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Rise & Shine: U.S. eighth-graders score poorly on NAEP history exam

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/30/2015 - 09:13

Capitol crunch time

The House set up a possible confrontation with the Senate Wednesday over the 2015-16 school-funding bill and the issue of whether the legislature should do a study of K-12 finance. Capitol action also was marked by the defeat of some education-related measures, including the American Indian mascots bill. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Arne who?

On Wednesday, only 29 of the 320 juniors at Colorado Springs' Cheyenne Mountain High School took the English and math tests. Opt-outs were high across the area, officials said. ( Gazette )

Sobering data

A kind of informed calculus is what Colorado higher-education officials have in mind with Wednesday's release of a new report and searchable online tool detailing earnings one, five and 10 years after students earn a credential from Colorado colleges and universities. ( Denver Post )

Snoozing in class

Only about a quarter of eighth-graders showed solid performance or better in U.S. history, civics and geography on tests known as the Nation's Report Card, according to 2014 results released Wednesday. ( Denver Post )

Home grown

A bill debated before the House Education Committee Wednesday would allow schools to enter into agreements with teacher preparation programs at colleges around Colorado. The point is to encourage high school students to take college level courses which would lead them towards a career in education. ( 9News )

little geniuses

New studies ponder the benefits and risks of skipping grades, beginning as early as kindergarten. ( KUNC/NPR )

ever upwards

Fiscal year 2016 will be the ninth consecutive year that CSU has raised tuition for resident undergraduates above 5 percent, according to the student newspaper. Grumbling has ensued. ( Collegian Central )

Manufactured outrage

A note, sent home with a preschooler, scolded her mother for packing Oreo cookies in her daughter's lunch, according to ABC affiliate KMGH-TV. ( Eyewitness News )

A couple of two cents

This legislative session’s monumental education debate has Colorado policymakers walking a dangerous tightrope. To benefit today’s K-12 students, they must promote wise policy that does not lean too far in either direction, say two free-market think-tankers ( Greeley Tribune )

The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board says PARCC exams aren't perfect, but produce good data and students should buckle down and take them. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

House backs down in school finance fight; Indian mascots bill killed

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/29/2015 - 21:54

Updated April 30, 10:40 a.m. – The House Thursday backed away from a confrontation with the Senate over the 2015-16 school-funding bill by stripping a controversial amendment from the measure.

The amendment, added on the House floor Thursday, would have resurrected a two-year legislative study of the school finance system. The Senate earlier killed a separate bill that contained the proposal.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, proposed backing off Wednesday’s amendment. While saying she supports the study, she added, “We also have to be the adults in the room. The school finance bill passing in the Senate is really important.” Leaving the amendment in the bill “really does put the bill at risk.”

The House voted 38-26 to strip the amendment and then passed the finance act 45-19.

Text of Wednesday story follows

The House set up a possible confrontation with the Senate Wednesday over the 2015-16 school-funding bill and the issue of whether the legislature should do a study of K-12 finance.

Capitol action also was marked by the defeat of some education-related measures, including the American Indian mascots bill.

Action was delayed on key bills involving testing and student data privacy, putting further pressure on the calendar as the legislature faces a May 6 adjournment deadline.

The school funding measure, Senate Bill 15-267, is pretty straightforward, although it’s disappointing to many legislators because it provides increases only for inflation and enrollment growth. It also includes a $25 million pay-down on the state’s K-12 funding shortfall and $5 million in extra money for at-risk students. (See this story for more details.)

Concern about school funding provided the impetus for another measure, House Bill 15-1334. That bill would have created a two-year legislature study committee to review the school finance system and develop reform proposals for the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

That bill was killed 4-3 Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee, even though it had been passed by the House 47-16 and was ratified 18-0 by a House-Senate review panel. (The appropriations committee doesn’t usually kill bills of its own volition, but it isn’t known which Senate leader may have suggested the bill be killed.)

After members from both parties vented about the inadequacy of the school funding bill, Rep. Tom Dore, R-Elizabeth, proposed an amendment that basically inserts the House’s study committee bill into the main finance bill. His colleagues liked the idea and passed the change on a voice vote, with no audible ‘no’ votes.

Finance bill sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner was taken aback by Dore’s move. “Oh my goodness. This really is an interesting dilemma,” she said. “The amendment really is a good idea.”

The Dillon Democrat also was a prime sponsor of the bill to create a study committee. But she may face some delicate negotiations because as sponsor of the main finance bill she’s committed to helping produce a “clean” measure. Sponsors in both chambers had agreed to resist big changes or additions to the school funding measure.

Separate bill includes a sweetener for rural districts

Another finance related measure, House Bill 15-1321, passed the Senate Education Committee on a 5-4 vote Wednesday. The bill gives small rural districts flexibility in complying with some state education regulations.

More important, the bill is kind of a companion school finance act for small districts. It would provide $10 million for per-pupil distribution to rural districts with fewer than 1,000 students – amounting to about $280 per child. There’s been a lot of district pressure on the legislature this year to provide some financial relief for rural districts. (See this story for background.)

Another measure, House Bill 15-1201, would provide an additional $10 million over two years to help small districts develop ways to consolidate administrative services. There’s some speculation at the Capitol that one or both of the bills may have some funding removed if lawmakers need cash for other bills in the session’s waning days.

Bill advances to authorize sale of bonds for pension system

The House Finance Committee Wednesday voted 10-1 to approve House Bill 15-1388, the late-breaking and complex plan for the state to sell bonds to help reduce the unfunded liabilities of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which covers teachers, many state government workers and some higher education employees.

Proceeds from bond sales would be deposited in PERA’s state and schools trust funds, both beefing them up and giving the pension system more money to invest.

The bill was introduced only late Tuesday, and it was taken up by the finance committee without being listed on the panel’s calendar. (That’s within the rules during a session’s closing days.)

The bill drew support from heavyweight witnesses like state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a longtime PERA critic; state budget director Henry Sobanet, and Kelly Brough, CEO of the Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce.

Committee members raised questions about both the plan’s safety and why it surfaced so late in the session.

Sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said the bill came so late because it took time to reach agreement among all the interest groups involved in the issue.

Stapleton said, “I believe this has the potential to be a valuable tool to reduce PERA’s unfunded liability.”

Before bonds could be sold, the governor and treasurer would have to sign off on the plan and then seek court review of the plan’s legality.

“There is risk to this, but no doubt,” Pabon said in summing up after a hearing of more than 2 ½ hours. “But it’s a calculated risk.”

Senate State Affairs thins the ranks of ed bills

The state affairs committees in both houses traditionally are used as the “kill committees” to defeat bills that majority leadership doesn’t like. It’s usually taken as a bad sign when a bill is routed to State Affairs even if it logically should go to, say, education.

The Senate panel mostly lived up to its reputation Wednesday, but it did pass one education-related bill.

On a 2-1 vote the panel approved House Bill 15-1317. This is the so-called “pay for success” bill. The measure would allow the state to create arrangements under which foundations and investors could fund social services like early childhood programs and be repaid from savings in other programs, such as reduced remediation or special education. (Get background.)

Here’s what was killed:

House Bill 15-1165 – The bill would have required schools obtain permission from a state committee to use American Indian mascots and logos. (Get background.) 3-2 to postpone indefinitely

House Bill 15-1251 – This was a seemingly technical measure that would have reduced payments made by the Denver Public Schools to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. Adjustment of the payments was required by the law that merged the DPS pension system into PERA five years ago, so there may legal issues if the legislature doesn’t make the adjustment. Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg testified for the bill, saying it would free up money that could be better used in classrooms. (Get details on the bill in this legislative staff summary.) 3-2 to postpone indefinitely

House Bill 15-1326 – This bill would have prohibited state colleges and universities from discriminating against applicants who earned high school diplomas from districts that have low ratings or aren’t accredited by the state. The measure was pushed by lawmakers whose legislative districts include low-performing school districts that face state intervention, including loss of accreditation, in 2016. (Get background.) 2-1 to postpone indefinitely

Track the legislature’s final days

Several other education-related measures advanced Wednesday. But with so many bills in play, we can’t report every vote in our daily roundups. Use our Down to the Wire Bill Tracker to check the status of the most important two-dozen bills being considered at the end of the session.

For lower-profile measures, use the full Education Bill Tracker, which includes all 116 bills introduced this year.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Native American mascot bill faces tough challenge today

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/29/2015 - 09:37

money money money

A bill introduced in the legislature yesterday would allow a state agency to sell bonds whose proceeds would be used to shore up the pension system that covers all of the state’s teachers and many higher education employees. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Legislation to prohibit Native American mascots at state schools — unless a tribe approves — faces its toughest test today at a Senate committee meeting. ( AP via 9News )

Funding matters

Here's a close look at why the Poudre school system is going to be one of the districts that spends the least on a per pupil basis in the state despite getting an increase in per pupil funding. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

lessons on blended learning

A film crew spent the last two days in the St. Vrain Valley School District, documenting how the district integrates technology in instruction for a national video project. ( Daily Camera )

No, thank you!

Jeffco Public Schools is holding a contest to recognize the hard work and dedication of the teachers in their district. ( 9News )

aligning to the core

The Common Core State Standards are leading to more project-based learning lessons. ( EdSource )

Two cents

A Greeley teacher says there are some common sense reasons not to opt out of state tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Schools should be expected to offer safe havens for our kids, but they can't be expected to guarantee safety, argues The Denver Post. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Big pension bill complicates session’s final days

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/28/2015 - 22:07

A bill introduced in the legislature Tuesday would allow a state agency to sell bonds whose proceeds would be used to shore up the pension system that covers all of the state’s teachers and many higher education employees.

House Bill 15-1388, which has bipartisan sponsorship, would authorize the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) to issue bonds to support the state and school divisions of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, and accelerate elimination of the unfunded liabilities in those divisions. The pension fund would in turn make payments to CHFA so the bonds could be paid off.

For the plan to go into effect, the governor and state treasurer would have to get a court ruling that issuing such bonds is constitutional, and those two officials also would have to certify that the program would in fact accelerate the elimination of PERA’s liabilities in those divisions.

The housing and finance authority is a semi-autonomous state agency that is primarily been involved in financing of affordable housing and business development.

The state pension system and proposals to tinker with it are complicated issues, and it will be interesting to see how the legislature deals with that with only six working days left in the legislative session.

Sale of bonds to buttress public employee pension systems is a complex and controversial issue. See this Denver Post story for background on the proposal, and see this Chalkbeat Colorado story for information about PERA.

House Education chair out for the session

Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora and chair of the Senate Education Committee, is taking medical leave for the rest of the 2015 session.

Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, announced that on the House floor Tuesday morning and read a letter for Buckner (read that here).

The nature of Buckner’s medical problems haven’t been publicly disclosed, but he has been using a portable oxygen tank at the Capitol for the last several weeks. He was absent from the House all of last week.

The committee will be chaired for the remainder of the session by Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, who has been vice chair. Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, was appointed to the panel to maintain the Democrats’ 6-5 majority. The widely respected Hamner was chair of House Education last session but gave the post up to join the Joint Budget Committee.

Buckner and Pettersen were both new to committee leadership this session, and committee proceedings have been rocky at times.

While House leadership was able to fill Buckner’s vacancy on House Education, they can’t do that in the full chamber. His absence leaves the Democrats with 33 votes in the House – the bare majority in the 65-member chamber.

School finance study dies mysterious death

The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday voted 4-3 to kill House Bill 15-1334, which would have established a two-year legislative study committee to examine the state’s school funding system and recommend changes to the full legislature.

The idea appeared to have had wide support – it passed the House 47-16. And Legislature Council, a joint committee that signs off on between-sessions study committees, last Friday approved the bill 18-0.

But there were quiet critics both among statehouse Republicans and some education interest groups, and somebody pulled some strings to get the bill killed. Nobody was saying Tuesday who pulled whose strings.

Hamner, a main proponent of the idea, attributed the bill’s death to “politics” but wasn’t more specific.

House expends a lot of rhetoric on doomed bill

The House Tuesday voted 33-31 Tuesday to pass House Bill 15-1346, a measure that seeks to crack down on Colorado companies that minimize their state taxes by shifting some revenues to offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

Extra revenues gained from the change, estimated by proponents at up to $150 million a year, would be earmarked for K-12. The Colorado Education Association is a big backer of the plan.

Representatives had long and partisan debates over the bill both Monday and Tuesday. All that discussion probably was wasted. When the bill was introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate later in the day, it was assigned the State Affairs Committee, widely known as the “kill committee.”

Categories: Urban School News

A few common sense reasons not to opt out of tests

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/28/2015 - 16:07

There is a movement happening in Colorado in which parents are encouraging their children to opt out of the PARCC test.

As a Colorado educator with more than 12 years of experience teaching, I must challenge parents to consider what opting out truly means for our state’s schools and students.

Take a moment and think back to when you moved out of your house, or went to college, or started a new job. Remember the feeling you had? Was it uncomfortable and confusing? Was it frightening that you did not know the outcome?

You were experiencing what most people do when they try something new. But did you ever consider “opting out” from those experiences? More likely, you challenged yourself to see what you were capable of achieving.

Today, Colorado parents and students are making the decision to opt out of participating in PARCC.

This new assessment has had much controversy surrounding it. But parents, before you opt out, think about this new movement in education and how it impacts your child. Think about the school your child goes to. Do you know how the school is supported or how it functions? What are the expectations the school has for your child? What are the expectations you have for the school?

Many children do chores as part of their daily tasks within the home. How would you approach it if your child one day decided to opt out of completing their chores? How would you know that your child is meeting the expectations you have created for him or her?

This is the same issue for students in the educational system. How do you effectively measure your child’s success against students across the nation and know if the school is meeting your expectations? With tests.

A student is more than a score. A student is flesh and blood and the future of our nation. But we will never know if a student is being challenged enough if we opt out of participation in the state assessment.

Recently, I was asked by my students, “Mr. Rivera, what are your thoughts about PARCC?”

I responded to this question by asking my students what they knew about the test. These students knew many of the myths of PARCC. Their questions included: “Will colleges see my results?” and “Will the test determine if I graduate?” and “Will my score be on my transcript?” I answered back with a resonating, “No!”

After listening to my students share their worries about these myths, I clarified a few important points. I discussed funding and its connection to their own school. I shared that many researchers say that it takes three to five years to see what works and what does not. I informed my students they are powerful stakeholders. I emphasized how by opting out, the gap between their school and other schools widens. I stressed to them that they are more than just a score, but we, their educators, need to know if we are guiding them to master standards and academic content, and the test helps us to know this.

Now, do I believe we are over-testing our students? Yes!

Do I believe that education is more than quantitative data? Yes!

Do I believe that our expectations for our students are challenging and valuable? Yes!

But opting out from participating in an assessment that needs all the feedback it can get is not the best way to solve some of the real problems surrounding testing. Opting out from an assessment that helps to show if a school is meeting expectations and providing a quality education is not the best decision.

Parents, I challenge you to educate yourself by researching both sides of the issue. I challenge you to read material from the media through a skeptical lens. I challenge you to truly understand what “opting out” entails when it comes to the school your child attends.

Editor’s note: This First Person is one of a series on testing during the legislative session. Read earlier submissions here and here

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Testing opt out bill stalls in committee

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/28/2015 - 09:57

Spare Change

The House Education Committee has added some, but not much, money to its school funding bill. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Question of the week

Colorado will have a new education commissioner starting in July. What do you think the state board should be looking for? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Denver's plan to create an Innovation Management Organization that gives a successful principal leadership over a few schools is in the spotlight again. ( Education Week )

Not just on TV

Nashville's music program has attracted the attention of other districts looking to build top-notch arts education. ( Education Week )


Schools and daycare centers are getting ready for new vaccination rules. ( Aspen Public Radio )

opting out

Students who opted out of standardized tests shared their story with the Colorado Independent. ( Colorado Independent )


Jefferson County's teachers union and the district addressed teacher schedules and how teachers file grievances in their negotiations. ( Arvada Press )

Olden Days

St. Vrain students get a glimpse of the pioneer life. ( Times-Call )


A bill that would reduce testing stalled in committee. ( Colorado Public Radio )

What's in a name?

Does it matter what we call young people who are no longer in school? ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Spare change found for school funding bill

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/27/2015 - 21:47

The House Education Committee Monday added some symbolic funding for at-risk students to the proposed 2015-16 school finance bill.

The measure, SB 15-267, is a disappointment to districts and many legislators because it does little to reduce Colorado’s school funding shortfall.

The bill would increase K-12 funding by $306 million to about $6.23 billion next school year. But most of that is driven by constitutionally required hikes to cover enrollment growth and inflation.

The only significant discretionary increase in the bill is $25 million that would 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.

Democrats fought unsuccessfully in the Senate to add more money to the bill, particularly for at-risk students, by tapping the State Education Fund, a dedicated K-12 account. Those efforts failed in the face of arguments that taking money from the education fund would put unacceptable pressure on the state General Fund in future years.

“What you see in front of you is about the best we can do this year,” sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, told the committee.

But Hamner and other lawmakers have managed to find a little more money. An amendment approved by House Education added $5 million to the bill for at-risk students, taken from the interest earned on yet-another dedicated state account. The money would be distributed to districts on a per-student basis. With about 370,000 at-risk students in Colorado, that works out to about $13.50 per kid.

Another amendment added to the bill’s “legislative declaration,” or introduction, states that the 2016 legislature will retroactively increase funding if local district revenues rise more than expected. (K-12 funding is a combination of local and state revenues used to add up to the total minimum annual amount required by the constitution. Typically, when local revenues rise the state contribution is reduced.)

Some projections estimate that local revenues will be $70 million higher in 2015-16 than previously forecast. The amendment is a promise – not necessarily ironclad – that the 2016 legislature won’t reduce the state share if the $70 million comes in, giving districts a net increase.

The bill was passed 10-1 and sent to the House Appropriations Committee.

Testing issues rehashed in opt-out bill testimony

House Education’s main act Monday was supposed to be Senate Bill 15-223, the measure intended to codify parents’ rights to opt their children out of state standardized tests.

The panel took more than three hours of testimony on the bill, much of it a rehash of opinions offered during hearings on other testing bills.

There were a few high-profile witness, including Democratic former House Speaker Terrance Carroll, who opposed the bill. Democratic former Rep. Judy Solano, a critic of testing before that became fashionable, and Democratic State Board of Education member Val Flores supported the bill.

As originally introduced, the bill would have required districts to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts and banned imposing any “penalties” on students, teachers, principals or schools for low test participation.

How to define “penalty” emerged as a key question during Senate consideration, and amendments in that chamber narrowed the definition. One change clarified that the bill doesn’t apply to local tests. A second change specified that school and district accreditation ratings and educator evaluation levels aren’t defined as penalties. This means that test scores and student growth data derived from scores could continue to be used for accreditation and evaluation. (Get more information in this story and in this legislative summary on Senate changes in the bill.)

The amended bill passed the Senate 28-7, but Monday’s House education discussion suggested that even the amended bill may have problems in the House. Both Democratic and Republican members raised questions about possible loss of federal funds, erosion of the state’s accountability system and weakening of teacher evaluations.

Some committee members also noted the U.S. Department of Education’s stand on opting out (see this Chalkbeat Colorado story for the background).

Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, asked that House Education delay a vote on the bill. That may not be a good sign for the measure, given that lawmakers have to adjourn by May 6.

Last gasp for tuition tax credits bill

The committee finished up its nearly seven-hour meeting by voting 6-5 to kill Senate Bill 15-045, this session’s version of the perennial proposal to provide state income tax credits for the cost of private school tuition or private school scholarship contributions.

Over to you, senators

Both houses worked through long floor calendars Monday morning as they raced the clock toward adjournment on May 6. These education-related measures were passed by the House and are headed to Senate committees.

House Bill 15-1201 – Provides $10 million in grants to boards of cooperative educational services to help districts consolidate administrative services. Passed 48-16

House Bill 15-1324 – Creates a grant program to help districts to develop student learning objectives that can be used to track pupils’ progress and to evaluate teachers. 34-30

House Bill 15-1350 – Calls for a review of the standards for accreditation of alternative education campuses, which generally serve high school students who’ve previously dropped out or who lack large numbers of credits. 64-1

House Bill 15-1339 – Eases some of financial transparency requirements imposed on school districts by a 2014 law. 38-26

The House also voted 64-0 to pass Senate Bill 15-173, the bill that would impose a variety of security and privacy requirements on data companies that work with school districts. Some bill supporters think House amendments weakened the bill, so this one may end up in a House-Senate conference committee.

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What do you want in Colorado’s next education chief?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/27/2015 - 13:43

On Friday, Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond announced he’s stepping down on July 1.

That means the State Board of Education will be working to find his replacement.

As head of the Colorado Department of Education, the person who fills Hammond’s shoes will have be responsible for implementing education laws set by the federal and state government and rules established by the board. He or she will also manage a $5 billion budget and nearly 600 employees. The next education chief also will have to find his or her way through the often touchy subjects of education policy (testing, Common Core, funding).

That brings us to our question of the week: what characteristics should the next education chief have? 

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.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the state education department’s budget. It’s about $5 billion not $5 million. We regret the error. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Some Boulder schools sending healthy food home with preschoolers

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/27/2015 - 10:03

over and out

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond announced his retirement on Friday. His last day on the job will be July 31. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Hammond transformed the state Department of Education from a regulatory body into one that also serves as a support system for school districts. ( Denver Post, CPR )

In a one-on-one interview with Chalkbeat Hammond said: "The only thing I worry about is there’s so much that’s been enacted we’re almost at the tipping point.” ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Putting on the breaks

Colorado schools with large numbers of students refusing to take state tests could face federal sanctions, after the U.S. Education Department rejected a request from education officials to hold school districts harmless for high rates of opt-outs. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Consequences can be a warning letter, losing money to administer the grants and a loss of program money. ( Denver Post )

Healthy schools

Three Boulder Valley preschools are serving lunch — and giving students a bag of healthy food to take home each weekend — through a new initiative. ( Daily Camera )

Testing madness

The House Friday gave preliminary approval to its version of what should happen to the state testing system, less than 18 hours after the Senate passed its competing testing bill. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Access granted

Adams County School District 50 won a $120,000 grant this month to explore the use of the Pay For Success financing model to expand early childhood programming. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

history lesson

Four hundred eighth grade students from three middle schools in the Adams 12 Five Star School District reenacted a battle from the war. ( 9News )

Helping hand

Students and recent graduates of a Colorado Springs alternative high school will construct the Veterans' Family Home in Walsenburg. ( Gazette )

Rated "G" for Green

Erie's Red Hawk Elementary School, which opened in 2011, is one of 58 schools and 14 districts nationwide recognized by the U. S. Department of Education's "Green Ribbon" award. ( Times-Call )

conversations about career readiness

Pueblo City Schools wants the business community’s help in deciding the additional career and technical education programs the district will offer. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

raising doubt

Douglas County School Board members questioned a staff survey funded by the teachers' union, calling it an attack on staff, pointing out its low response rate and questioning the objectivity of the agency that conducted it. ( Douglas County News-Press )

legal matters

A Douglas County charter school has reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed against it by the American Humanist Association. But the school district, also named in the suit alleging endorsement of religious programs, continues to fight the allegations. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Human Resources

Summit Middle School principal Joel Rivera was named the 2015 Colorado Middle Level Principal of the Year. ( Summit Daily )

Two cents

The House Education Committee will take up Senate Bill 223 and the bill should be killed, the Gazette suggests. ( Gazette )

In school tragedies, finding answers is imperative, but that can be better accomplished by relieving the threat of litigation, not encouraging it as does Senate Bill 213, opines the vice president of the Colorado Civil Justice League's board of directors ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Hammond: “The system does need to change”

EdNewsColorado - Sun, 04/26/2015 - 20:00

Colorado’s education system is facing pressures that will unavoidably lead to modifications in things such as testing, but “It needs to be thoughtful change,” says outgoing education Commissioner Robert Hammond.

The commissioner sat down with Chalkbeat Colorado Friday afternoon, shortly after he announced his retirement (see story). Here are some of his reflections on the challenges facing K-12 education in Colorado and on his tenure at the department.

Why he decided to retire now

“There’s never a good time” to leave he said. “I’ve really been fighting whether to do this,” adding “over the last month I’ve been thinking more seriously about this.”

Hammond said, “It’s time to move on” for a number of personal reasons, including spending time with his wife, former Greeley Superintendent Ranelle Lang. Hammond also said health issues are involved but didn’t specify those.

“I give my job 110 percent, and I’ve missed out on so much” in his personal life, Hammond said.

Thoughts on the new board

Asked if changes on the State Board of Education were a factor in his decision, Hammond said, “Not a whole lot. … I’ve worked with a split board ever since I started this job, and I’ve been able to work with them.”

He noted that the current level of tension in education is “the highest I’ve ever seen, and it puts pressure on the board. … They feel very obligated to their constituents.

“This will all balance out.”

Challenges facing education

“The system does need to change, and I think that will happen,” Hammond said. Referring to current debates about testing, evaluation and accountability, he added, “All this talk is the precursor to the system eventually changing. … I know that testing will be reduced.”

Education reforms and initiatives passed in the last seven years have put tremendous pressure on districts and schools, he said. “The only thing I worry about is there’s so much that’s been enacted we’re almost at the tipping point.”

For Hammond the most important thing is “holding on to our standards.” Doing that, modifying the accountability system while maintaining its integrity and “having a system of truly aligned assessments … that is the challenge.”

“I don’t want this to go backwards.”

The changing role of the Department of Education

“The first thing we tried to do … is to really try to change the culture of the department,” Hammond said.

The effort to make CDE more service oriented began under his predecessor, Commissioner Dwight Jones.

Hammond cites as successes department efforts to help districts implement new evaluation systems, assist districts in implementing the READ Act, and helping incubate a model curriculum that originated with a group of districts.

Most important, Hammond said, has been helping districts effectively use the academic standards adopted in 2010. “If you understand those standards that in itself will drive improvement.”

“My sole desire has been to change the culture and work with the field.”

Walking the tightrope as commissioner

“It’s an incredibly tense job because you’re totally caught in the middle,” Hammond said. “You have the feds, you have legislative members who want to change things and you have board members who want to change things.” He added that districts make their own demands.

But Hammond is philosophical about all that. “It’s the nature of the job. That’s part of what makes this a fascinating job.”

Expectations of the job

Hammond was something of an atypical commissioner is that he doesn’t have a background as a teacher or superintendent. He worked on the administrative side of a school district and in municipal government and private business.

But he feels his background was an advantage. “No matter what I’ve done in my career, it’s always been getting into organizations and making changes. … Every time I get into a job it seems like my job was to turn it around,” he said. “Get great people and know where you want to improve things.”

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Texas teenagers jailed for truancy

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/24/2015 - 21:41

At the moment we’re mainly reading about Friday afternoon’s barrage of Colorado education policy events — Education Commissioner Robert Hammond is retiring, the state board’s effort to hold districts harmless for opt outs was denied by the federal government, and the House approved a long-awaited testing-focused bill.

But if you’ve waded through all that and are still looking for more, we’ve got your weekend education reads:

  • More than a thousand teenagers in Texas have been jailed for failure to follow court orders around truancy charges, effectively ending their education because of a measure meant to protect it. (Buzzfeed)
  • Nicholas Kristof suggests that education reformers refocus their efforts around early childhood measures. (New York Times)
  • Schools’ approaches to technology often assume that students understand more about how tech shapes their lives than they actually do, and the result is large holes in their education. (The Atlantic)
  • In an eight-part series, Chalkbeat dives deep into how an influx of English learners into Indiana schools is re-shaping education efforts there. (Chalkbeat)
  • In an excerpt from his new book on games, reporter Greg Toppo profiles a popular app that teaches algebraic concepts through play. (Hechinger Report)
  • Anti-testing advocates are fighting against policies that require students who opt out of exams to sit quietly and do nothing. (New York Times)
  • The release of the second in the “Divergent” series of young adult movies inspires one writer to call for less “with us or against us” thinking in education policy debates. (US News & World Report)
  • One of the early supporters of value-added teacher evaluation models outlines what other states can learn from New York’s new revisions to its model. (Brookings)
Categories: Urban School News

Federal education department: No reprieve for opt-outs

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/24/2015 - 20:28

Colorado districts with large numbers of students refusing to take state standardized tests could face federal sanctions, after the U.S. Education Department Friday rejected a request from Colorado education officials to hold school districts harmless for high rates of opt-outs.

Federal officials said in a letter to Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond that not holding districts accountable for students who have opted out of tests will hinder efforts to improve schools and reduce inequities.

Districts are required by law to test all students in grades three to eight each year and all students in high school at least once. Federal officials have said districts could face sanctions, including the potential loss of federal funds, if fewer than 95 percent of students participate.

But in some Colorado districts, far fewer than 95 percent of students have taken standardized tests so far this year. In Boulder, for instance, district officials estimate that 47 percent of high schoolers, 14 percent of middle schoolers, 9 percent of students in K-8 schools, and 6 percent of elementary schoolers did not participate in the first round of spring tests.

As opposition to testing reached a boiling point, the State Board of Education voted in February to exempt districts from penalties for having low student participation in standardized tests.

The Colorado Department of Education subsequently requested a waiver from the federal education department that would effectively allow districts to not count students who had been opted out of tests toward that required 95 percent minimum.

In the letter to Hammond, Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote that the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act does not permit certain students or percentages of students to be excluded from testing and does not permit state education agencies to exempt certain districts from accountability requirements.

“High-quality, annual, statewide assessments provide information on all students so that educators can improve educational outcomes, close achievement gaps between subgroups of historically underserved students and their more advantaged peers, increase equity, and improve instruction,” Delisle wrote.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said earlier this week that the federal government might have to intervene if states did not address rising numbers of students and parents refusing standardized tests.

When the state board voted to give districts a pass in February, Hammond advised that “districts still need to engage in good faith efforts to test all students in accordance with state and federal law and maintain documentation of parent refusals.”

Hammond announced his retirement earlier today.

The federal education department did agree Friday to grant the state flexibility on certain testing requirements that would reduce the number of students who are “double tested.”

The letter said that the federal department is still considering whether to grant the state flexibility from a requirement that teacher and principal evaluation requirements be tied to measures of student growth as determined by test scores. The state decided last year that districts could determine, for the 2014-15 school year, how much weight to give growth. Many districts have already acted on that flexibility.

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Categories: Urban School News

House weighs in with its own testing bill

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/24/2015 - 20:12

The House Friday gave preliminary approval to its version of what should happen to the state testing system, less than 18 hours after the Senate passed its competing testing bill.

The House measure, House Bill 15-1323, is somewhat more modest than the Senate’s, with the major difference being 9th grade testing. The state’s 9th graders currently are tested in language arts and math. The House bill would continue that, while Senate Bill 15-257 would end those tests.

Here’s an illustration of how divided lawmakers are on the 9th grade issue: A proposed amendment to strip the testing out of the House bill died on a 29-33 vote, with three members excused.

The Senate bill also contains provisions on district testing flexibility that critics fear would lead to a breakdown in testing uniformity across the state and actually increase testing time and costs. The House measure includes a much more limited pilot program for exploration of new tests.

Both bills would reduce current high school tests and some school readiness and early literacy assessments. (See the chart at the bottom of this article for a detailed comparison of the two bills.)

For now both bills remain in their respective chambers. The House can’t take a final roll-call vote on HB 15-1323 until Monday at the earliest. The Senate could have taken a last vote on SB 15-257 Friday but moved it to Monday’s calendar.

It’s expected the bills will move out of their original houses simultaneously next week.

It’s also widely expected – and hoped – that both bills will move through both houses and then end up in the same House-Senate conference committee. (An alternative, perhaps unlikely scenario suggested by one lawmaker sees both bills going to Gov. John Hickenlooper and letting him decide.)

Key bill sponsors Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said they hope both bills will end up in a conference panel, which would try to reach a compromise plan.

“I hope we go to conference committee,” Hill said. “I hope that next week we have a solution,” Pettersen said, while acknowledging the situation remains fluid.

Both agreed that 9th grade testing and testing flexibility are the major sticking points.

There’s a third party to the discussion. Pettersen noted that Hickenlooper has signaled to lawmakers that a bill needs to include 9th grade tests if he’s going to sign it.

Supporters of 9th grade testing believe it is necessary to provide achievement data as students are entering high school. Opponents disagree with that, believe that students need more testing relief and argue that individual districts should have the option of using or skipping the 9th grade tests.

In addition to that issue, the House spent a lot of time on a proposed amendment by Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument and former chair of the State Board of Education. Lundeen’s idea was for the State Board to review five national sets of tests and then certify three that districts could choose from. Currently all students have to take the CMAS tests, which include the PARCC language arts and math exams.

That amendment provided Republican critics of the Common Core State Standards and of PARCC to take their last shots on the issue. (Neither HB 15-1323 nor SB 15-257 would withdraw Colorado from those.) Lundeen’s amendment died on a 27-37 vote.

Democrats and Republicans were on both sides of the debate, with GOP Reps. Jim Wilson of Salida and Kevin Priola of Henderson teaming with Pettersen to urge passage of the bill and resist amendments. The Democratic prime sponsor, Rep. John Buckner of Aurora, has been ill all week and was excused Friday.

Testing footnote: The last of the pullout of PARCC and Common Core votes, Senate Bill 15-233, died on a 9-9 tie vote in the Legislative Council. That joint leadership body mostly deals with legislative administrative matters, but it hears a few bills. Since the legislature has split partisan control, the panel’s membership is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. That gave council Republicans the political cover of being able to vote for the bill and still know it wouldn’t advance.

School finance bill passes Senate with last bits of rhetoric

The Senate Friday voted 21-14 to pass Senate Bill 15-267, the 2015-16 school finance bill.

A trio of Democratic senators, Mike Johnston of Denver, Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Andy Kerr of Lakewood, repeated unsuccessful pleas made on preliminary debate Thursday to funnel more money into the bill from the State Education Fund.

They argued that the state’s schools face a “rainy day” that justifies tapping the education fund more deeply this year, whatever the financial consequences for the state in the future. (Spending from the education fund becomes a future obligation of the state’s general fund, and many legislative budget experts fear the general fund can’t sustain higher levels of school funding.)

Bill sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, defended the bill as is. “This to me is not the end,” he said, inviting his colleagues to think creatively about school finance and other education issues in future sessions. Hill’s speech went on so long that at one point he said he wasn’t doing a “filibuster.”

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Categories: Urban School News

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond stepping down July 1

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/24/2015 - 17:25

Colorado education commissioner Robert Hammond will retire July 1, he told the State Board of Education Friday.

Hammond has been the department’s commissioner since 2011. Prior to that he was deputy commissioner.

Hammond announced his retirement at a meeting of the State Board of Education today. He talk Chalkbeat Colorado that he decided to inform the board now, rather than wait until the regular May meeting, so that it would have ample time to consider transition plans.

According to a news release from the education department, Hammond told the state board that he is hoping to enjoy his retirement. “This is the right time for me as I want to make sure I make the most of my retirement while I’m able.” Hammond will turn 65 this year.

The announcement means the two top spots at CDE will be vacant as of this summer. Earlier this spring Hammond’s deputy commissioner, Keith Owen, announced that he was leaving state service to become superintendent of the Fountain-Fort Carson schools. The director of State Board relations Carey Markel is also leaving CDE to become Boulder’s senior assistant city attorney.

State board chairwoman Marcia Neal said the state has been fortunate to have Hammond as commissioner. “While not an ‘educator’ per se, there are few who could match his passion for education. This was exemplified by his constant efforts to provide a high level of support for school districts and their students.”

Hammond became commissioner during a time of major change for Colorado schools. Districts were still wrestling with budget cuts caused by the recession. Initiatives passed earlier by the legislature were starting to be implemented, including new academic content standards, a tougher rating system for districts and schools, and a new evaluation system for teachers and principals.

Public and educator anxiety about educational change has increased in the last two years as those programs have rolled out, with parents calling for reduction of testing and teachers raising concerns about use of test-derived student growth data for evaluations. Those concerns have taken a higher profile both at the State Board and in the legislature.

Given the increasing demands placed on districts by state education reform initiatives, Hammond has tried to focus the department on advising and helping districts roll out new content standards and implement the evaluation systems. A model evaluation system developed by the department is used by the majority of the state’s school districts. Providing such support has required something of a juggling act from CDE, as some of that work has been funded by federal money and private grants that are approaching their ends.

Hammond’s announcement comes less than four months after the seating of two new State Board of Education members shifted the tone of the board.

The new members, Republican Steve Durham of Colorado Springs and Democrat Val Flores of Denver, have been vocal proponents of parent rights and local control of schools. They have intensified board skepticism about standardized testing and the Common Core State Standards.

Since January the board has passed resolutions allowing districts to seek waivers from some testing and eliminating accreditation penalties for districts with lower-than-required test participation rates.

Hammond and his staff are bound by law to implement and administer those initiatives and others, and there’s been some tension with the board because of that. The federal government has since rejected some of the board’s proposals.

Hammond told Chalkbeat that the new board wasn’t a big factor in his decision. “I’ve worked with a split board ever since I started this job, and I’ve been able to work with them. … I get along with every one of the board members. I do respect the right of the board to do what they want.”

The commissioner of education is the only head of a major state department who isn’t appointed by the governor. Education commissioners are chosen by the elected, seven-member State Board. Board members are elected on a partisan basis from congressional districts, and members’ educational philosophies range along a wide spectrum.

On the current board, Durham and Flores often ally with Republicans Pam Mazanec and Debra Scheffel of Douglas County. Democrats Jane Goff of Arvada and Angelika Schroeder of Boulder often are more supportive of current state education policy initiatives. Republican chair Marcia Neal of Grant Junction sometimes allies with Goff and Schroeder.

The two previous board chairs, Republicans Paul Lundeen and Bob Schaffer, were critical of many of the reforms passed by the legislature since 2008.

Board members of both parties are perennially frustrated by their lack of policy influence. Although the state constitution gives the board “general supervision” of the public schools, in reality the body can only do what the legislature assigns it to do in law. Many of the board’s duties are regulatory or quasi-judicial, including such things as teacher license revocations, deciding disputes between districts and charter schools and review of district applications for waivers from certain state eduction laws.

The announcement also comes at a time when a handful of districts and several schools may soon face state intervention because of persistent low academic performance. The department has been involved in helping some of those districts improve their programs.

As news of the announcement spread, reaction from various quarters trickled in. In a written statement, Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, called Hammond “one of the most accessible and collaborative people to ever hold this office.”

Dallman also said that Hammond “believes everyone in the education system has a valuable voice and made extraordinary efforts to travel the state and show his unwavering support for our teachers and education support professionals in delivering a quality education for every child.”

Former state board member Elaine Gantz Berman, a Denver Democrat, said Hammond’s retirement, while “too bad,” comes as no surprise because he has been discussing it for several months. She also said that, given the state board’s lack of authority, Hammond’s stepping down was unlikely to cause any significant shift in state education policy.

Here’s a sampling of other reactions:

“Colorado is a better place because of Robert. I can only hope we can find someone with his tenacity, his intelligence and his commitment to excellence in education to pick up the torch and carry it forward for the next generation of Colorado’s children.” – Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs and chair of the Senate Education Committee

“Robert Hammond has been called upon to do more than any commissioner in Colorado history. In the midst of treacherous political waters he has fundamentally reshaped the department’s relationship with educators in the field, charted an ambitious course for transformation and built a world-class team of entrepreneurs, innovators and experts who have made Colorado the nation’s most exciting laboratory for educational improvement. Hammond’s retirement is a staggering loss for Colorado, but he will leave a legacy of a department deeply driven to serve all educators and a state relentlessly committed to serving all children.” – Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and a central figure in education reform legislation of recent years

“Commissioner Hammond has been a strong leader and partner during the seven years he has been at the Colorado Department of Education. … There is so much at stake as we move forward with this work, and the new commissioner will have big shoes to fill. We encourage the State Board of Education to be thoughtful in their search and hope they will create a transparent and credible process as they search for Commissioner Hammond’s successor.” – Interim Executive Director Krista Spurgin of Stand for Children Colorado

“Robert Hammond has been an extraordinary commissioner and will be greatly missed. Under his leadership, the Colorado Department of Education has distinguished itself as one of the most progressive and effective in the country.” – Bruce Hoyt, co-Chair of the Colorado Succeeds board of directors

“Colorado will miss the passion and dedication that Robert Hammond brought to this position. He has been a transformative leader right we needed him most.” – Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, senior Democrat on Senate Education

Categories: Urban School News

Adams 50 gets grant to explore Pay For Success financing

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/24/2015 - 13:09

Adams County School District 50 won a $120,000 grant this month to explore the use of the Pay For Success financing model to expand early childhood programming.

Part of the grant, awarded by the University of Utah’s Policy Innovation Lab, will pay for a new in-house employee to help determine the feasibility of a Pay For Success project in the district. Possible projects, all with the goal of improving kindergarten readiness, include the addition of full-day preschool spots, parent education programs, and home visiting programs.

The idea behind Pay For Success, or PFS, is that private investors or philanthropists pay upfront for social programs with proven results. If those programs save public money by preventing costly interventions such as emergency room visits or special education services, the investors are repaid with interest.

Early childhood PFS projects have gained traction in recent years because early childhood programs are frequently underfunded and also represent the front-end interventions that tend to produce significant savings down the road. A bill that would allow the state to participate in Pay For Success deals is currently under consideration in the legislature.

In Colorado, the Early Childhood Council of Boulder County is also considering an early childhood PFS project—the expansion of a home visiting program for at-risk families with babies.

Adams 50 was among two Colorado groups and six groups nationwide to receive the University of Utah grants. The other Colorado entity funded was the State of Colorado for a program to address chronic homelessness.

Aurora Public Schools, which had applied for a grant for a college and career readiness PFS project, did not receive an award.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS, union extend ProComp

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/24/2015 - 09:40

DPS Changes

The Denver school board has approved a long list of charter renewals and innovation plans for district schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Into the night

The Senate and House worked late Thursday, advancing bills on testing, school finance, student data privacy and aid for rural districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Warning shot

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week that the federal government is obligated to intervene if states fail to address the rising number of students who are boycotting mandated annual exams. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

An extension

Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association have announced an agreement on how ProComp, the district’s $25 million taxpayer-funded teacher incentive pay program, will work, at least until next September. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Retiring Littleton Superintendent looks back on a long career in education. ( Colorado Community Media )

Contract talks

Negotiators for the Thompson schools and the teachers union have reached a contract deal, but the school board is being mum about its views on the issue. ( Reporter-Herald )

Student service

Roaring Fork High School’s entire student body took a break from school Thursday to serve their community as part of the annual Rams Day. ( Post-Independent )


The House testing bill offers the best path forward on the issue. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

DPS approves and renews slate of charters, innovation plans

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 23:39

The Denver school board approved innovation plan and charter renewals for 20 schools and new innovation plans for two schools during its April meeting Thursday evening.

At one of its most well-attended meetings this year, held at Manual High School, the board also heard a series of public comments on issues ranging from Denver Public Schools’ pension decisions to standardized tests to ProComp to the district’s embrace of innovation and charter schools.

Check out our board tracker for a full list of all DPS board votes.

Plans for innovation, charter schools

The board approved new innovation plans for Place Bridge Academy in southeast Denver and Kepner Beacon, which is slated to open in 2016. (See the district’s recommendations for schools here.)

As innovation schools, Place Bridge and Kepner Beacon will be given waivers from certain district requirements and policies. Teachers must vote to approve innovation plans, and schools must show they have garnered community support for the changes. DPS already has 35 innovation schools, far more than any district in the state.

Place Bridge is an ECE-8 school in southeast Denver that serves many English language learners and students who are new to the United States. The school requested waivers from standard district curriculum requirements, professional development, budget, and hiring/ human resources practices. The school’s staff voted 53-26 to approve the plan.

The board unanimously approved the innovation plan.

Kepner Beacon will be an expansion of an already-existing innovation school, Grant Beacon Middle School. Teachers at Grant Beacon voted to approve Kepner Beacon’s innovation plan.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole board vote against the Kepner plan.

Jimenez raised concerns that new teachers at Kepner Beacon, who were not part of that vote, would be required to opt in the innovation plan, which includes a waivers of some aspects of the district’s collective bargaining agreement.

Colorado teachers unions have raised legal concerns about DPS’s previous creation of new innovation schools that had no staff to approve the plans. A court has upheld the district’s actions, but Jimenez said he thought the Kepner expansion might be a different legal situation.

“We’re all pulling for (principal Alex) Magaña and his plan,” he said. “But I think the innovation proposal is lacking in that particular point.”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said that the teachers at Kepner Beacon will have a secret ballot after they’re hired to determine whether they want to opt into the innovation plan.

The board also approved a set of extensions of innovation and charter contracts (see board tracker for full list). The state requires that innovation renewals be considered every three years and that charters be considered every five years, but several schools were only given renewals for a year or two based on an evaluation by DPS central office. West Generations, for instance, was given a one-year extension due to its low academic performance and inconsistent leadership.

Critical eyes

The night’s meeting also attracted dozens of teachers, parents and students, some to support schools with renewals on the table but more with a laundry list of concerns to share.

A teacher grades while waiting to comment to the board.

About 20 Park Hill residents showed up to complain that they do not have a neighborhood school anymore because of the district’s shared enrollment zones. One mother said her child had not been placed at any of the schools they had listed on their choice form.

The crowd let out loud rounds of applause for student Josie Karet, who said she opted out of standardized tests, and for parent Lynn Roberts, who described tests as “a violation of learning opportunities.”

Categories: Urban School News

Modest testing reduction bill advances in Senate

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 23:02

A bipartisan bill that would reduce state testing in high school and early grades won preliminary Senate approval Thursday evening.

The Senate also gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 15-267, the 2015-16 school finance measure.

Final roll-call votes could come as soon as Friday, sending the bills to the House, which seems headed down a somewhat different path on testing.

Key features of the testing measure, Senate Bill 15-257, include the reduction of state testing to one set of language arts and math tests in high school plus the ACT test. Other provisions call for flexibility for districts to use their own tests, creation of district pilot programs to develop new accountability and assessment systems, and the streamlining of early literacy and school readiness assessments.

An amendment added on the floor creates a one-year timeout for district accreditation and ratings and also a one-year extension of flexibility in using student growth data for teacher evaluations.

Senators debated the issue for 90 minutes. Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said, “This is a great milestone in our session. … This is a bill that you can wrap your arms around.”

Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, urged his colleague to “cut back on the overload, the overwhelming flood of testing that is killing the joy of education. … We can do something about it right now.”

The main dissenter at the microphone was Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. Johnston, the leading advocate of education reform measures in past sessions, is something of an odd man out this year.

Johnston proposed amendments to maintain 9th grade language arts and math tests, which would be eliminated by the bill, and to eliminate the testing pilot programs, which he said would actually increase testing time and costs.

Referring to the bill, he said, “In its current form I think it’s pretty bad policy for the state.”

All his amendments were rejected. Johnston said, “Having fought the good fight, I’ll go eat dinner.” (As usually happens during evening sessions, dinner was brought in for the senators.)

Despite widespread debate and concern about statewide standardized testing, the 2015 legislature has been slow to deal with the issue. Thursday’s debate was the first floor consideration of a major testing bill, and it came on the 107th day of the 120-day session.

The House on Thursday again delayed preliminary consideration of its major testing measure, House Bill 15-1323. The prime Democratic sponsor, Rep. John Buckner of Aurora, has been ill this week.

A key difference between the two bills is 9th grade testing. The House bill currently would continue it, while the Senate bill would eliminate it.

Six of the 11 testing-related bills introduced this session remain alive, but SB 15-257 and HB 15-1323 are considered the major measures. Five bills have been killed in committee (see story on dead House bills). Senate Bill 15-233, which would pull Colorado out of the Common Core Standards and the PARCC tests, Thursday was sent from the Senate floor back to committee. It likely won’t survive there.

Also part of the testing debate is Senate Bill 15-223, which wouldn’t change the assessment schedule but which codifies parent rights to opt their children out of testing. The measure has wide bipartisan support. It has passed the Senate but isn’t scheduled for House Education Committee consideration until Monday.

There’s concern among supporters that even if that bill passes both houses, Gov. John Hickenlooper will veto it, but the legislative session will have ended by then, and lawmakers won’t have the opportunity to override a veto.

See the chart at the bottom of this article for a comparison of HB 15-1323 and SB 15-257 and for a spreadsheet of all this year’s testing bills.

School finance debate airs anxieties about tight budgets

SB 15-267 would increase K-12 funding by $306 million to about $6.23 billion next school year. Most of that is driven by constitutionally required hikes to cover enrollment growth and inflation.

The only discretionary increase in the bill is $25 million that would be applied to the state’s K-12 funding shortfall, the so-called negative factor. That figure currently is about $880 million, and in the past it’s been as high at $1 billion.

Average per-pupil funding would rise to $7,295 from this year’s $7,026.

Johnston and Merrifield teamed up on this bill, offering a variety of amendments to both increase overall funding and to earmark some new funding for at-risk students. All those amendments were defeated. (See this story for more background on the finance bill.)

In other action

A lot of education-related bills were moving at the legislature Thursday. Here are the highlights of the day’s action:

Senate Bill 15-173 – This measure, intended to set new requirements for privacy and security on education technology vendors, got preliminary House approval after a surprisingly short discussion. Along with testing reductions, this bill has been a priority for some parent activists, but they’re unhappy with amendments added in the House Education Committee and approved by the full House Thursday evening.

Senate Bill 15-214 – The Senate voted 35-0 for this measure, which would create a legislative study committee on school violence and youth mental health. It’s the companion to Senate Bill 15-213, a more controversial measure that would open school districts to liability for violent incidents (see story).

Senate Bill 15-072 – A pet proposal of Joint Budget Committee Chair Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, this bill would have raised admissions standards at Metropolitan State University. Lambert argues MSU’s graduation rate isn’t high enough because it admits too many unprepared students. Metro leaders strongly opposed the bill, arguing it would hamper the university’s mission of serving non-traditional students. The Senate Education Committee killed the bill on a 7-2 bipartisan vote.

The House also gave preliminary approval to two bills of interest to small rural districts. House Bill 15-1321 would provide some regulatory flexibility to such districts and also provide $10 million in per-student aid to isolated districts with fewer than 1,000 students. (See this story for background.)

House Bill 15-1201 also carries a $10 million price tag. That money would be spread over two years in grants to boards of cooperative educational services to help small districts save money by sharing administrative services.

Check our special mini Bill Tracker for updates on all the key education bills still in play as the session nears its end.

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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

Denver district and union extend ProComp agreement

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 16:33

Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association announced today that officials have reached an agreement on how ProComp, the district’s $25 million taxpayer-funded teacher incentive pay program, will work, at least until next September.

The agreement includes changes for the 2014-15 school year that reflect new teacher evaluation systems and the state’s transition to a new standardized testing program.

It does not include a district proposal for the 2015-16 school year that would have shifted more funds to teachers in high-needs schools, a plan that union officials raised numerous questions about.

Because teachers are now evaluated annually instead of every three years, they will be eligible for a smaller evaluation-based incentive each year rather than a larger incentive every three years.

For the 2014-15 school year only, the district will double, to about $5,000, the amount teachers can receive for working in a school with high growth scores on state tests, and temporarily get rid of an incentive for schools that received a high overall ranking. The district is not issuing a single overall ranking for schools on its School Performance Framework this year due to the new assessments.

Teachers will likely receive those incentives in March 2016, when the state is anticipated to release student growth scores based on this spring’s standardized tests. If the state is unable to calculate growth scores because of the new tests, union and district officials will negotiate again about how to calculate those incentives.

A report released by district and union representatives last year recommended that the district significantly change ProComp to make it easier to understand and to give stronger incentives to teachers in high-needs schools. The report raises concerns that the ProComp system may not be helping the district recruit or retain teachers.

District and union officials plan to continue negotiations about changes to ProComp for 2015-16, a broader redesign of the program for upcoming years, and changes to a program focused on struggling teachers.

The district is planning to host a series of conversations with teachers to get their feedback on additional changes.

Categories: Urban School News

As opt-out numbers grow, Arne Duncan says feds may have to step in

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 15:01

[A version of this story was originally published in Chalkbeat New York.]

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week that the federal government is obligated to intervene if states fail to address the rising number of students who are boycotting mandated annual exams.

Duncan’s comments came a day before Gov. John Hickenlooper and two former Colorado governors publicly defended the state’s testing and accountability system and spoke against opting out of tests.

Testing has been a hot-button issue this year, as many Colorado districts are reporting higher-than-usual rates of students opting out of state standardized tests. This fall, approximately 83 percent of eligible Colorado students took 12th grade exams. Official figures for spring tests have not yet been released.

States across the country are also seeing more students and parents refuse to take standardized tests: In New York, an advocacy group reported that more than 15 percent of eligible test takers refused to take standardized English exams last week.

The trend has raised questions about the consequences for districts. Federal law requires all students in grades three to eight to take annual tests, and officials have said districts could face sanctions if fewer than 95 percent of students participate.

On Tuesday, when asked whether states with many test boycotters would face consequences, Duncan said he expected states to make sure districts get enough students take the tests.

“We think most states will do that,” Duncan said during a discussion at a conference of the Education Writers Association in Chicago. “If states don’t do that, then we have an obligation to step in.”

Duncan said that students in some states are tested too much, and acknowledged that the exams are challenging for many students. But he argued that annual standardized exams are essential for tracking student progress and monitoring the score gap between different student groups.

He also said the tests are “just not a traumatic event” for his children, who attend public school in Virginia.

“It’s just part of most kids’ education growing up,” he said. “Sometimes the adults make a big deal and that creates some trauma for the kids.”

Former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, said on Wednesday that while the state might currently have “too much of a good thing” (too many tests), he believes opting out is harmful to a system that is ultimately beneficial for students.

But Colorado’s state board of education passed a resolution in February saying that the state’s education department cannot penalize districts with low rates of student participation in standardized tests due to parent opt outs. And a bill that would protect parents’ right to opt students out of tests passed in the state Senate earlier this month.

A federal education department spokeswoman said last week that the agency could withhold funding from states if some of their districts have too few students take the exams, but that it has not yet done so because states have addressed the issue on their own.

Categories: Urban School News

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