsor and a member of the Joint Budget Committee.

The $25 million is a far cry from the $200 million one-year cut in the negative factor originally proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s also far below the additional $70 million urged by the state’s superintendents for at-risk students and rural districts.

The bill would set what’s called total program funding at $6.23 billion next year, up from $5.93 million in the current school year. (Total program is the combination of state and local revenues used to fund basic classroom and administrative functions.)

Senate Bill 15-267 was introduced late Monday and is the second piece of legislation needed to provide annual school funding. Base support, including constitutionally required increases to cover inflation and enrollment growth, is contained in the annual state budget, Senate Bill 15-254.

In past years the school finance bill has been used to enrich school funding beyond the amount in the state budget, but it doesn’t look like that will happen this year.

Hopes for a bigger cut in the negative factor have been blighted by the state’s paradoxical financial situation. A healthy economy is driving higher state tax collections and other revenues, but that income has pushed the state above the annual spending limit imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That triggers refunds to taxpayers.

Introduction of the finance bill disappointed but didn’t surprise education interest groups. Some lobbyists feel schools are lucky to get the $25 million while others want the legislature to try to do more for districts.

Hamner said she hopes some additional funds can be found so “we can do some one-time spending” on education needs. “There could be some changes,” she said, acknowledging that the bill probably won’t see any big increases.

The legislature has some options for freeing up revenue that could be used for schools, but the odds of that happening may be long, given that only three weeks remain in the 2015 session.

Both tax collections and income from various fees drive state revenues above the TABOR limit. One large source of cash funds called the hospital provider fee generates money for Medicaid programs. There’s been talk of redefining those revenues so that they don’t count in the TABOR formula, but no such bill has been introduced yet.

“There are still pieces in motion that could affect” school finance, Hamner said.

See the link on this page for a spreadsheet listing how SB 15-267 would affect individual school districts. Read the bill here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Families rally at Denver school after weapons incident

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 09:51

Showing Support

Parents rallied at Skinner Middle School to support the school after several students were found with weapons late last week. ( Denver Post, 9News )

Hard topics

A bill involving school districts' liability for school violence moved forward in the state legislature. ( 9News, AP via Aurora Sentinel, Denver Post )

What next?

The House Education Committee is in the process of developing a testing bill that looks to be different than proposals in the Senate. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Question of the week

Testing, testing: PARCC released its parent score sheet. Chalkbeat wants to know if you think it's accessible for parents. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Still it lingers

Oklahoma has repealed the Common Core, but after several years of training many teachers still use some Common Core-inspired strategies. ( Hechinger Report )

Two cents

A Michigan teacher writes that she is opting her own child out of the standardized tests in her state. ( Education Week )

ESEA redux

In Washington, senators are beginning to work out the details of the new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ( KUNC )


It turns out MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses - haven't destroyed higher education as we know it. ( KUNC )

How DO they get well soon?

The state announced this year's selection for One Book 4 Colorado, a program that distributes books to the families of four-year-olds. This year's choice: "How do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?" ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

House panel loads lots of changes onto testing bill

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 21:26

The House Education Committee Monday added key amendments to a proposed testing bill, including language that would keep ninth grade language arts and math tests as part of the state assessment system.

The measure, House Bill 15-1323, was sent to the House Appropriations Committee on a bipartisan 9-2 vote, with only Republican Reps. Justin Everett of Littleton and Paul Lundeen of Monument opposed.

In addition to the ninth grade testing amendment, other notable changes include:

  • A provision that would freeze the state rating system for schools and districts for the 2015-16 school year, a nod to concerns that results from the new tests given this spring will come too late and will be skewed by student opt-out numbers, making them unreliable to be used for accreditation. The amendment passed 8-3.
  • A related amendment that forbids school districts from using student achievement data derived from state test results for teacher evaluations. Districts could continue using locally generated growth data. Districts have had flexibility this school year in using student growth for evaluations, and the amendment would apply to next school year. It passed 6-5.
  • A change to the original bill making social studies tests optional for districts. That amendment passed 8-3.

The committee killed two amendments that would have given districts the ability to choose among multiple tests to fulfill state requirements. A related amendment that would have required the state to pull out of the Common Core State Standards and create new content standards was ruled out of order.

Approval of nine amendments was a political compromise to get the bill out of committee. The amendments cater to the desires of individual members and of education interest groups. And no one expects the committee vote is the last word on testing.

“I understand this is not the perfect bill, nor do I think we will see one,” said Salida Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, a prime sponsor of the measure. The other cosponsor is Aurora Democrat Rep. John Buckner, who is chair of House Education.

“We do anticipate there will be continued discussion as this bill goes forward,” Buckner said.

The Senate Education Committee last Thursday passed its own bipartisan testing bill – plus two others (see story). While the main Senate and House bills share some elements, there also are significant differences.

Lundeen, the former chair of the State Board of Education and a dissenter on many of the amendments, warned, “There is a very different version that’s coming from the Senate” and that “the lifting ahead of us remains incredibly heavy.”

A total of 34 amendments to HB 15-1323 were drafted, but not all were offered. Nine passed, two were defeated and three were withdrawn or died for procedural reasons.

Other amendments that were approved would allow limited district pilot programs for new testing and accountability systems, would exempt some immigrant students from testing during their first year in school, require districts to prepare comprehensive testing calendars for parents, and allow paper tests.

Additional elements of the original bill, none of which were discussed Monday, would ban mandatory states tests in the 11th and 12th grades (except for the ACT test), increase the number of years in which non-English speaking students could take tests in their native language and streamline several requirements of the READ Act early literacy program and of state school readiness assessments.

The committee took testimony on the bill a week ago (see story). Several witnesses representing education reform and business groups urged the committee to continue ninth grade testing.

“I am committed to seeing that we get something through the process,” Wilson said Monday, adding that the “absolute worst thing” is if the legislature passes no testing bill this session.

See the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this story for links to details about all 11 of the assessment bills introduced so far this session.

Committee passes bill to change district liability for violent incidents

Many education lobbyists Monday afternoon were paying more attention to the Senate Judiciary Committee than they were to House Education.

That’s because the Senate panel was considering two school violence bills, one of which would open districts to financial liability if they fail to exercise “reasonable care” in protecting students from violent incidents (see bill summary). Current state law generally gives government agencies immunity from such lawsuits.

The bill stems from the December 2013 death of Claire Davis, a student who died after a shooting at Arapahoe High School. Her family feels the district has not been forthcoming in in providing information about the incident, and her parents, Michael and Desiree Davis, provided emotional testimony at Monday’s hearing.

School districts are concerned that it’s difficult to define “reasonable care,” and that passage of the bill could lead to such unintended consequences as schools expelling students who might even remotely be considered threats.

Senate Judiciary approved some amendments to soften the bill, including removing a section that would have made the measure retroactive. The bill passed 4-1.

School district lobbyists face a tricky task working against SB 15-213, given that among the prime sponsors are Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder.

The committee also voted 5-0 to pass Senate Bill 15-214, which would establish a legislative study committee to look into school violence and youth mental health issues.

American Indian mascot bill gets preliminary floor approval

A bill that would require schools to get permission to use American Indian mascots and images received preliminary approval from the House after a spirited partisan debate Monday.

“We are trying to protect children,” said prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton. “The psychological effect on American Indian children” is negative when they see mascot names such as “Savages” and “Redskins,” he said.

House Bill 15-1165 would create a “Subcommittee for the Consideration of the Use of American Indian Mascots by Public Schools” in the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. All schools and colleges with Indian mascots would have to notify the subcommittee of such uses by Sept. 15 and stop using a mascot by Oct. 1 or request subcommittee approval for continued use.

If the subcommittee doesn’t approve a mascot, a school would have two years to discontinue use. A school that didn’t stop using a mascot could be fined $25,000 a month.

Republican critics of the bill argued that changing offensive mascot names should be handled at the local level and that the proposed fines and the cost of repainting gym floors and buying new uniforms would be prohibitive for small school districts.

But prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, argued that the state needs to have a say because “there are communities that refuse to change.”

The other prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton of Aurora, told House members, “Think about being called a savage, think about being called a redskin. This is about fairness, this is about respect.”

Rep. Don Corum, R-Montrose, said, “I’m not sure that everyone who is Native American feels redskin is offensive.” Corum’s district includes the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.

The original bill included funding to help districts pay the cost of changing mascots, but that was stripped in the House Appropriations Committee. The House could take a final roll-call vote as early as Tuesday. The bill’s chances are iffy in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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.

Categories: Urban School News

What do you think: Is the PARCC score sheet for parents user-friendly?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 14:58

On Friday the testing consortium PARCC, which Colorado is a part of, released a sample of the report parents will receive with their student’s results.

PARCC is responsible for creating, launching, and scoring the state’s new online standardized tests, which students are taking this spring.

Here is what parents will see to tell them how their kid did on the new tests:

You can click on the document to enlarge it. You can also see other examples and a FAQ here.

One of the promises of PARCC was to provide more meaningful information to parents, students and teachers about what students are learning.

That brings us to our question of the week:


Powered by Typeform

For comparison, here’s a look at what parents received from the state’s previous standardized test the TCAP:

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. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Districts rethink how to support popular dual language programs

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 09:42

Healthy schools

Colorado parents who want to opt their children out of immunizations may have a little extra work soon. The State Board of Health is considering a policy change that would require parents to submit opt out paperwork each year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Second thoughts on a second language

Metro-area school districts are considering how to keep up with the demand for dual language programs. ( Denver Post )

Testing madness

State Sens. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Chris Holbert, R-Parker, took to the airwaves this weekend to share their different visions for a path to reduce the testing burden. ( 9News )

Speaking Up

Chalkbeat readers overwhelmingly told us they believe parent engagement matters to a student's education, despite what a new study found. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

safe schools

Students of color are still being suspended and expelled at a higher rate than their white peers in Colorado schools, according to a report from Padres y Jovenes Unidos. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Three students were taken into custody after police say two guns were found on the campus of Skinner Middle School in Denver Friday morning. ( 9news, CPR )

School violence

A bill that would make Colorado schools liable for shootings faces its first test Monday at the General Assembly. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

Pay Day

Denver Public Schools and its teachers union are still at odds over how to update ProComp, the taxpayer approved pay incentive program. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Location, location, location

Pikes Peak Community College is relocating its campus east of Colorado Springs closer to Falcon School District 49. It will also add courses in the fall geared toward high school students. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: How students took over the opt-out movement

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 17:11
  • The push to opt out of standardized tests began as a point of protest for parents, but ended up as a student-led movement. (The Atlantic)
  • Why Common Core math is like baking: learning a series of calculations like steps in a recipe doesn’t always help you understand why the ingredients work the way they do. (Vox)
  • New York City charter network Success Academy’s devotion to test preparation has in part led to results that far outpace citywide averages on state exams. But the charter-school network’s methods and culture are not for everyone. (New York Times)
  • On the fiftieth anniversary of the legislation that became No Child Left Behind, which greatly expanded the federal role in education, a look at how far education policy has moved away from Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty goals. (The Atlantic)
  • By age 2 1/2, the achievement gap between Mexican-American children born in the U.S. and white children is up to five months when it comes to vocabulary and pre-literacy skills. (NPR)
  • By approaching school discipline through helping students cope with trauma, schools can catch the problem before it results in a suspension or expulsion. (Hechinger Report)
  • Most teachers who cheat on standardized tests never get caught, and those who do rarely face consequences as severe as those who will serve prison time in Atlanta. (Marshall Project)
  • Testing critics who argue that high-profile families like the Obamas have opted out of high-stakes testing by sending students to private schools often ignore that those schools require standardized tests for admission. (Education Post)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Heck yes, parent engagement matters to student learning

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 17:00

On Monday, we asked our readers if parent engagement matters in a child’s education.

Chalkbeat readers overwhelmingly said that it does.

Our readers’ opinions diverge from the findings of a recent study suggesting that most parent engagement does not affect academic achievement.

Teacher Mark Sass left this comment on our website:

What type of parental involvement is the key. Internationally data suggests that parental involvement at the school has little impact–involvement like volunteering for recess duty, or working in the library. But parental involvement at home does impact student learning. Ensuring a quiet place to study; asking students about their studies; reading with their students. That works.

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter. Check back Monday for a new question!


Categories: Urban School News

Report: Students of color still more likely to face harsh discipline in Colorado schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 16:23

Harsh disciplinary actions were less common in Colorado schools during the 2013-14 school year than in previous ones, according to a report released by Padres y Jóvenes Unidos today.

But black, Native American, and Latino students were still significantly more likely to be suspended, expelled, or referred to law enforcement than their white peers.

The reports examine the impact of the 2012 Smart School Discipline Law, which rolled back zero tolerance policies and increased data collection related to discipline incidents. Padres advocated for the state law and for a number of changes to school discipline policies in Denver in recent years as part of an effort to curb rules it said were racially discriminatory and pushing students out of school.

This is the second such report by the advocacy group focused on equity in schools.

Padres says the report aims to help “uncover promising practices and examples of effective educational accountability while … highlighting the numerous ares for improvement and the deeper systemic issues that still need to be addressed.”

The report describes state trends as promising.

Colorado’s out-of-school suspension rate fell 7 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. Rates of expulsion and referrals to law-enforcement fell 15 percent apiece. Since the passage of the 2012 law, suspension rates statewide are down 17 percent, expulsion rates down 36 percent, and referrals to law enforcement down 23 percent.

Denver, Cherry Creek, and Jefferson County schools led the way in the decrease in out-of-school suspensions between 2009 and the present. In Denver, 9,567 students received an out-of-school suspension in 2009, compared to 6,328 in 2013-14. Denver and Jefferson County were also the two districts with the largest reductions in expulsions.

But in most of the state’s districts, white students were still less likely to be subject to harsh discipline than black, Native American, and Latino students. In some cases, the disparity between white students and students of color has actually grown since 2012.

Padres calculated an “inequitable discipline risk indicator” to highlight how much more likely students of color were to receive a harsh disciplinary action than a white student. Aspen, Bayfield, Steamboat Springs, Denver, and Animas were the districts with the largest disparities.

The disparities are not uniform across the state. In 89 districts, for instance, students of color are not more likely than white peers to be expelled, suspended, or referred to law enforcement.

The move toward more lenient discipline policies has not been without complications. Last month, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association told the district’s board that lack of consistency and training in alternative discipline approaches such as restorative justice are leading to disorder in classrooms and stress for teachers.

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Categories: Urban School News

How Colorado parents opt kids out of immunizations could soon change

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:45

Parents might have to work a little harder to opt their children out of required immunizations if the State Board of Health approves a set of policy changes on Wednesday.

Currently, parents can submit a “personal belief” or religious exemption form just once during their child’s K-12 schooling. If the new rules pass, parents would have to submit those exemption forms annually.

The rule changes also include a provision for a new public database of immunization and exemption rates for all Colorado schools and childcare facilities.

Such a database would be a significant expansion of the work Chalkbeat Colorado began in February by publishing a first-of-its-kind immunization database for schools in the state’s 20 largest districts.

State health department officials said the database amendment was a last-minute addition that came in response to feedback from stakeholders during the last two months. A state law passed last year — House Bill 14-1288 — requires schools to release immunization and exemption rates upon request.

That law doesn’t specify that the health department collect the data, but officials there believe it’s within the department’s broader legal authority as long as the Board of Health approves the plan.

Advocates of the new exemption requirements and database which would take effect in  2016, say they could help push down exemption rates and better inform the public about communicable disease risk in their communities.

Last year, about 4.6 percent of the state’s kindergarteners — around 3,000 — had “personal belief” exemptions from some or all shots.

At individual schools, those rates vary wildly. More than 140 schools in Chalkbeat’s database posted exemption rates of 10 percent or more and several had exemption rates higher than 30 percent.

It’s those schools that worry public health experts most.

That’s because exemption rates of 10 percent or higher can threaten herd immunity, which offers protection against disease outbreaks. Herd immunity usually requires immunization rates of 90-95 percent.

Toughening exemption rules…a little

Colorado currently has one of the most lenient personal belief exemption policies in the country.

To qualify for such exemptions parents simply sign a form on a one-time basis. In contrast, many of the other 19 states that allow philosophical or personal belief exemptions make the process tougher.

Some, such as Arkansas, require parents to submit notarized documents every year. Others, such as Washington and Michigan, require that parents be briefed by doctors or county health workers one or more times during the K-12 years.

Childhood vaccination rates in Colorado and the nation | Create infographics

Advocates of the exemption frequency rule say it will require parents who exempt to put forth a similar level of effort as parents who vaccinate — a tenet know as “equal effort.” 

“It should not be easier to exempt your child than to vaccinate your child,” said Rachel Herlihy, acting director of the Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Under the proposed change, the increased number of times parents must submit paperwork aligns with the childhood schedule for doctor visits. While parents of school-age children would have to submit the forms annually, parents of younger children would have to submit the forms at any point new shots are required — up to five times before kindergarten.

Better data versus extra red tape

Proponents of the new rule also say increasing exemption frequency could also yield more accurate data. For example, when family circumstances change — say a hesitant parent later decides to vaccinate — the decision is recorded and the outdated exemption is removed.

Opponents worry the provision will heap new administrative work on already stretched schools and child care providers. One large district that is speaking out is the Boulder Valley School District, which has a districtwide exemption rate of 12 percent. In a letter to the state board, the district’s director of health services calls the new requirement an unfunded mandate.

But districts like Greeley-Evans, where school exemption rates range from 1 to 13 percent, have fewer concerns about extra work.

“It would put a burden on us…but it wouldn’t be a lot,” said Lead nurse Maribeth Appelhans.

Opponents of the frequency rule also worry that it amounts to government interference in carefully considered health care decisions.

“We believe it should, like any other medical decision, rest in the hands of the people who are taking the risk,” said Theresa Wrangham, executive director of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group opposed to vaccination mandates.

Besides worrying about new administrative burdens on schools, she has concerns about data privacy since the new exemption rule would shift from the current paper exemption form collected by schools to a new online exemption form that would go to the state health department.

“My concern is it’s not [the health department’s] job,” she said. “The law says the schools gather it… It’s information they should be handling and protecting.”

Combatting convenience exemptions

One amorphous group that comes up often in immunization discussions are parents who choose “personal belief” exemptions for convenience rather than strongly held convictions.

These might be frenzied parents who aren’t particularly worried about the risks of vaccinations, but signed the exemption form because it was quicker than searching for lost paperwork or scheduling last-minute doctors appointments.

The state health department has no firm data on convenience exemptions, but both advocates and opponents of the rule changes say they’ve heard anecdotal accounts of school staff offering parents the exemption option if their immunization paperwork is missing or incomplete.

“That’s a school problem, not a parent problem,” Wrangham said. “We need to revisit how school personnel are trained.”

But Appelhans said while some district staff may have taken such shortcuts years ago, they don’t anymore. Health clerks, and even substitute health clerks, now receive comprehensive training about immunization rules, she said.

While Wrangham doesn’t believe the rule change will reduce Colorado’s exemption rates, Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, does. 

“Other states that have…common sense parameters around how parents can claim an exemption get much more meaningful, accurate data…in terms of getting rid of the convenience factor,” she said.

She doesn’t expect the rule to affect the decisions of parents who have strongly held beliefs about vaccinations, but thinks it could impact parents who are “fence-sitters.”

A missing conversation

Regardless of what happens at the Board of Health meeting, some observers say immunization advocates need to look at how they communicate with parents who are hesitant about vaccines.

Jennifer Reich, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado Denver, has studied how parents make vaccination decisions and found that those who opt out see it solely as an individual choice with little or no health impact on the broader community.

“The problem is that’s just not how vaccines and illness work,” she said.

Still, she said most messaging about immunization doesn’t focus on community benefits.

“We don’t talk about vaccination like that,” said Reich, who will publish a book about vaccine decision-making in 2016. “Most parents didn’t recognize the problem of free-riding.”

Even among parents who fully vaccinate, 25 percent have concerns about the standard immunization schedule, she said.

“I’m wondering more broadly how we haven’t succeeded in communicating science in a way parents can trust.”

Proposed changes DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1808905-boh-rules-change-package-2' });
Categories: Urban School News

Denver teacher incentive negotiations stalled for another week

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:02

Negotiations between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association about adjustments to ProComp, the district’s 10-year-old taxpayer-funded teacher incentive pay system, stalled again Thursday.

The union and district officials have not reached an agreement about how much needs to change in this round of negotiations, which was initially aimed at extending and tweaking the current ProComp system before a larger redesign of the program later this year.

In March, district officials proposed a set of changes that include shifting more bonus money to teachers in high-needs and hard-to-serve schools, tying one incentive to teachers’ evaluation score instead of directly to test scores, and altering several other incentives to reflect changes to the state’s new standardized tests.

This week, the teachers union proposed that the current incentive structure remain largely intact until the larger redesign work starts later this fall, with the exception of some adjustments due the switch in assessments. It also proposed that the union’s contract with the district be extended until 2019. The proposal suggests that additional funds for teachers in high-needs schools come from a pot of money the district might have if a bill currently being considered in the state legislature passes.

A study group this fall recommended that the ProComp should tie incentives to teachers’ career progression, be simpler and easier to understand, and that the next agreement should increase incentives for teachers in high-needs schools. In a report released in January, the district said that it had found the current incentives are not attracting and retaining teachers, especially in high-needs schools.

Union officials say they are expecting information from a laundry list of data requests to the district about who would be affected by the changes early next week.

The district and union plan to meet again next week. This is the first round of bargaining sessions between the district and union that is open to the public, after a state law requiring open meetings was approved by voters last fall.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pueblo talks innovation zone with State Board

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:54

Testing madness

The Senate Education committee passed three bills late Thursday evening, including one that would require Colorado to drop the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC exams. But the fact remains that no one knows what the final compromise on testing reduction looks like. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

One of the bills the Senate committee passed was Republican Owen Hill's and Democrat Mike Merrifield's more conservative Senate Bill 257. ( Denver Post )

The marathon of testing bills drew an anti-testing crowd from Colorado Springs up to Denver. ( Gazette )

As the testing debate rages at the Capitol, education officials in several states and Washington D.C. are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to manage the increase in students opting out of state tests within current policies. ( Education Week via Huffington Post )

Turnaround Talks

Pueblo City Schools, one of the state's lowest performing districts, pitched the idea of creating an innovation zone to the State Board of Education as a strategy to improve its schools. ( Pueblo Chieftain, KRDO )

An Aurora Central High School alum wonders why Aurora Public Schools hasn't done much to improve the school "until the 11th hour." ( Aurora Sentinel )

The sound of music

Coloradans donated more than 1,000 musical instruments and $60,000 to repair some of them. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Senate Education Committee advances three testing bills

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 01:26

Two major and significantly different testing bills were approved late Thursday evening by the Senate Education Committee, continuing the uncertainty about where lawmakers are headed on the 2015 session’s top education issue.

The two bills emerged from the panel after a drawn-out hearing that featured nearly six hours of witness testimony and another three hours of committee deliberation, including votes on long lists of amendments.

Senate Bill 15-233 passed on a 5-4 party-line vote, with majority Republicans supporting the measure. Given that it has an $8.4 million price tag, the bill has to be considered next by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Republican-sponsored bill would pull Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests, reduce the number of tests and temporarily revert to old standards and tests until new state standards and tests are adopted. It would also reduce from 50 percent to 15 percent the proportion of an educator’s evaluation that has to be based on student academic growth data.

Senate Bill 15-257 was approved on a 8-1 bipartisan vote, with only Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, voting no. It also goes to the appropriations committee.

Key elements of that second measure include the cutting of state testing to one set of language arts and math tests in high school plus the ACT test, flexibility for districts to use their own tests, the creation of district pilot programs to develop new accountability and assessment systems, the streamlining of early literacy and school readiness assessments and the extension of flexibility for districts in use of student growth data to evaluate teachers.

(Get details on these bills and all other 2015 assessment bills in the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this article.)

The committee’s votes basically kick the final Senate decision on testing down the road. With fewer than 30 days left in the legislative session, SB 15-233 isn’t likely to advance much further, given that it’s probably not acceptable to the Democratic-majority House or to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Complicating the situation is the fact that the House is working on its own testing bill, which proposes even fewer changes than SB 15-257. The House Education Committee heard testimony on a single assessment bill, House Bill 15-1323, on Monday but took no action (see story). The panel is scheduled to take another crack at that bill next Monday.

Testing has proven to be a tough issue for lawmakers, with disagreement both between the House and Senate and within the party caucuses. Legislators also have been subjected to a lot of lobbying, with teachers, districts and some parent groups pushing for significant reforms in the testing system while education reform and some business groups want fewer changes.

For good measure, Senate Education also passed a third testing bill Thursday night, Senate Bill 15-056. It would change the system of social studies tests. The bill passed 9-0, but its future also is uncertain.

One testing bill was killed. Senate Bill 15-073 generally would have reduced state standardized assessments to the minimums required by the federal government and made changes in READ Act and school readiness assessments. It was postponed indefinitely at the request of the sponsor, Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. He said many of its provisions were covered by SB 15-257.

The hearing provided a full-blown airing of the wide range of deeply held views people hold on testing, from parent Lily Tang Williams, who said, “Common Core is communism,” to Leslie Cowell of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, who said, “I urge you to stay the course on Colorado’s standards and aligned assessments.”

Individual witnesses – there were 47 — included parents, teachers, interest group representatives, business lobbyists, district administrators and more. Testimony was hard to follow at times as different witnesses spoke about different bills.

Representatives of such activist groups as the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Denver Alliance for Public Education, Stop Common Core Colorado and Seeking Equity and Excellence for Kids urged the legislators to reduce state testing and withdraw from Common Core and PARCC.

Some of those testing critics made pointed references to philanthropist Bill Gates and to his funding of education reform efforts, including Colorado advocacy groups.

Speakers representing the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Stand for Children, Colorado Succeeds, Democrats for Education Reform and A+ Denver stressed the importance of maintaining the state’s accountability and assessment systems without major changes.

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.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Some districts skirt open bargaining rules

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 09:55


Some school districts have found the way to skirt the intent of Proposition 104, the state's new open bargaining law. ( Complete Colorado )

Accountability countdown

Curious what happens next for schools on the state's accountability watch list? Check out this timeline. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


A health survey that raised the hackles of parents across the state is, in fact, voluntary, which means that schools don't have to specifically ask permission before administering it, according to a state attorney general ruling. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio, 9News )

Opt Out District

The St. Vrain Valley district has decided not to administer the survey at all. ( Times-Call )

Next time

The State Board of Education delayed discussion on testing waivers, the Healthy Kids survey, graduation guidelines, and science and social studies cut scores until May. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Westword dives into the battles over public education and teachers in Jefferson County. ( Westword )

Skills Gap

The Community College of Denver is hoping to recruit and train more women in a program focused on skills like welding and other trades. ( 9News )

Egg Babies

Where did the idea of using egg babies to teach teens about pregnancy come from, and does it work? ( KUNC )

Points of view

Two Colorado teachers discuss the Chalkbeat First Persons they wrote highlighting their views on whether there's too much testing in schools. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Keeping the Beat

Two Longmont drumlines took first place in a state competition. ( Times-Call )


Safe2Tell, a hotline focused on bullying and safety, gets thousands of tips in Colorado each year and is considering adding an app. ( Colorado Springs Independent )

Categories: Urban School News

What to expect as Colorado’s accountability timeline runs out for struggling schools, districts

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 09:00

The State Board of Education is holding a study session Thursday with four school districts that are about to pose a big test to the state’s accountability system.

The talks between the board and school officials are intended to inform board members as they begin a 16-month process to determine how the state will eventually respond to and attempt to remedy chronic low performance at about 30 schools for the first time since the system was created. The board held a similar set of meetings last year.

Since 2010, schools and districts have been rated by the Colorado Department of Education based on state standardized test scores and other measures, including graduation and drop-out rates. Schools and districts that fall in the bottom 5 percent are asked to improve.

If they don’t climb out of the bottom 5 percent in five years, the board is required to step in.

In the case of districts, the board must rescind accreditation, a move that puts student diplomas and federal funding at risk. In the case of schools, the state must recommend school improvement strategies to the local school board.

That means the first schools and districts that were identified as failing in 2010 are out of time. If students at those schools and districts don’t show enough gains on this spring’s state tests, the state will take action after the results from the exams come back in 2016.

As the state board begins to weigh its options, we take a look back at the five years since the “accountability clock” started ticking and what steps will be taken between now and Aug. 1, 2016, when it is entirely possible the state might strip a school district of its accreditation for the first time in Colorado history.

Categories: Urban School News

A big day of delays for State Board of Education

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/08/2015 - 22:17

The State Board of Education had four big issues on its agenda Wednesday, but it delayed further discussion and decisions on all of them until May.

It was all too much for Democrat Jane Goff, usually one of the board’s most soft-spoken members.

“So far today we have produced zero,” she said. “Everything has been pushed off, delayed. We have accomplished nothing. Is there ever going to be something that comes out of this board?”

The day’s lack of action follows a pattern established earlier in the year, but Wednesday’s meeting set a record for the number of items put off.

And the day’s discussions spotlighted the philosophical differences among the members. Republican members Steve Durham, Pam Mazanec and Deb Scheffel, often allied with Democrat Val Flores, are generally critical of current state education policy, which has been set by years of legislation.

Near the end of the nearly 10-hour meeting, Durham said, “I don’t agree with” those policies.

“I’ve lived through four of five education policy crises starting with Sputnik. … None of those crises and all of the scrambling around didn’t improve education one iota.”

Referring to discontent about testing and other education policies, Durham continued, “There’s been a fundamental sea change at the legislature and in the public, and we’re dealing with a whole new set of realities.”

The four big issues facing the board were district requests for waivers from state testing, parent consent for the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, possible reconsideration of an earlier vote on cut scores for science and social studies tests, and high school graduation guidelines.

Here’s a recap of the discussion and the delays on those four issues.

Testing waivers

In January the board voted 4-3 to allow districts to apply for waivers from the first part of state tests in language arts and math (see story). Attorney General Cynthia Coffman subsequently ruled that neither the board nor the Department of Education has the authority to grant such waivers. (Various forms of waivers have been requested by 29 districts.)

And, of course, the issue is moot because schools statewide have finished that first phase of testing.

Given all that, department leaders have recommended the board either deny the waivers or rescind the January motion. The board delayed action on either step in February, March and again Wednesday.

Durham, who made the January motion, said he didn’t want to take action so the board could “wait and see what the legislature does with this [testing] issue.”

The board approved the delay motion 4-3, with Durham, Mazanec, Scheffel and Flores voting yes. Goff, Republican Marcia Neal and Democrat Angelika Schroeder voted no.

Healthy Kids Survey

In February some board members raised questions about the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a questionnaire that asks questions about student health and issues like drug, tobacco and alcohol use. (Get background in this story.)

The survey has been criticized by conservative parent groups as intrusive and inappropriate. Critics also complain about the fact that in many districts parents have to actively opt their children out of the survey.

That consent issue worries some board members, and they were buoyed by an informal attorney general’s memo advising that active consent is required. But a formal — and overriding — attorney general’s opinion released Wednesday ruled otherwise (see story).

The board heard nearly 90 minutes of public testimony about the survey, with the vast majority of witnesses – health professionals, educators and members of advocacy groups — supporting the current system.

Later in the meeting, Scheffel expressed disappointment with the testimony, saying parents were underrepresented. “In some ways they [the witnesses] are paid to be here,” while parents can’t take time off work. “I’d like us to think about how we handle public comment.”

Saying the board needs more time to review the attorney general’s opinion, Durham moved to delay any discussion on the action until May. The vote was 7-0.

Science and social studies cut scores

If February, the board voted 4-3 to reject proposed cut scores for 12th grade science and social studies tests (see story).

Wednesday’s agenda included an item for possible reconsideration of that vote.

But Durham moved to put that off as well, saying, “I’d like to wait until the legislature has the opportunity to discuss the whole testing issue.”

The legislature is having its own troubles coming to a decision on the issue.

The proposed delay prompted some back and forth between Durham and Schroeder, who’s concerned that the board’s failure to set cut scores means students won’t get their results before they graduate – if ever. That’s “extremely unfair to the kids and extremely unfair to the teachers,” she said.

Scheffel questioned, as she has previously, the validity of those tests, saying they are “easy to manipulate” and are perhaps designed to create a “narrative of failure.”

The cut score discussion was what prompted Goff’s frustration.

Scheffel pushed back on that, saying, “depicting the nature of this work as confusion is misguided. … By delay[ing] and by surfacing issues and getting the public involved, we begin to have a deep discussion.”

The motion to delay passed 5-2, with Goff and Schroeder voting no.

Graduation guidelines

A 2008 law requires the board to adopt graduation guidelines for the state’s high schools.

There’s been some tension over this issue, as districts want maximum flexibility while some education advocacy groups want tougher, more standardized guidelines.

The board is supposed to make a decision on the issue by May 15. Members were scheduled to be briefed on the guidelines at Wednesday’s meeting. But the board was running so far behind by midday that Neal put the whole issue off until next month. (For more information, see this slide show that would have been shown to the board.)

The board even failed to reach agreement on a fifth, lower profile item. This involves tweaking state regulations to clarify whether students who are learning English as a second language should take state-required literacy assessments in English or their native language. It required a unanimous vote for the rule change to be approved Wednesday. The vote was 5-3. So the decision was delayed until May, when board rules allow it to be approved by a simple majority.

Categories: Urban School News

AG: Health survey is voluntary, doesn’t require advance parental permission

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/08/2015 - 17:46

State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman released a formal opinion today saying that state and federal laws don’t require schools to get advance permission from parents when students take the biennial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

The decision answers a controversial question that’s been swirling around the State Board of Education for months: Must parents give permission before students participate in the survey? Some parents have complained that some survey questions about drugs, sex and alcohol are invasive and inappropriate.

Today’s opinion appears to contradict an earlier informal opinion from an assistant attorney general. That opinion stated that parents must be given advance written consent in order for their children to take the survey.

Currently, most schools use “passive consent” to notify parents about the survey. That means students are administered the survey unless their parents sign a form opting them out. The new decision suggests schools can continue on that path.

The decision reviewed whether state and federal laws requiring advance written permission for certain types of surveys apply to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. The attorney general concluded that they don’t, largely because the laws apply to required surveys. The health survey is voluntary.

The opinion concludes by leaving the state board some wiggle room to determine whether the survey is voluntary or required. The opinion states, “The State Board of Education and the Colorado Department of Education have discretion to clarify specific factual circumstances under which participation in a survey such as the ‘HKCS’ would be ‘required’ and thus subject to parental consent provisions of [state law].”

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: How many testing bills will it take to get a compromise?

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/08/2015 - 09:52

Changes are coming

Denver Public Schools is shaking up one of its main departments by breaking it into two. One office will manage innovation programs and school supports while the other will manage charter schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing madness

CPR asks: How many testing bills will it take to get a final compromise on how to reduce the state's exam burden? ( CPR )

Meanwhile, the testing bill that legalizes opting out of state tests cleared the Senate Tuesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Capitol Report

Believe it or not, there are other education issues making their way through the Capitol. Here's a look at four issues on the move this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Cultural competene

Controversial posters proclaiming "101 Things Black and Latina Girls Should Know" were posted and later removed at a Denver high school. ( KDVR )

People Power

Some teachers are turning to crowdfunding to improve their classrooms. ( 9News )

Healthy schools

Colorado is doing a poor job in sex ed, according to new numbers from the CDC. ( Westword )

The early gap

Mexican-American toddlers born in the U.S. do not develop as fast as their white peers when it comes to language and pre-literacy skills, a new study found. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

The four other (non-testing) education bills that are on the move at the Capitol this week

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 17:27

While the focus so far this week at the Capitol has been on the budget and on testing, other education bills of interest are on the move. Here are the details.

Chartering authority bill heads to House

The Senate Tuesday gave 21-14 final approval to Senate Bill 15-216, which would affect the exclusive chartering authority of districts that are on the state’s accountability watch list for more than three years.

The bill would require that such districts lose that authority if they are in year three of priority improvement or turnaround and do not have an agreement with the State Charter School Institute governing placement of institute charters in the district.

The goal of the bill, according to prime sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, is to give students in struggling districts more choices of high-quality schools. Under current law, the state can intervene in districts that have had low ratings for five consecutive years. Hill argues that students should have more choices after three years. (Get more information in this legislative staff summary.)

School finance study passed by House Education

A bipartisan bill that would create a legislative school finance oversight committee passed the House Education Committee in a 9-2 vote Monday.

House Bill 15-1334 would set up a 10-member panel to study Colorado’s K-12 funding system and recommend changes to both state law and the constitution.

The group would be advised by a nine-member technical advisory committee of district administrators and school finance experts.

The two groups would work together this year and next and would make specific recommendations on both statutory and constitutional changes to the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

“It’s not a question in anybody’s mind that we have to do this. The question is doing it right,” said prime sponsor Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

The other prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, said the current 20-year-old system is outdated, and “the original intent of equity has been skewed. … Our primary responsibility should be ensuring every child has equal access and opportunity.”

During the last decade there have been two state studies and one outside review of the school finance system. The outside study helped lead to approval of a comprehensive school-funding rewrite by the 2013 legislature. But that plan never went into effect because voters rejected the $1 billion tax increase needed to pay for the new system.

The bill has a $520,000 price tag over two years. Its next stop is the House Appropriations Committee.

Student learning objectives bill gets first committee approval

The House Education Committee on Monday also voted 6-5 in favor of House Bill 15-1324, a measure intended to encourage schools to use “student learning objectives.”

Student learning objectives are customized learning goals for classrooms and individual students that are used to track academic progress.

The bill is strongly backed by the Colorado Education Association, which wants to expand use of such learning objectives in teacher evaluations.

Specifically, the bill would create a $1 million grant program for districts that want to work on developing such programs. Some Colorado districts already are experimenting with the concept. The bill will be considered next by House Appropriations.

School discipline bill moves to Senate floor

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 15-1240, which 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 measure is an effort by sponsors Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, to divert more disciplinary matters to school administrators and thereby keep more students in school.

Balmer told the committee that one arrest doubles a student’s odds of dropping out of school and that “the impact of being ticketed or arrested can follow a student for the rest of their lives.”

The vote was 3-2.

Categories: Urban School News

DPS plans for cuts, additions, and shifts in central office

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 17:14

Denver Public Schools is cutting approximately 110 positions and adding several dozen new roles to its central office as part of a restructuring officials say is aimed at shifting more resources and expertise to schools.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer, said the changes are part of an effort to meet the goals of the Denver Plan 2020 and to educate teachers about how to teach using the Common Core State Standards. Most of the changes are in the departments Whitehead-Bust oversees.

The restructuring is coming in advance of the district’s new academic strategic plan, which will be released later this spring.

Some of the changes related to this restructuring, including an expansion of the district’s teacher-leadership program and cuts to its peer observer team, were announced earlier this year.

“As you push more expertise in the schools, it begs the question of what’s changing in the central team,” Whitehead-Bust said. “You now want to make sure your district roles are aligned to schools and leaders’ specific needs.”

Some of the changes:

  • The Office of School Reform and Innovation, known as OSRI, will be divided into two separate departments. An Innovation and Strategy department will develop and support new schools and programs like blended learning, and a Portfolio office will focus on managing charter schools.
  • The district is cutting its “curriculum coordinator role” and replacing it with two or three dozen “content specialists.” Content specialists will spend 80 percent of their time in schools, while curriculum coordinators were largely based in the central office.
  • The district is cutting its Collaborative Strategies for Reading team, a federally-funded group of 25 who led a reading program. The federal grant that supported the team is coming to an end, and Whitehead-Bust said the district had determined that it was not getting the results it had hoped for from the program. She said some components of the training will be continued.
  • The district is reducing the size of its teacher effectiveness coaching team from 72 to 54. Whitehead-Bust said some of the mentoring, coaching, and evaluating components of this job would be filled by teacher leaders. The district is also cutting a half dozen “executive director” positions in the academic office.

Whitehead-Bust said that she was unable to say exactly what the ultimate budget impact would be. She said the end of several grants means that the central office would be “leaner” next year. The district’s school board will vote on a budget later this spring.

Nine director-level positions on the new organization chart are listed as vacant, including the deputy chief of academics, who oversees curriculum and instruction and professional learning teams, and executive director of portfolio management, who oversees the new team focused on charter schools.

In an email to teachers and school leaders, Whitehead-Bust and Chief Schools Officer Susana Cordova said that the changes were partly prompted by feedback from teachers and a report from the Council of Great City Schools that said the district was not doing enough to prepare its teachers for new academic standards.

The email says the district is focusing on making sure teachers are more equipped with curricular resources that are aligned to the standards; on making sure support staff can help teachers with standards alignment; and making sure district professional development is aligned to standards.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New state campaign focuses on awareness of child abuse

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 09:44


The Colorado Department of Human Services has launched a new campaign to raise awareness about child abuse. ( 9News )

Staying in Line

George Washington High School's newspaper featured an editorial on discipline polices in Denver Public Schools. ( GW Surveyor )

opting out

A bill that would protect parents' ability to opt students out of standardized tests made progress in the Senate yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Colorado Public Radio, 9News )

Testing, Testing

But there was no vote in the state House on a bill that would cut the number of standardized tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

My Brother's Keeper

Saturday was Denver's first My Brother's Keeper Summit, an event organized in keeping with Barack Obama's initiative focusing on young men of color. ( Denver Post )

Exercise Gap

A report finds that lower-income students in Colorado spend less time in physical education classes than their wealthier peers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Neighborhood Schools No More

In New Orleans, where there are no longer neighborhood schools, families search for the right fit. ( KUNC )


Larkspur's town council rallied to support Larkspur Elementary after the Douglas County school district proposed cuts, but the future remains unclear as the school's enrollment is dropping. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Online Higher Education

Centennial-based Jones International University, an online school, is closing. ( Arvada Press )


Colorado Springs students are using 3-D printers way before I have gotten to try. ( The Gazette )

Look Inside

A look inside Success Academy, a charter school in New York City known for its high test scores, long wait lists, and intense model. ( New York Times )

Dotting Is, Crossing Ts

A new study has found that board certified teachers are more effective than non-certified peers. ( Education Week )

Fund Me, Please

Superintendent transitions in districts sometimes make funders wary. ( Education Week )

Categories: Urban School News

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