Last week the Colorado General Assembly came to a close with little accomplished on the education front, even though more education-related bills were introduced this session than any time in recent memory.
The central debate on testing ended with a last-minute compromise and schools didn’t get nearly the funding many superintendents said they needed and wanted.
You can take a look back at all the education-related news from the Capitol in our review here.
But the session’s end brings us to our question of the week:
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Most weeks, 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.
In a suburb just outside of Denver, Principal Sarah Gould stands outside a fifth-grade classroom at Hodgkins Elementary School watching students work. This classroom, she explains, is for students working roughly at grade level. Down the hall, there are two other fifth-grade classrooms. One is labeled “Level 2 and 3,” for students who are working at the second and third-grade levels. The other is for students who are working at a middle-school level.
But some of these students won’t necessarily stay in these classrooms for the whole school year. The students will move to new classrooms when they’ve mastered everything they were asked to learn in their first class. This can happen at any time during the year.
“We have kids move every day. It’s just based on when they’re ready,” Gould said.
Six years ago, Hodgkins Elementary worked the same way most schools and districts do: Students were assigned to a class for a fixed amount of time and were promoted when the time ended, assuming that they had gained the skills they needed for the next class — and sometimes even if they had not.
Now, the school is part of a growing movement toward “competency-based education,” which replaces “seat time” with skills as the main standard for whether students are promoted. Competency-based education goes by many names — mastery-based, proficiency-based and performance-based education — but the idea is the same: Students are measured by what they’ve learned, not the amount of time they’ve spent in the classroom.
Innovations in technology and how teachers can monitor students’ progress, along with changes to regulations about how long students must spend in class, have made it possible for schools and districts to adopt competency-based systems in an effort to use students’ time in school more effectively.
At least 40 states have one or more districts implementing competency education, and that number is growing, according to a 2013 KnowledgeWorks report with the most up to date numbers on the trend.
But competency-based education doesn’t look the same across the country. In fact, advocates say schools and districts fall on a “competency continuum,” based on which aspects of competency education they’ve implemented.
When advocates talk about a “pure” model of competency education, they describe a model that isn’t bound by grade levels or the Carnegie unit, a measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject in class. At that end of the spectrum, schools like Hodgkins or New York City’s Olympus Academy have essentially gotten rid of standard K-12 grade levels and only move students to the next learning level if they’ve proven they’ve mastered the concepts. (The schools generally must track students by grade level for funding and state testing purposes, even if their classes are not designed for single-age cohorts. Some advocates, including officials in Hodgkins’s district, want state policies changed to allow competency-based learning schools to track students differently.)
“Education systems in the past have been notorious for jumping on bandwagons but nothing substantially changes under the surface. In our model everything has changed under the surface,” said Oliver Grenham, chief education officer of Hodgkins’s district, Adams County School District 50 in Colorado.
But at the same time, advocates acknowledge that the “full system overhaul” is a heavy lift and that schools need to start from a place that makes the most sense for them based on their time, resources, and community support. For some districts, the clearest path has been to create new schools based on the model, as Philadelphia did this year when it opened three high schools that assign students to “workshops” rather than classes.
The schools retain some of the traditional school organization, but are working toward replacing standard grading with a detailed, competency-based matrix that lets students know at all times where they stand and helps them understand their own strengths and weaknesses.
Traditional letter grades don’t give students much information about what they know and can do, said Thomas Gaffey, the technology coordinator at Building 21, one of the three Philadelphia schools. The competency-based evaluation he helped design “makes the learning process transparent,” he said.
More often, schools have nestled a competency-based philosophy within their existing operations, maintaining their grade-level arrangements while adapting how they assess student learning.
“We’re a hybrid, which is what I think appeals to people who look at our model,” said Brian Stack, principal of Sanborn High School in New Hampshire. “It’s not vastly different from what they do with a traditional model, but it’s not so far out on the spectrum that it’s unattainable for them to get to where we are.”
At Sanborn, students are still enrolled in traditional classes and still receive credit for class at the end of the year. But all the courses have defined core competencies and if students don’t gain those competencies, they have to do extra work in order to earn credit for the class, rather than simply accepting the lower grade. The school is also in the process of doing away with numerical grades in favor of a scale that ranges from “limited progress” to “exceeding expectations.”
“We grade kids every day,” Stack said. “The difference is, what are you doing with that grade? Are you using that as feedback to tell students how they’re doing and to inform instruction or are you just using it as a determination to say did they know it or not?”
Stack said as much as he would like for his school to be totally unbound by seat time, its model is still dictated by the school calendar.
“If we can’t move kids when they’re ready, we can at the very least try to personalize instruction to the extent possible when they’re with us,” he said.
Other schools offer their own reasons for maintaining grade levels while rolling out a competency-based approach.
After a competency-learning pilot in math yielded major gains for California’s Summit Preparatory charter schools, the network adopted the approach in most academic subjects — and considered going further.
“We thought eliminating grades was the gold standard ideal,” said Adam Carter, chief academic officer. “We thought, ‘Those stupid grade levels are holding us back.’”
That changed when Summit officials thought through what they would lose by doing away with grade levels and realized that students benefit by belonging to a fixed cohort that advances together. “If students can plug into a project that is rich and full of layers, we don’t need to get rid of grade levels,” he said.
Schools operated by Rocketship, a national charter school network, regroup students four to six times a day based on their academic skills, in a robust example of how educators can use student data to foster competency-based learning.
“But we still have grade levels because of the social-emotional needs of students, especially early elementary,” said CEO Preston Smith. “Five-year-olds need to be with 5-year-olds most of the day so they can develop the life skills they need to be successful.”
Advocates of competency-based learning say the diversity among schools’ approaches should be expected — and appreciated — as more experiments take shape.
“Each school and each district is on its own journey and they’re going to have different entry points,” said Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, which champions online and blended learning models that are often part of competency-based programs. “Most school leaders who are implementing this well … had been working on the building blocks for three to six years.”
Lillian Pace, senior director of national policy for KnowledgeWorks, said, “Naturally, you’re going to see a tremendous amount of diversity in implementation. … That’s healthy. We need to try different approaches. We need to figure out ultimately which methods are the most effective.”
For now, the experience of schools like Hodgkins suggests that competency-based education might help engage students in their learning.
When kindergarten teacher Jenn Dickman recently asked for volunteers to share their “data notebooks” with a visitor, her students rushed en masse to grab the binders.
Jayleen Vasquez was first in line. She flipped quickly through the pages—each a mini-progress report of her skills. At the top were headers such as, “I can read a Level D book with purpose and understanding” or “I can read 50 sight words in 100 seconds or less.”
Underneath were columns shaded in colorful crayon hues showing whether she’d met the goal, and if not, how much farther she had to go.
“I passed these. I got those two right and this one I just forgot one. I did not pass this one,” she said, gesturing to one page. Then she concluded with pride: “I passed all this.”
This story was produced as a collaboration among all news organizations participating in the Expanded Learning Time reporting project. Reporting was contributed by Sue Frey for EdSource California, and Dale Mezzacappa for the Philadelphia Notebook.
A compromise on how to reduce the state's testing system was the only notable education bill that passed the legislative session that ended last week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Denver Public Schools officials will meet with the advocacy organization Padres Unidos to discuss racial disparities in student discipline data today. ( Denver Post )
Chalkbeat Colorado has added 132 more schools in 10 Colorado districts to its database of immunization compliance and exemption rates. The database—first published in February–now includes schools in the state’s 30 largest districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Douglas County School Board president Kevin Larsen said the school district shouldn't rush to put a tax increase on the November 2015 ballot. ( Douglas County News-Press )
But the outgoing Littleton Public Schools superintendent said his community couldn't wait for help from the state. That's why they asked voters to for more money in 2013. ( Douglas County News-Press )
School officials from Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver, Englewood and Jefferson County met Thursday with several large corporations hoping to forge partnerships to focus on students' job readiness, under the auspices of a federal program. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )
Food trucks in Boulder are serving cool — and healthy — lunches to students. And the White House is taking notice. ( Denver Post )
Teacher contract talks
Negotiations between the Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association have centered on issues of scheduling and how the two want to tackle hiring in the future. ( Arvada Press )
Here's a closer look at Lafayette's Centaurus High School, one of five high schools to receive the first "School of Opportunity" gold designation. ( Daily Camera )
A school at Mount Saint Vincent received a donation of furniture that might help the students, who have been abused, focus. ( 9News )
a survivor's song
A Parker student, who lost her parents in a murder-suicide, has found her voice in her school's choir ( 9News )
Devil in the details
Researchers, grant-makers, and policymakers have long relied on enrollment numbers for the federally subsidized Free and Reduced-Price Lunch program. But how that number is calculated is about to change. ( NPR via KUNC )
Chalkbeat readers predict problems for the charter schools that are taking on more special needs students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
There were plenty of education winners and losers at the Capitol this legislative session, opines the Denver Post. ( Denver Post )
The sense of relief was palpable in the Capitol last Wednesday after it became clear that lawmakers had come together behind a compromise bill to reduce the amount of statewide standardized testing.
Sen. Rollie Heath called it “the absolute elation of getting the testing bill done.” The Boulder Democrat participated in the negotiations that led to the final bill.
Testing was education issue No. 1 for the legislature from the first day to the last, but things didn’t start to come together until the last week of the session.
School safety and K-12 finance were the year’s other big issues. Beyond those, things dropped off pretty quickly, even though the sheer volume of education bills was at record levels.
Despite split party control of the General Assembly, partisanship wasn’t a deciding factor for key education measures. Both houses had their own main testing bills, each backed by different coalitions of Democrats and Republicans.
In the end it was an unsatisfying session for lawmakers and activist groups that wanted big changes in the state’s system of academic standards, tests, school and district ratings, and educator evaluations. But the way things turned out was a relief for interest groups that have helped build the current system over the last seven years.
Some 119 education-related bills were introduced this year, a big increase from 80-90 of recent sessions (See this year’s full list in the 2015 Education Bill Tracker.).
This year’s mortality rate also was high; 74 of those education bills were killed, or 62 percent. In recent sessions the percentage of bills “postponed indefinitely” ran in the 30-40 percent range.
The high bill count can be attributed partly to lots of “statement” bills, both from freshmen fulfilling campaign promises and from veteran lawmakers. And an unusually high number of higher education bills were introduced. Many of those were unsuccessful Democratic proposal aimed at the rising costs of college.Much debate, last-minute action on testing
Most legislators felt they had to do something this session about testing. The problem was it took them a long time to figure out what that “something” was.Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker / File photo
Discussions were “back and forth and back and forth,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker and a key figure in the ultimate compromise.
The 2015 legislature was teed up to face the issue by the 2014 legislature, which created a study committee to review the state testing system and make recommendations for changes. That panel, the Standards and Assessments Task Force, generally recommended that state tests be reduced to the so-called federal minimums, but it couldn’t reach agreement on what to do about 9th grade and social studies testing.
Parent groups, usually referred to at the Capitol as “The Moms,” had been energized by expansion of testing into the 11th and 12th grades. They pushed for big rollbacks in exams, protection of parent opt-out rights and greater privacy protections for student data. Allied groups agitated to pull Colorado out the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing network. The Colorado Education Association also pushed for less testing.
On the other side, education reform groups rallied to warn against radical testing changes that they felt could compromise the quality of student and school achievement data and thereby threaten past education reforms intended to improve educational equity for low-income and minority students.
The 11 testing-related bills proposed a range of options from restrained tinkering to wholesale uprooting of the Common Core and PARCC and wide-open freedom for districts to choose their own tests.
Little progress was made as the session clock ticked toward adjournment.Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon
Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, noted the debate “was polarized most of the time.” House Speaker Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, said, “This came close to falling apart almost every day of the session.”
Finally, with less than two weeks to go, legislative leaders took the issue in hand and convened a bipartisan group of senior lawmakers to hammer out the compromise.
Heath acknowledged that a “nudge” was needed “to make sure something happened.”
In the end, said Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, “It really was this organic confluence.”
Key elements of the compromise (HB1323) significantly reduce high school testing, streamline school readiness and early literacy assessments, guarantee parent opt-out rights, give districts and teachers a bit of breathing room on use of assessment data for accreditation and evaluation, and offer some modest steps toward district testing flexibility. Gov. John Hickenlooper said he would sign the bill.
A stand-alone bill on opting out of tests died, as did a measure on student data privacy. Both are issues closely related to assessment reform.
Get the details on the testing measure here.K-12 funding will rise, but little dent made in negative factor
The session opened with hopes of further shrinking the state’s K-12 shortfall this session, building on decisions made by the legislature in 2014, when finance was the top education issue.
Hickenlooper proposed a $200 million increase in K-12 support on top of automatic increases triggered by inflation and enrollment growth. On top of the governor’s plan, the state’s superintendents proposed adding $70 million, with some of that money earmarked for at-risk students.
Additional proposals to divert various surplus funds to K-12 and to increase support for full-day kindergarten and at-risk preschool capacity all quickly died.
The final version of next year’s school finance bill (SB267) will increase K-12 funding by $306 million of state and local funds to about $6.23 billion. Most of that is driven by constitutionally required hikes to cover enrollment growth and inflation.Gov. John Hickenlooper
Instead of Hickenlooper’s $200 million, the key discretionary increase in the bill is $25 million that will be applied to the funding shortfall, the so-called negative factor. That shortfall currently is about $880 million. Average per-pupil funding would rise to $7,295 from this year’s $7,026. Another $5 million was added and will be divvied up among school districts based on at-risk student enrollment. And a separate bill gives $10 million in per-pupil aid to small rural districts.
Funding “one place we didn’t get as far as we would have liked,” Hickenlooper said the day after the session adjourned.
See how your district will fare in this Department of Education spreadsheet.
The finance bill also includes a legislative “promise” that if district tax revenues rise more than currently forecast, the 2016 legislature will consider adding that amount to 2015-16 school funding. The usual practice when local revenue increases rise is to reduce the state contribution by the same amount.
Plans for a bigger cut in the negative factor were 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, which is enshrined in the state constitution. That surplus triggers refunds to taxpayers. And some of the money in the 2015-16 state budget was earmarked for transportation and building construction by a prior state law.
Lawmakers could have asked voters for permission to keep the excess revenue rather than refund it, but there was no interest in doing that.
Late in the session some Democratic senators pushed hard to boost school spending by taking money from the dedicated account called the State Education Fund. The problem is that using money from the education fund for basic school support puts additional obligations on the main General Fund in future years. So that effort was rebuffed in the face of warnings that spending from the education fund would consume all the new money available to the general fund in 2016-17.
As a nod to anxieties about school funding, a bipartisan group of House members proposed a two-year legislative study of K-12 finance (HB1334), with the study panel empowered to recommend proposed laws and constitutional changes to the 2016 and 2015 sessions. That bill sailed out of the House but died for murky reasons in a Senate committee, and the House ultimately chose not to press the issue.
School funding may be a tougher issue in 2016. Rising state collections from both taxes and fees have pushed state revenues past constitutional spending limits, triggering taxpayer refunds. A last-minute bill proposed to take some Medicaid-related fees out of that calculation, freeing up tax revenues for education and transportation. That failed in the Senate, meaning the 2016 legislative will have little or no flexibility in raising K-12 funding.Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder
“We are facing a budget crisis,” Hullinghorst said. “As we reach more of a crisis on the budget there may be more interest in this,” referring to the proposed change in Medicaid fees.Focus turned to school security
School safety emerge as a somewhat unexpected education issue this session, with most of the attention on a bill that creates limited liability for schools districts in cases of school violence (SB213). In the past districts have had immunity from such lawsuits.
The bill was named the “Claire Davis Act” in honor of the Arapahoe High School student killed in a December 2013 shooting. The bill had the support of top bipartisan leadership in both houses and was backed by skillful lobbying.
To the relief of districts, the bill gained some guardrails along the way. The main elements of the measure allow districts and charter schools to be held liable if they don’t use “reasonable care” in protecting students, faculty or staff from “reasonably foreseeable” acts of violence – murder, first-degree assault and sexual assault — that lead to serious bodily injury or death. Damage caps would be set at $350,000 for individuals and $900,000 in cases of multiple victims.
A key change gives districts two years to implement new safety policies before they could be held liable for incidents. And individual teachers would be protected from liability.
The bill also makes it easier for victims’ families to gain information about violent incidents before cases go to trial.
Two other bills passed by lawmakers have their roots in the Davis tragedy.
One measure (SB214) establishes a legislative study committee on school violence and youth mental health. A second bill (HB1273) is designed to improve statewide reporting of violent incidents at schools.Other education issues
Higher education – Two-dozen bills related to higher education were introduced this session, part of the reason for the inflation in the total number of education-related bills. Most were of little consequence and included various changes in resident tuition eligibility, measures related to campus sexual assault, all those Democratic bills on tuition and student loan costs and various technical measures. Higher education officials were concerned about possible legislative tinkering with the performance funding system created by the 2014 legislature, but the changes made were minor.
Workforce development – This issue was an under-the-radar bipartisan favorite this session. Several bills intended to improve the quality of worker skills for new jobs were introduced. Among those related to education measures to expand the number of high schools that offer early colleges programs (HB1270), create new career pathways programs for students (HB1274), and add career and technical courses to programs eligible for concurrent enrollment (HB1275).
Ideological bills – These didn’t fare well in a split-control legislature. Take for example the Republican-backed parents’ bill of rights (SB77) and the Democratic bill to give the state veto power over schools’ use of American Indian mascots and symbols (HB1165). The first was killed in the Democratic House and the second in the GOP Senate.
Big ideas, little success – Proposals to pay extra stipends to high-performing teachers who work in low-performing schools, to create a system of electronic vouchers, and to provide colleges scholarships to the top graduates of every Colorado high school all dropped by the wayside. But a bill that would allow the state to create “pay for success” contracts to allow private funding for social services like early childhood programs did pass.
Other ideas that didn’t make it – Split partisan control and lack of money were factors in the high mortality rate for some education bills. Among other proposals that died were:
On Monday we asked our readers: Should charter schools be asked to serve the same proportion of students with special needs as district-run schools? If so, how much oversight should districts have over these programs and how much flexibility should charters have to create new programs for students with special needs?
We asked this because, as we reported last week, Denver Public Schools is working with its charters to offer services for more students with severe needs. You can (and should) read Jaclyn Zubrzycki’s report here.
Rocco Fuschetto, superintendent of the Ignacio School District, emailed:
If charter schools want to be in the game, they need to be on the same playing field as any district and accept all students as we do in the public schools. Once that happens, you will see their scores drop and public schools will out- perform many charter schools.
Reader Bob Harold thinks if Denver charter schools start taking on more special needs students their scores will go down and will prove a longstanding claim that some charters are self-selecting students:
If they start accepting special education students then it’s a tacit admission that even though they’re “public schools” they’ve been excluding special needs students in the past. And their test scores will start going down since they won’t be able to systematically exclude lower-performing students.
If they continue to refuse to serve special needs students then it’s just more evidence that people like me will use to argue that “public” charters systematically exclude the most needy students (which artificially inflates charter’s test scores) and that charters are simply a mechanism to resegregate public schools.
Chalkbeat Colorado has added 132 more schools in 10 Colorado districts to its database of immunization compliance and exemption rates. The database—first published in February–now includes schools in the state’s 30 largest districts.
The latest round of additions includes schools in the Pueblo 70, Cheyenne Mountain, Widefield, Fountain-Fort Carson, Lewis-Palmer, Adams 14, Mapleton, Montrose & Olathe, Eagle County and Roaring Fork districts.
Compliance rates indicate the percentage of students who are fully immunized, have signed exemptions, or are “in process” of getting required shots. Under state law, parents can opt their children out of some or all shots by signing an exemption form.
Among the highlights from the latest batch of data:
State database coming
Prior to 2014-15, schools were not required to publicly disclose their immunization and exemption rates. That changed with the passage of House Bill 14-1288 last spring. Now, all Colorado schools, including charter schools, private schools and child care facilities, must reveal their rates upon request.
It’s well known that Colorado has lower immunization rates and higher exemption rates than most other states, but until now there has been no way to access the rates for individual schools. School-by-school rates can provide a valuable yardstick for parents, particularly those with babies, young children or immunosuppressed family members who are more vulnerable to disease.
Transparency will increase even more in the 2016-17 school year when the state health department unveils a new public database of school immunization and exemption rates. While HB 14-1288 did not require such a database, recent rule changes by the State Board of Health moved the project forward.
In addition to clearing the way for the state database, the recent rule changes will also create a set date–Dec. 1–by which districts must report immunization and exemption rates. Currently, there is no established deadline for reporting.
Diana Herrero, deputy chief of the health department’s immunization branch, said part of the hope in establishing the Dec. 1 deadline is that the database can be published early in the next calendar year, during the annual school choice window.
It remains to be seen how or if the public release of rates will affect parents’ school choice decisions, but some advocates of the law believe it could make a difference. After the publication of Chalkbeat’s database in February, some Colorado parents upset about low compliance rates said they would consider moving their children to different schools next year.
Efforts to improve rates
With a brighter spotlight this year on school immunization rates, some districts are making efforts to boost their rates, either by improving data collection processes or educating parents about immunization resources.
In Cheyenne Mountain, district staff have tightened up the enrollment process so that families who show up without immunization paperwork are immediately contacted by nursing staff. Previously, they were sometimes offered exemption forms by the secretarial staff, who typically were the first school employees parents saw, said Carolena Steen, deputy superintendent for student services.
Other districts are making efforts to ensure families have easy access to immunizations. Next week, the Widefield district will host a low-cost vaccination clinic offered by the county health department.
The district’s Director of Communications Samantha Briggs said while immunizations haven’t been a topic of concern in the district this year, administrators figured, “Let’s take advantage of this and just kind of make it easier on parents.”
“We have a pretty good [compliance] rate, but we just thought let’s try to make it better,” she said.
Compliance rates include the percentage of students who have gotten all required immunizations, have signed exemption forms, or are “in process” of getting up to date on their immunizations. High compliance rates indicate that schools are doing a good job collecting immunization and exemption paperwork, and ensuring that students are complying with state law. High compliance rates don’t necessarily mean that all those students are fully immunized. Some “compliant” students may be partially immunized or unimmunized.
Exemption rates represent the percentage of students whose parents have opted them out of some or all required shots. In Colorado, there are three types of exemptions: medical, religious, and personal belief. The majority of parents who excuse their children from immunizations use personal belief exemptions. Exemption rates are one component of compliance rates.
High exemption rates—around 10 percent or higher–can have serious implications when there are outbreaks of contagious diseases like measles or whooping cough. That’s because herd immunity usually requires immunization rates of 90-95 percent. If too many students in a school have opted out of shots, the spread of disease is more likely. The same may be true when compliance rates drop below 90 percent, even if exemption rates are low.
To find immunization compliance and exemption rates for schools not listed in this database, make a direct request to the school or district of interest. Then let us know that information and we’ll add it to our database.
Note: Most districts provided compliance and exemption rates for their charter schools, but some did not. If you would like to add your school’s or district’s rates, please send an email to email@example.com.
Denver's Manual High School community is starting to consider the implications of possibly sharing the campus with a middle school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Mood of teachers
A periodic survey of Colorado teachers finds overall job satisfaction is up but confidence in evaluations has dropped. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Different kid of rating
Seven Colorado high schools have been designated as “schools of opportunity” by a program that seeks to rate schools on how well they help students succeed, not just by test scores. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in favor of the Douglas County School District, reversing a Denver judge and saying district officials did not violate campaign laws during a 2013 election. ( Denver Post, 9News )
The percentage of Colorado high school students also enrolled in college classes continues to rise, according to a new state report. ( Denver Post )
The Englewood school district has narrowed its list of superintendent candidates to four finalists. ( Englewood Herald )
Thompson School District board members don't agree on the definition of equitable funding for charter schools and are looking at different factors in addressing what some say isn't enough funding for these schools. ( Reporter-Herald )
The Stargate Academy charter in Thornton has broken ground on a $51 million, 43-acre campus. ( 9News )
Contract negotiations between the Greeley school district and its teachers union will continue into the summer. ( Greeley Tribune )
Five students ingested marijuana at Denver's Skinner Middle School. Last month two boys were arrested after allegedly bringing loaded guns to the school. ( Denver Post )
Back to class
Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee taught P.E. classes in three district elementary schools earlier this week. ( CBS4 )
A biennial survey of Colorado teachers finds that while more teachers are satisfied with overall working conditions at their schools than in 2013, fewer are confident in the helpfulness of state teacher evaluation systems and assessment data than in the past.
The Teaching, Empowering, Leading & Learning survey, or TELL, has been administered by the New Teacher Center every two years since 2009. It was commissioned by the state legislature as a way to evaluate the working conditions of teachers.
Overall, 84.8 percent of teachers agreed their school is a good place to work and learn, up from 82.7 percent in 2013. That’s despite a statewide budget crunch and changes to standardized assessments that have drawn complaints from teachers, administrators, and families across the state.
But in the first survey since significant changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system have gone into effect, just 51.7 percent of teachers agreed that teacher evaluations help improve instructional strategies. That’s down from 61.5 percent in 2013. Fewer agreed that teacher evaluations are fair than in the past: 73.7 percent in 2015, compared to 79.8 percent in 2013.
This is the first school year that school districts have been required to implement new evaluation systems for teachers and principals as part of Senate Bill 10-191. The law required annual evaluations for the first time. It also required districts to tie half of teachers’ evaluations to multiple measures of students’ academic growth, though districts had flexibility in how much to weight student growth this year due to changes in the state’s assessment.
The drop in teachers who agree that evaluations are improving instruction and fair doesn’t come as a surprise, said Katy Anthes, the executive director of educator effectiveness at the Colorado Department of Education.
“When you go through a major transformative change in how you do personnel evaluations, it’s not unexpected that we’d see a drop,” Anthes said. “We’re very aware that a lot of learning has to take place.”
Anthes said that data showed that teachers’ trust in their school leadership influenced their views on evaluations: Approximately 84 percent of teachers who ranked their school leader highly said evaluations were fair, more than 10 percentage points more than the state average.
Teachers who are newer also have a more favorable take on evaluations: 60 percent of novice teachers agreed that evaluations positively affect instruction, compared to 48 percent of experienced teachers.
Fewer teachers agreed that data from state assessments is available in time to affect instructional practice. Just 32.1 percent agreed, compared to 44.4 percent in 2013. Due to new standardized tests, teachers will not receive results from this year’s assessments until well into next school year.
Overall, teachers’ opinions on school and teacher leadership in their schools had slightly improved since 2013.
This year, 32,000 Colorado teachers in public and charter schools — 51 percent of all the state’s public schol teachers — completed the survey.
Some districts’ results are not publicly available because too few teachers took the survey. For instance, just 573 of Denver’s 6,729 teachers took the half-hour survey.
In districts where data is available, some interesting local changes are apparent. For instance, in Douglas County, 62.8 percent of teachers felt class sizes are reasonable, compared to 47 percent in 2013. Students in Douglas County had raised concerns about class size in 2012.
Seven Colorado high schools have been designated as “schools of opportunity” by a program that seeks to rate schools on how well they help students succeed, rather than by more traditional metrics such as test scores.
Participating schools were reviewed on practices including effective student and faculty support systems, community outreach, health and psychological support, judicious and fair discipline policies, little or no tracking, and high-quality teacher induction and mentoring.
Organizers of the program believe that more common rating methods often give top designations to schools with affluent student bodies and undervalue the work done at schools with more diverse populations.
Receiving a “gold” designation were Centaurus High School in Lafayette, Grand Valley High School in Garfield County and the Jefferson County Open High School.
Designated as “silver” schools were Center High School, Durango High School, Long View High School in Lakewood and Mapleton Early College High School in Thornton.
Ten high schools in New York state also received designations. The effort hopes to expand to additional states next school year.
The program is directed by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder and funded by the Ford Foundation and the National Education Association’s NEA Foundation. The project is being led by CU’s Kevin Welner and Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Learn more about the program and read what reviewers said about the individual schools here.
On a Wednesday in April, students in Advanced Placement Human Geography at Manual High School were examining a question close to home: What would happen if a new middle school moved in with Manual?
“If you were to start a school in the Manual neighborhood, how would you adjust your way of doing a school to acculturate to this area?” Novaj Miles, a sophomore, asked Kurt Dennis, the principal of McAuliffe International, a middle school in more affluent Park Hill.
“Kids need to be safe, they need to be challenged,” Dennis said. “But beyond that, more than anything, I need to learn and listen. If we go through this process and the community says yes, step one will be a lot of listening.”
The question was not theoretical. Denver Public Schools released an updated Call for Quality Schools today requesting proposals for a new middle school that would likely be located in the Manual High School building. A new school would open in 2016-17.
McAuliffe International is one of several groups that expressed interest in opening a new middle school in the near northeast earlier this spring.
Christopher DeRemer, a Manual history and geography teacher, wanted to make sure students had a forum to develop and express their opinions about the change. So his class launched a research project focused on school policies, the demographics of their neighborhood, and the groups interested in opening schools.
“We wanted to look at how cities offer services like quality schools and quality transportation to all of their neighborhoods,” DeRemer said. “We’re trying to figure out, is DPS serving this neighborhood, and is a middle school the right thing?”
DeRemer said the project had been spurred by the students’ study of gentrification. Students worried that the district would create a school tailored to the needs of new community members rather than existing community members.
The class presented its findings Wednesday to a group of teachers, students, community members, and school district officials.
Manual has been the subject of a number of overhauls aimed at addressing low academic achievement, including a closure, in recent years. The school was identified last year as Denver’s lowest-performing high school. Manual will have a new principal and a new biotech program starting next year. [Read Chalkbeat’s reporting on the history of school improvement efforts at Manual.]
After all those changes, some Manual students are wary of more interruptions to a school they love. “There are always threats of changing Manual into different things,” said senior Isreal Felan.Chris DeRemer’s AP Human Geography class after their presentations.
But Manual has just over 400 students in a building designed for well over a thousand. The district is looking for a middle school to use some of that empty space and to create a stronger feeder pattern that would funnel students into Manual.
During Wednesday’s presentation, sophomore Nancy Chavez said that her group was wary of sharing a building with middle-schoolers. But, she said, having another school in the building would help boost enrollment and bring in more funds and programs.
District Chief of Schools Susana Cordova, one of the audience members, asked the students how they thought the district should manage the increasing gentrification in their area.
“I think it’s extremely difficult,” Felan said. “We’ve done research on it happening. The white population is 49 percent, but many of them still don’t send their kids here.”
Felan said he preferred a proposal from the Denver School of History Speech and Debate, whose founder, Barbara Allen, also visited the class. That school is aiming to be placed in Manual only temporarily.
Jabari Lottie, a freshmen, suggested that the school might hold more public events to bring neighborhood residents together. He said he envisioned future for the school where classes were full and basketball games were crowded with students and neighbors cheering on Manual’s Thunderbolts.
Students were also interested in how much interaction would take place between middle and high schoolers. Many described Manual as a family. One group suggested that the district create a new Manual Middle School that would share the school’s logo.
“If a middle school’s going to be here, we want to make a connection with that,” said Lottie.
Today’s new Call for Quality Schools also includes a request for two new middle schools in southwest Denver, including one to replace Henry World Middle School.
The debate on testing, the most divisive education issue of the 2015 legislature, ended on the session’s last day with self-congratulatory speeches and strong votes for a compromise bill. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A last set of education bills was passed amid the hurrying, waiting, confusion and general hilarity on the last day of the 2015 legislative session, which wrapped up at about 8 p.m. Wednesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A majority of the Aurora Public Schools’ Board of Education met illegally April 29 with representatives from several national charter school networks and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a spokeswoman for the district confirmed Wednesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Two Colorado Springs-area school districts --Harrison and Cheyenne Mountain -- take very different approaches to standardized testing. ( Colorado Springs Independent )
By a 3-3 vote, Thompson School District Board of Education members failed to approve a teachers' contract for the 2015-16 school year. The vote prompted many to leave the overflow meeting Wednesday at the administration building in tears or close to it. ( Loveland Reporter-Herald )
A mid-year budget appropriation of $52,000 for the discipline office in Colorado Springs School District 11 will pay for three more schools to learn the principles of restorative justice - the idea that misbehavior is not only about the wrongdoing, but also about repairing harm caused to others ( Gazette )
It's a gas
Employees at Boulder's Casey Middle School over the past week-and-a-half took a staff health symptom survey, the first of four, to document any ongoing health concerns stemming from air quality within the building. ( Daily Camera )
Standardized test season in K-12 classrooms has been dominated in some states by widespread technical problems or by parents allowing their children to opt out. But testing officials say the rollout this spring of new standardized tests taken by computer in many U.S. public schools has been without major problems in much of the country. ( Associated Press )
A last set of education bills was passed amid the hurrying, waiting, confusion and general hilarity on the last day of the 2015 legislative session, which wrapped up at about 8 p.m. Wednesday.
A few last bills, even if minor, hang over until the final day for one house to consider the other’s amendments and to re-pass the measures. Here’s the rundown of the bills that jumped those final procedural hurdles:
House Bill 15-1321 – This measure provides some flexibility for small rural school districts in complying with state requirements about parental involvement and, more importantly, provides $10 million in additional per-pupil funding for remote rural districts with fewer than 1,000 students.
House Bill 15-1273 – The bill is designed to beef up the statewide reporting of violent incidents in schools, including separate reporting of marijuana-related and sexual offenses, which currently are lumped into other categories.
House Bill 15-1391 – The proposal would reduce required contributions by the Denver Public Schools to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, under the terms of a law passed five years ago. An earlier version of this bill was killed in the Senate amid mysterious political maneuvers. This bill was a last-minute replacement for the dead bill, and sailed through after lobbying changed some minds in the Senate.
Senate Bill 15-1387 – The bill would end the practice of transferring medical marijuana inventories to recreational sales without payment of excise, or wholesale, taxes. This is important to education because the first $40 million of excise taxes is supposed to be transferred to the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. The past practice of tax-free transfers has lowered the amount transferred to BEST.
Senate Bill 15-214 – The measure commissions a legislative study of school violence and youth mental health.
The debate on testing, the most divisive education issue of the 2015 legislature, ended on the session’s last day with self-congratulatory speeches and strong votes for a compromise bill.
What matters for kids and parents is that the total time a student spends testing while moving from kindergarten to 12th grade will drop from about 137 hours to 102 hours, according to bill supporters. The biggest reduction will be in the high school years, and the changes go into effect for the 2015-16 school year. (See this chart for details by grade.)
There’s plenty of grousing that the bill doesn’t go far enough. But in the end it was more than good enough for the legislature, judging by the tone of Wednesday’s speeches. House Bill 15-1323 passed the Senate 30-5 and the House 55-8 after that chamber agreed to final Senate amendments. (See the bottom of this story for the no votes in each house.)
The need to produce a testing bill and to avoid the political embarrassment of not passing one proved too compelling as the session drew to a close.
As usual, when a contentious issue is about to be decided, most lawmakers emphasized the positive in closing speeches.
In the 35-member Senate, 13 senators spoke for an hour on the bill.
“This has been a long journey and a lot of hard work,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker and a key figure in crafting the compromise.
Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, was the most effusive: “Something magic happened here.”
Representatives were brief, with only half-a-dozen members speaking for less than half an hour.
“On the very last day of the session we did it,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon and a prime sponsor.
Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson and one of bill’s strongest GOP supporters, noted, “It’s probably been one of the more difficult bills this session. … It lightens the load where appropriate. It still maintains transparency and accountability.”What the testing bill does
The compromise testing-reduction bill successfully walks a fine line between earlier proposals from the House and Senate.
The final plan makes changes both obvious and subtle in the Colorado Measures of Academic Success system, and its final shape remains to be determined, given that parts of the bill require sign-off by the federal government.
Two things definitely aren’t in the bill. It doesn’t withdraw Colorado from the Common Core State Standards nor from the PARCC multi-state tests. That’s a sore point for some legislators and activist parent groups. And the bill doesn’t reduce testing enough for the Colorado Education Association.
Here are the details on the compromise’s key points and how negotiators reconciled the differences between the two chambers.
High school testing – This was the big point of division from the start, and the recent expansion of CMAS tests into the 11th and 12th grades was the main spark for parent agitation and students opting out in the past year.
The federal government requires one set of language arts and math tests be given in high school. The House and Senate bills assumed that requirement would be met by 10th grade testing, but the two chambers disagreed over whether 9th grade tests should continue. Moving away from the assumption that full 10th grade testing was needed was a key factor in breaking the deadlock.
The compromise keeps the 9th grade tests but replaces the 10th grade CMAS exams with a college and workforce readiness test like the ACT Aspire. This test takes about three hours, compared to 11 for the two CMAS tests. Backers of the idea hope Aspire or something similar will be more relevant and therefore more attractive to students. Students will continue to take the main ACT test in the 11th grade.
Because the federal government doesn’t recognize 9th grade as part of high school, this provision will need federal approval.
One subtlety here is that because the two ACT-type tests aren’t part of the federally dictated CMAS system, student opt-out rates wouldn’t affect district accreditation ratings. Compromise supporters described this with the zen-like explanation that the tests are “not mandatory and not optional.” Districts have to offer them, but students don’t have to take them. The state would have to put the 10th and 11th grade tests to competitive bid every five years.
The current schedule of giving science tests one time each in elementary, middle and high school will continue, but it’s left up to the Department of Education to decide in which grades.
Opting out – The bill guarantees parents the right to opt students out of tests and that students won’t suffer any consequences or punishment for doing so. It also specifies that districts cannot discourage students from taking tests. Opting out was a hot topic at the Capitol this year, and variations of opting out language were offered in several other bills, including a stand-alone measure passed by the Senate but killed in a House committee.
Pilot programs – There’s been a push by some lawmakers and districts for the ability to give their own tests rather than the CMAS/PARCC tests. Current federal law requires a single test be given to all students in a state. The Senate and House were way apart on this issue.
The compromise allows any district or group of districts to apply to the state for approval to “pilot” new tests. Eventually two tests would be chosen from those pilots. And in the end the Department of Education – with legislative approval – could use one new set of tests statewide. (There are a lot of ifs in this plan, including at least three separate federal sign-offs.)
Timeouts – Both original bills had various provisions to protect schools and districts from accountability consequences of new test results and to change how growth data derived from results is used in teacher evaluations.
The compromise creates a one-year accountability timeout for school and districts in 2015-16. Teachers get a break on use of state data for their 2014-15 evaluations. In future years districts don’t have to use state growth data if it comes in too late to meet deadlines for finishing evaluations. Late data would be used in subsequent years’ evaluations.
Paper & pencil – The original Senate version proposed allowing both parents and districts to request paper tests. The House would have given that option only to districts. The compromise allows individual schools or districts to request paper exams. The goal here was to avoid having some students in the same class taking online tests while other kids used paper versions.
Social studies – These tests now are given once in elementary, middle and high school. They rolled out only a year ago and as such were part of the uproar about “over-testing.” A separate measure that also passed Wednesday, Senate Bill 15-056, creates a compromise. Instead of being given to every student in the three grades every year, tests will be given in selected schools. The goal is to have the test given in an individual school every three years.
There are several issues that weren’t disputed by the two houses and that were carried into the compromise plan. Those include:
The final testing bill was crafted to meet an iron law of Capitol math: To become law, a bill needs at least 33 House votes, 18 in the Senate, and one governor’s signature.
As noted above, the testing measure adds a fourth party to the discussion – the U.S. Department of Education.
Colorado’s overall system of tests and accountability is approved through what’s referred to as a “waiver” granted by the department. That agreement allows the state to do some things its own way rather than strictly follow the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Changes in the state system by either the legislature or the state education department have to be reported to Washington through a process that – confusingly – also is called a “waiver.”
If the federal education department doesn’t like such individual changes, it could revoke the state’s overall waiver, potentially creating all sorts of administrative problems for CDE and districts. If a state is out of compliance with federal requirements it theoretically faces the loss of some federal funds, primarily grants to low-income students.Hammering out an agreement
Lawmakers had a hard time all session coming to agreement on testing. Legislative leaders started moving things along last week.
Members of both education committees and other lawmakers met in the speaker’s office one evening last week to hash things out.
A smaller group of legislative leaders convened last weekend to keep the momentum going. Lobbyists and leaders from the full spectrum of education interest groups also were involved.
The plan started to take final shape at a meeting of about half-a-dozen lawmakers who gathered around the press table in the House chambers last Sunday afternoon.
But there was nervousness about the deal until the end. Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, told his colleagues he was unsure as recently as Tuesday that things would come together.
“It’s been the most challenging work I’ve done,” Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, told Chalkbeat.How they voted
Voting no in the House were GOP Reps. Perry Buck of Windsor, Justin Everett of Littleton, Steve Humphrey of Windsor, Janak Joshi of Colorado Springs, Gordon Klingenschmitt of Colorado Springs, Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, Kim Ransom of Highlands Ranch and Lori Saine of Firestone.
Voting no in the Senate were Republican Sens. David Balmer of Centennial, Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, Tim Neville of Littleton and Laura Woods of Thornton.
A separate but virtually identical measure, Senate Bill 15-257, was allowed to die as the session adjourned. It was the original Senate proposal, but both it and HB 15-1323 were amended earlier this week to be the same.
See this staff summary of bill as of May 5.
A majority of the Aurora Public Schools’ Board of Education met illegally April 29 with representatives from several national charter school networks and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a spokeswoman for the district confirmed Wednesday.
And now the suburban Denver school district is reviewing how it coordinates nontraditional board meetings.
“After reviewing our policies, we recognized there was an oversight and we should have posted a notice about the meeting,” said APS spokeswoman Georgia Duran. “I want to emphasize that we do take our responsibility to be open and transparent seriously.”
The Wednesday evening meeting was originally planned as a social event for APS staff and leaders from the charter networks. The representatives from the networks and the Gates Foundation were in town to discuss how charter schools could be used to improve academic performance in the academically struggling school district.
Superintendent Rico Munn later decided to invite the board to the social event “as a courtesy,” Duran said. The district did not track which board members agreed to participate in the dinner.
At the dinner, board members mingled with leaders from Green Dot Public Schools, New Visions Schools, Mastery Public Schools, and the school management organization AUSL.
But later in the evening, the conversation became more formal and focused on Aurora Central High School, where the district is trying to improve student outcomes on standardized tests and graduation rates before the state steps in.
“They asked us, as board members, to share some of the context at Central, in terms of what does the community look like, what are some of the questions we’re wrestling with that would be helpful to answer, what prompted us to seek them out,” JulieMarie Shepherd, the school board president, said said.
Shepherd said she believed the meeting was within the limits of the law because neither an official course of action was discussed nor a vote was taken. It was a social event, an exception to the open records law, Shepherd said.
While the open meetings law does allow some flexibility around social events — like a chance meeting at a school fundraiser — that clearly isn’t the case here, said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.
“The large group discussion at which board members were asked to discuss Aurora Central should have been posted somehow,” Roberts said. “That was a meeting, involving more than two members of the board, at which public business was discussed. The public should have known about that meeting and should have been given an opportunity to hear the discussion.”
Board member Cathy Wildman said she didn’t know the meeting hadn’t been posted.
“I made the assumption that it had been taken care of through [district lawyers],” Wildman said. “That’s the minutiae I don’t have to deal with. It should be dealt with by administration. Nine times out of 10 we are very careful.”
The district’s admission about the illegal meeting comes less than 24 hours after some board members raised concern at their May 5 meeting about a lack of community input on a broad strategy to improve student learning at a cluster of schools in the Original Aurora neighborhood, near Aurora Central High.
The Colorado General Assembly is, in the nick of time, jelling around a testing compromise that includes ninth grade testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
But state social studies tests, which were new this year, would no longer be required. The bill would streamline kindergarten and early literacy bills to avoid duplication and re-testing students who are deemed proficient. ( CPR )
Some senators who want even more cutbacks are upset and calling the proposal a "backroom deal." ( Gazette )
"I think we are really close to an agreement because no one's happy," said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. ( Denver Post )
behind the scenes
Scoring 55 to 80 answers an hour is no problem for most at this Pearson scoring center in Ohio. ( The Plain Dealer )
aligning to the core
Denver Public Schools is holding off a purchase of K-3 literacy curriculum because a committee couldn't find anything it believed aligned to the Common Core State Standards. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
In a political flip-flop, the Senate State Affairs Committee approved a second effort at adjusting the amount of money Denver Public Schools puts into its employees’ pensions, thereby liberating $23 million to be spent on classrooms instead. ( Colorado Independent )
But plenty of other bills got the axe Tuesday including a measure that would have allowed the state to sell bonds and use the proceeds to improve the funding of the school and district divisions of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Brian Batz is the newest member of the Adams 12 school board. He was appointed to the seat after a legal back and forth that included a ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court. ( Thornton Sentinel )
living the lesson
This Pittsburgh civics teacher turned his arrest into a classroom lesson ( NPR via KUNC )
The Senate passed a compromise testing bill late Tuesday that looks a lot like a measure approved by the House on Monday evening.
The vote appears to clear the way for a testing bill to pass this session. Now it only remains for the two chambers to work out small differences between the versions and send one to the governor on Wednesday, the last day of the 2015 session. The preliminary Senate vote came after more than an hour of debate.
Supporters of the compromise argued that it’s a practical one.
Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker and a prime sponsor of the amended HB 15-1323, said, “Do you want to pass a bill that can be actually signed into law or do you want to make a statement? … Understanding the reality of this building and our governor I’m confident that this is the lowest burden of testing we can get to the governor’s desk that he will sign.
“Do you want some or none? That’s our choice,” he concluded.
Testing critics pushed an unsuccessful amendment to restore the bill to the language of another measure that originally passed the Senate 33-2. But on Tuesday night only about 10 senators rose to support that amendment on a standing vote.
Assessments need to be cut back even further to stem “the flood of testing that’s drowning students and teachers in a morass of unnecessary accountability,” argued Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs.
“We don’t have to pass anything if it’s the wrong thing,” said Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.
When a vote on the bill neared, Merrifield was conciliatory. “‘I’ve changed my mind. A little bit is better than nothing.”
Following this week’s testing debate has been confusing. Procedurally, the new plan was amended into two different bills, making them identical. The Senate voted Tuesday on House Bill 15-1323. The House on Monday gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 15-257.The background of the debate
Lawmakers knew testing would be a top education issue this year – they created a commission in 2014 to study the issue and make recommendations for reducing assessments.
But wide divisions about what to do, both between the houses and within the parties, stalled progress on the matter for most of session. Eleven testing-related bills were introduced.
Efforts to dramatically change the testing system also faced barriers in the form of federal law and of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signals that he didn’t want a radical overhaul.
The House and Senate ultimately produced two different bills, with major differences over 9th grade testing and the extent of district flexibility. Last weekend a bipartisan group of lawmakers crafted a new proposal in an attempt to bridge the differences. That new version was transplanted Monday into both bills.
The compromise was accomplished with some leadership arm-twisting that left a few hard feelings. Reps. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Jim Wilson, R-Salida, were installed as the House prime sponsors of SB 15-257 and led the effort to pass the compromise in the House.
Anti-testing groups and some lawmakers were left on the sidelines by the compromise deal, and they weren’t happy.
Since the compromise plan surfaced, the main points of contention have been district choice of 9th grade tests, lack of protection for districts from the administrative consequences of students boycotting tests, and over the details of the pilot testing program.What the bill would do
Here are the key features of the bill the Senate passed.
It would reduce testing time somewhere between 30 and 50 hours, sponsors claim.
CMAS/PARCC testing in language arts and math would continue in grades 3-9. (This would require federal sign-off because grade 9 doesn’t meet federal requirements for giving the tests once in high school.)
Statewide science tests would continue to be given once at each level – elementary, middle and high school.
A college-and-career readiness test like ACT Aspire would be given to 10th grade students. (Such exams take a lot less time than the PARCC tests.)
The main ACT test would continue to be given in the 11th grade.
Districts would be required to give the 10th and 11th grade tests but students wouldn’t have to take them. (Such tests aren’t subject to federal requirements for student participation.)
Parents would have to be notified about their rights to opt students out of tests, and districts would be prohibited from punishing or discriminating against students who don’t take tests. Districts would also have to provide annual testing calendars and information about the purposes of tests.
Streamlining of school readiness and READ Act assessments to reduce overlapping tests and some tests for students who are reading at grade level.
Loosening of requirements for testing ELL student and new immigrant students in English. (This also would require federal approval.)
Allowing pilot programs through which districts could experiment with different kinds of tests to meet the requirements of state testing. Despite being a relatively small part of the bill, this issue has been a point of contention between lawmakers who want maximum district flexibility and other legislators who fear erosion of uniform statewide testing. This is an area where the two houses will need to smooth things out on Wednesday. (Pilot programs also would require federal approval.)
There would be limits on use of state test data for educator evaluation in 2014-15. Districts wouldn’t have to use state-derived data in future years if it’s not available in time to meet deadlines for finishing evaluations.
Accreditation ratings for districts and schools would be suspended for the 2015-16 school year.
The bill also requires the availability of paper tests if individual schools request them.
Bobbing behind the two big assessment bills is Senate Bill 15-056, passed 33-2 by the Senate Tuesday morning. The bill got preliminary House approval early in the evening, but no final vote. This is the bill that would partially salvage state social studies tests by giving the exams in only some schools each year. Tests currently are given annually to one grade in all schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Neither of the big bills makes any reference to social studies.For the record: The roll of the fallen grows
As of Tuesday afternoon, Senate committees had killed three more education-related bills. The most important was House Bill 15-1389, the measure that would have reclassified revenue received from a hospital provider fee so that it doesn’t count against the state’s annual revenue limit. Without the bill the 2016 session could face some tough budget decisions. Republicans didn’t like it because it would have wiped out a couple of years of taxpayer TABOR refunds.
Also killed was House Bill 15-1339, which would have eased some financial transparency requirements currently imposed on districts.
The death of those two measures and another bill came a day after a dozen other education-related bills were killed (see story).
One measure that did advance Tuesday was Senate Bill 15-214, the study of school violence and youth mental health. The House passed it 51-13.
And the Senate gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1321, which would provide $10 million in additional 2015-16 funding for small rural districts.
A dozen education-related bills were killed in committee Monday during the frenzy of activity that marked the 118th day of the 2015 legislature’s 120-day session.
Many of those measures killed were House bills dispatched during late afternoon and evening sessions of committees in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Some notable proposals that were killed include:
Pensions – House Bill 15-1388, introduced only last week, would have allowed the state to sell bonds and use the proceeds to improve the funding of the school and district divisions of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. (This bill was killed during an early-morning Senate Finance Committee meeting Tuesday.)
Charters – A behind-the-scenes lobbying fight was waged for much of the session over Senate Bill 15-216. The measure would have given the state Charter School Institute more power to authorize schools in districts rated as turnaround or priority improvement. School districts strongly opposed the bill, which had bipartisan sponsorship.
Student learning objectives – House Bill 15-1324 would have offered grants to school districts to develop student learning objectives, which are techniques teachers use to measure student progress toward specific learning goals. Some schools and districts already use these, but the bill was intended to spread the practice through training grants. The Colorado Education Association backed this bill in hopes of providing another tool to use in teacher evaluations.
Small districts – District consolidation is a taboo topic in Colorado, but House Bill 15-1201 was designed to approach small-district problems in another way. The bill would have given grants to boards of cooperative educational services to help districts consolidate administrative services.
A testing footnote – The Senate Education Committee quietly killed Sen. Owen Hill’s Senate Bill 15-215 by the procedural technique of delaying consideration until after the legislature adjourns for good. When introduced the bill was touted as the compromise on testing, but it never gained any traction.
It’s been a record session both for the number of education-related bills introduced – 119 – and for the high percentage of those that didn’t survive. As of Monday, 72 of those bills have been defeated.
Here are the other bills that didn’t survive Monday:
Education bills of interest that survived Monday and passed the Capitol finish line include:
School violence – The Senate accepted fairly minor House amendments and voted 24-14 to re-pass Senate Bill 15-213, the “Claire Davis Act.” The bill goes to the governor. This is the measure that opens school districts to lawsuits in cases of murder, first-degree assault and sexual assault. There is a cap on damages, and districts would have a two-year grace period before they could be sued. The bill also requires districts to provide information about incidents to families.
Creative financing – The Senate voted 22-13 to pass House Bill 15-1317. This is the pay for success proposal, which would allow the state to create programs under which private investors and foundation could pay for social services, like early childhood programs. Funders would be paid off from future savings in other programs, such as reduced remedial or special education costs for kids who went through the early learning program.
Truancy – The House voted 63-1 to pass Senate Bill 15-184, the watered-down measure that only would require the state’s courts to review their policies for handling truant students and to minimize the jailing of truant students who refuse to return to school. The Senate agreed to House amendments.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to more information about all these bills.
Denver Public Schools was poised this spring to buy its first set of Common Core-aligned textbooks and materials for elementary- and middle-schoolers.
But after an extensive search, the district held off on buying a new curriculum for its K-3 literacy classes. Officials say that’s because a committee of teachers and experts couldn’t find quality books or resources written in Spanish and tailored to the needs of students who are learning English.
The textbook marketplace has taken time to catch up to the Common Core State Standards, which Colorado adopted as part of the Colorado Academic Standards three years ago. It’s been even slower to meet the demand for resources in Spanish.
“There’s nothing available that we think is rigorous enough for the Common Core and appropriate for a biliteracy environment,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic officer.
To fill the gap, DPS officials had initially planned to write a Common Core-aligned curriculum that worked for Spanish-language instruction. The goal would also be to offer supports for English language learners who are instructed mainly in English.
The district backed off of that effort late last year, but said the subsequent search to find pre-written materials that are appropriate for English language learners and available in Spanish didn’t yield results.
DPS is required by an agreement with the federal Department of Justice to offer certain services for its English language learners, including instruction in Spanish for a portion of the 38 percent of Denver students who speak Spanish. Other English language learners, including some Spanish speakers, get specialized support from trained teachers while they are instructed in English.
According to district statistics, DPS students speak 172 languages.
Meanwhile, the Common Core places a premium on “authentic” texts that reflect what students might encounter in real life. Finding those texts for its Spanish-language classes in particular has been a challenge. “In general, there’s a dearth of materials written authentically in Spanish,” Whitehead-Bust said.
H. Gary Cook, the research director at the University of Wisconsin School of Education’s WIDA, a center that produces research, standards, assessments, and teacher trainings focused on linguistically diverse students, said that’s no surprise. “Even content for non-English language learners is still emerging, and the types of activities that teachers and students are supposed to be doing to support the Common Core are very different than what they were doing before.”
Cook said it’s not an easy task making sure activities and lessons, especially for younger students, are on target for the more rigorous standards and for individual students’ widely-varying levels of fluency in English.
“There’s very little, if any, research and evidence about any curricular material around how it affects students’ language development, acquisition and proficiency,” he said. “Each individual learns differently.”
DPS did find a literacy program for grades 4-8 that officials say is appropriate for English learners. The program, called EngageNY, was developed by Expeditionary Learning.
It also adopted a new math program for middle schoolers known as Connected Mathematics Project 3, developed by publishing giant Pearson. That program is also available in Spanish.
The district plans to research and adopt Common Core-aligned materials for other subjects and grade levels in coming years.
Meanwhile, K-3 teachers will supplement the lessons with a guided reading program that was piloted in some schools in southwest Denver last year. DPS says it will also offer training in Common Core for teachers working with English learners.
And Whitehead-Bust said the district is considering working with external experts to develop a curriculum for younger elementary students. “We found we needed to be more proactive…We’re hoping that if we engage with publishers now, it will allow us to have greater assurances that a year from now, somebody will produce that resource.”
The curriculum decisions affect most, but not all, district schools. DPS charter and some innovation schools have the ability to adopt their own curricula.
School and Marijuana
Marijuana tax revenue isn't the solution to school funding Coloradoans hoped it might be. ( The Atlantic )
The House late Monday gave preliminary approval to a compromise testing measure designed to break the assessment stalemate that has dogged the 2015 legislative session. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Question of the week
What role should charter schools play in educating special education students? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Students in different parts of the Denver metro area have significantly different shots at social mobility, according to a New York Times interactive feature. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Galvanize, one of a new breed of tech schools where people learn to code, is offering a $50,000 scholarship to encourage Latino students to study STEM. ( Denver Post )
Opinion: Colorado needs to address school funding before it is last in the nation in education funding. ( Coloradoan )
St. Vrain has revived an adult education program that was shelved in 2013. ( Times Call )
A Colorado Springs senator disapproves of amendments that were made to his proposed testing bill. ( Gazette )
A charter school in Erie is looking to stabilize after principal turnover. ( Daily Camera )
A Colorado Springs building school is celebrating its 90th birthday. ( Gazette )