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Updated: 44 min 48 sec ago

Escuela Tlatelolco and Denver Public Schools to end contract

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 18:18

The end of the 2015-16 school year will likely mark the end of a contract between Denver Public Schools and Escuela Tlatelolco, a school with a storied past and ties to the city’s Chicano civil rights movement.

The Denver school board will vote Thursday to approve a proposal that would extend the school’s contract with the district for a single year while ensuring that the Escuela board will not seek to renew the contract, which has been ongoing in some form since 2004.

The proposal recommends that the school and district discuss creating a new, different agreement of some sort at this time next year.

Escuela Tlatelolco, founded as a private school in 1971 by civil rights leader Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, will remain open in its landmark building after the end of the contract, and school leaders say they plan to raise funds to keep all of their current students enrolled.

But while Escuela’s staff and board of directors agreed to the resolution on tonight’s agenda, the school community is contesting the district’s assessment of their school’s academic successes and the timeline of the end of the contract.

“We weren’t thrilled that we came to this place,” said Nita Gonzales, the school’s principal and the daughter of its founder.

When the district and Escuela first entered into a contract in 2004, Gonzales said, “it seemed like a win-win.”

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiElementary students at Escuela Tlatelolco.The influx of public funds were welcome as more than 90 percent of its students received scholarships and were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Denver Public Schools was looking for ways to help educate English learners and Latino students in West Denver—the same students Escuela, with its bilingual Montessori model, small classes, and focus on heritage and community, seemed to have success with. Some students were already coming to Escuela from DPS schools.

The district agreed to provide funds to Escuela in exchange for the school meeting certain academic and operational benchmarks. The school contracted with the district for some special education services, but retained its status as a private, independent nonprofit.

The contract with DPS was a welcome source of income for Escuela, which provided scholarships to more than 90 percent of its students, most of whom were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

But the school has received low marks on the district’s accountability system for multiple years. It was ranked red—the lowest possibility—each of the past four years. The district’s School Improvement Accountability Council has recommended Escuela for closure three times.

The district’s recommendation to the board last year included a set of cautions about the school’s performance, but the board voted to approve the contract extension.

Gonzales said the current accountability system doesn’t accurately capture the school, which currently houses preK through 12th grade, and its work with students. “Part of what we were trying to do was to see, is there a way to work with DPS to frame an alternative scoring model?”

In a letter to the district’s board, members of Escuela’s board say that the school’s low performance on the district’s performance metrics were representative of systemic problems “teaching and evaluating with standardized tests the large West Denver Latino and English Language Learner population.”

A mural of Corky Gonzales, the founder of Escuela Tlatelolco, on the first floor of the school’s building.

In 2013-14, 72 percent of Escuela’s students were identified as English language learners and 98.4 percent were minority students. In a letter to the Denver board (see below for full letter), Escuela board members state that many of the school’s middle and high schoolers transferred to the school after struggling or considering dropping out of DPS schools. The school is also smaller than average—it has 161 students this year, including preschoolers, and some high school classes have fewer than 16 students.

“It was never evaluated or measured as an alternative school, because their elementary and preschool was a lot more like a regular charter. But they’re actually operating closer to an alternative school,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents the area around Escuela. He compared Escuela to Florence Crittenden, a contract school that works mainly with pregnant teens, for its ability to meet the needs of a specific group of students.

“We’re looking at numbers and data in this snapshot without all the other things that come into play,” Gonzales said. “It doesn’t tell anything about Escuela–but I’m not sure it tells anything about any school.”

“What are you looking for? At the end of the day, is it that your students graduate? Those numbers are high,” she said. “Is it that at the end of the day that parents are involved? Our parental engagement is very high. Is it at the end of the day that students are engaged in their learning and participate? That’s what you’ll find here. Can you gauge that all on a single test? Maybe not.”

The resolution the board will vote on Thursday explicitly acknowledges the school’s point of view. It reads, in part, as follows: “Escuela offers a unique educational opportunity within the Denver context and whereas Escuela does not believe that the school’s model designed to support the whole child can be fully realized or evaluated within the district and state performance and accountability context.”

The move will have financial repercussions for Escuela: Some 50 percent of its funds came through the Denver district. Gonzales said the school had hoped for a two-year extension, rather than the one-year plan currently on the table.

At a public comment session of the Denver school board last week, Angela Alfaro, a parent representative for the school, said that “a one-year contract extension places extreme financial burdens on the school. We think it’s not enough time to raise the necessary funds to continue during the transition away from DPS funding.”

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiA student and teacher at Escuela Tlatelolco work together. “Did the mom FELL something or DROP something?” “She dropped it.”

The school’s reliance on fundraising had raised concerns in the district about the sustainability of the model. “We have a costly program,” Gonzales said. “But we’re raising money all the time.”

At a work session earlier in the week, Denver board member Rosemary Rodriguez noted the school’s many accomplished alumni and the children of notable Denverites who attend the school, especially its preschool program.

“That’s one of the creative conversations we’d like to have. We have respect for so much of what Escuela has and does, especially creating culturally competent school programs,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s academic and innovation officer. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited the school last year to tout the benefits of early childhood education.

Gonzales said that while the school will enter conversations with the district next year about future partnerships, “we really don’t have thoughts on what that’d look like.”

“We were here long before [the contract],” said Gonzales, “and we’re going to be here after.”

 

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder gets $1M to improve teacher training

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 09:41

Battle Lines

Denver Public Schools wants to expand a Montessori junior and senior high school program into a northwest Denver elementary school building. But nearby residents argue the building should instead house an elementary school program for neighborhood students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Making a better teacher

Wanting to improve teacher training, a family has donated $1 million to the Boulder Valley School District. ( Daily Camera, 9News )

Shuffling the deck

The Colorado House Education Committee is getting a makeover after two members were re-assigned to the budget panel. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Home at last

After moving several times, the Rocky Mountain Deaf School has a permanent home in Jefferson County. ( Denver Post )

It takes a village

A nonprofit, which has built a broad coalition, aims to improve student achievement in Jefferson County's poorer schools in Edgewater. ( Denver Post )

A helping hand

Lakewood High School students are raising money for an 8-year-old boy who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called FOP. ( 9News )

Taking candy from a baby

A Bennet woman is accused of taking more than $15,000 for her schools parent-teacher association. ( 9News )

After school special (report)

According to a new report, 15 percent of kids in Colorado, or about 146,856, in public schools take care of themselves after the afternoon bell rings. ( Gazette )

Connection failure

President Barack Obama called on school officials Wednesday to help meet his goal of bringing high-speed Internet to nearly every student within a few years. ( AP via Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

New members for budget panel, big vacancy on House Education

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 17:46

Two key Democratic members of the House Education Committee, including the chair, have been named to the Joint Budget Committee, opening the way for big changes on the education panel.

Reps. Millie Hamner of Dillon and Dave Young of Greeley were named to the budget committee Wednesday by Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder, who will be speaker of the House next year.

Hamner, retired superintendent of the Summit County Schools, has been chair of House Education for the last two sessions. She was at the center of negotiations and decisions on school funding during the 2014 session. In 2013 she was the prime House sponsor of Senate Bill 13-213, the proposed school finance overhaul that didn’t go into effect because voters rejected the income tax increase needed to pay for it.

Because of their workload, JBC members don’t serve on other committees, so the departure of Hamner and Young leaves a couple of big gaps on the education committee, which already has lost several members because of term limits.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon / File photo

Hullinghorst didn’t announce any other committee assignments Wednesday. Budget committee appointments had to be made now because the JBC already is holding briefings and hearings on 2015-16 budgets for state agencies.

The Nov. 4 election gave Republicans an 18-17 majority in the Senate and Democrats continued control of the House. That shift required reshuffling JBC membership, which is split 3-3 between senators and representatives. The changes mean that four legislators will be new and facing the steep learning curve for first-time JBC members.

Veteran committee member Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, will be chair. Other Senate members are Sens. Pat Steadman, D-Denver and one of the legislature’s top budget experts, and Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City and a newcomer.

Joining Hamner and Young from the House will be Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, who started sitting in on JBC sessions at the very end of the 2014 session.

Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, is leaving the JBC to become majority leader. Rep. Jenise May, D-Aurora, lost her bid for reelection so won’t be returning to the committee.

With Hamner and Young leaving House Education, only four of the seven Democrats who served on the panel last session remain in the House for possible reappointment to the 2014 panel. They are Reps. John Buckner of Aurora, Lois Court of Denver, Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood. The chair presumably will be one of those four.

Republican members of the 2014 committee who won reelection to the House are Reps. Justin Everett of Lakewood, Kevin Priola of Henderson and Jim Wilson of Salida.

One Democratic and two Republican members of the committee were term-limited, and Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, is moving to the Senate.

Senate Republicans already have made their committee assignments, and the new education committee leaders are Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs as chair and Vicki Marble of Fort Collins as vice chair. They will be joined by newcomers Holbert, Tim Neville and Laura Woods, both of Lakewood.

Senate Democrats haven’t yet received committee assignments. Three 2014 members – Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver, Andy Kerr of Lakewood (chair last session) and Nancy Todd of Aurora – remain in the Senate.

House Republicans also haven’t yet made committee assignments.

Read Hullinghorst’s release on the JBC appointments here.

Categories: Urban School News

Battle over Smedley building highlights tension between choice, neighborhood schools

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 15:18

Tensions are brewing over a Denver Public Schools proposal to expand a Montessori junior and senior high school program into a northwest Denver elementary school building that nearby residents argue should instead house an elementary school program for neighborhood students.

The Denver school board will vote Thursday on a plan to place Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School into the Smedley Elementary School building, which is currently the home of the Denver Online High School and another elementary school temporarily awaiting its own new building. But a group of parents in Sunnyside, the neighborhood surrounding the Smedley building, is pushing the district to abandon that plan and bring an elementary school to the building instead.

The disagreement highlights the tightrope that Denver school officials must walk when its commitment to building a broad selection of school choice options clashes with residents’ desires for diverse, high-quality neighborhood schools, which the district says it also supports.

“I’m not opposed to the choice process per se, but I think we should have choice schools in the neighborhood that we can walk our kids to,” said Irene Glazer, whose children attend Brown Elementary. “It makes me so mad that I have to drive across the insanity and traffic that ensues at schools that were set up for walking or biking to…and to have Smedley here a few blocks away and not be able to use it.”

But parents whose students are enrolled in the Montessori program say the secondary school will fill a necessary gap in the district’s offerings and will serve a diverse group of students. “It would be nice for every neighborhood to have its school, but I honestly believe you have to have a bigger variety of options,” said Thomas Carr, the chair of the Montessori program’s collaborative school committee. “Every school only serves the select few that go there, whether they’re from that neighborhood or for a different program.”

Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High currently enrolls 80 students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, and is set up in a cluster of rooms in Gilpin Elementary, home of a Montessori elementary program in northeast Denver. The move to Smedley would allow the school to expand to 120 seventh, eigth, and ninth grade students next year — drawn mainly from the four district-run Montessori elementary schools located throughout the city — and to continue to add grades after that.

“The idea of the Denver public Montessori school is that it would really be a secondary option to work well with the elementary Montessori programs,” said DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg at a school board work session last week. “We recognize the real concerns in the Sunnyside community about having strong and diverse elementaries in the community, and are working with them.”

But at the same work session, board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents the neighborhood around Smedley, objected to the plan that would have turned the building over to the Montessori school permanently. He said that local residents felt shut out of the process and were concerned the options under the current system were reinforcing a socioeconomic divide between neighborhoods in the area.

Since that meeting, the board has adjusted its proposal to include the creation of a working group that includes community members and Montessori representatives to determine the neighborhood’s needs. The proposal specifies that while the Montessori program will be placed in Smedley next school year, the board will reconsider the placement if an amenable alternate home is found by the working group.

Though both sides have said they are open to a working group, the disagreements about the building’s future run deep.

Members of the Sunnyside Education Committee argue that the district’s current choice process isn’t serving the neighborhood well. They point to data that shows that 64 percent of families in the area choose to send their children to schools outside the neighborhood, leaving their local option, Trevista, with an enrollment that draws largely from Quigg Newton, a large nearby housing project.

Trevista hosts an early childhood, elementary, and middle school program. The Sunnyside committee argues that parents from Quigg Newton and from Sunnyside dislike having preschoolers in the same building as middle schoolers, and would benefit from having a separate neighborhood elementary program in Smedley.

Some committee members also argued that it would be expensive to renovate Smedley to turn it into a high school facility appropriate for the Montessori program—and that the district has given them a moving target about how much those renovations would cost.

“They’ve made the decision and haven’t even given our neighborhood say,” said Felicia Medina, one of the parents. She said their group had advocating for an elementary program in the building for several years. “We’re not saying no to DMS in northwest Denver—just not in Smedley.“

Meanwhile, supporters of the Montessori program argue that the district should prioritize the needs of their already-existing school.

“I understand their argument, but I feel like the needs of the existing program with kids, to me, really outweigh this neighborhood group,” said Carr.

Katy Myers, the school’s principal, said that though the school will need some minor renovations, Smedley had the amenities the Montessori program needed in a school, including a kitchen and space for their farm.

“We’ll be good neighbors,” she said. “We want to be on board with the neighborhood. But I’ve got 80 kids who need a home next year.”

Board member Jimenez said on Tuesday that Sunnyside committee was still suggesting changes to the board’s proposal.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Polis: Opt-outers’ protests should be taken seriously

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 10:02

tackling toxic stress

Nadine Burke Harris, who studies the effects of childhood trauma on health and learning outcomes, explains how schools can be proactive about helping students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

stepping stones to the future

Low-income Colorado students are far less likely to make it to elite colleges than their affluent peers, but some districts -- including Boulder and Jeffco -- are doing better than others at getting their low-income students into top schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

melting pots

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg explains and promotes the district's efforts to teach English to non-native speakers and increase their fluency in their native languages. ( Denver Post )

zoning in

Denver Public Schools is exploring a shared attendance zone for three elementary schools in southeast Denver. ( Denver Post )

opting out

Jared Polis argues that we need to take a closer examination of the purpose of standardized tests and consider scaling back those with no implications for students and schools. ( Daily Camera )

pot for schools

The St. Vrain Valley School District has been awarded nearly $100,000 in marijuana revenue grants to help students who have been skipping school because of drug use or anxiety; Boulder is waiting for word on a similar grant application. ( Daily Camera )

opening the doors

The Pueblo Chieftain argues that open teachers contract negotiations will be a welcome change. ( Chieftain )

the show must go on

A performing arts high school in Boulder is launching a national fundraising campaign to purchase a historic theater. ( Daily Camera )

kudos

St. Vrain's superintendent is being nationally recognized for the district's one-to-one technology initiative that gives devices to every student. ( Longmont Times Call )

morning music break

Here's a cool performance of Dvorak's String Quintet in G major that Denver School of the Arts students gave in Colorado Public Radio's studios in advance of a concert they're giving Thursday. ( CPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Q&A: The doctor who’s taking on the impact of childhood trauma

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 18:36

Any teacher can tell you anecdotally that what happens outside the classroom has a huge impact on how students do in school and in life. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has explored the brain science and public health research that’s now driving national conversations about mitigating the effects of childhood trauma and toxic stress.

Burke Harris, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, spoke at the Colorado Children’s Campaign annual luncheon today.

Much of Burke Harris’ work is grounded in the landmark “Adverse Childhood Experiences Study,” or ACES, which suggests that traumatic experiences during childhood are risk factors for health problems, difficulties in school, poor quality of life and premature death. This Q&A was conducted shortly before the luncheon.

Was there a point in your career where you had that ah-ha moment about adverse childhood experiences?

Definitely…my passion and background is with health disparities and when I read the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study…in 2008, it was an incredibly powerful experience for me because so much of what I was seeing as a clinician just made sense.

For me, diving into the science of why there’s this connection between adverse childhood experiences and all of these poor behavioral and health outcomes, really in a lot of ways has changed my view of the world. It’s changed my career…it’s certainly influenced my experiences as a mom and I think it’s really exciting to be part of this movement.

There are many health conditions associated with adverse child experiences that show up later in life, like heart disease and cancer, but what about for school-aged children?

First of all, the canary in the coal mine is behavior and learning issues. One of the things we know is that kids who are exposed to high doses of adversity are much more likely to have problems with impulse control, are much more likely to have difficulty with recovery post-provocation, more likely to have difficulty with attention, and sometimes going so far as having learning difficulties.

For the study that was published by myself and a colleague, our kids who had four or more adverse childhood experiences, they were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. We also see recent data out of California…if you have an ACE score of four or more you have twice the lifetime risk of asthma.

What role should schools play or are they already playing in dealing with this issue in a proactive way?

The first really important role that schools have is not making things worse. I know that sounds awful, but really understanding that punitive school discipline policies do not reflect an understanding of the science of how adversity affects the developing brain. I think it’s really important for schools to respond thoughtfully.

The hours that a child spends in school are really an opportunity for establishing safe and healthy relationships, which can also be profoundly positive in terms of coming up with solutions to the issue of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.

One of the big things is just thinking about ways to establish a safe and healthy school climate that’s not punitive, and informing some of those policies with the emerging science and research around ACES and toxic stress.

How are schools doing in addressing this issue and creating a safe and healthy environment ?

There are certainly some schools that are models…One of the things we see that makes a world of difference in the school environment is having a school leader who recognizes adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a major issue that affects educational attainment and is willing to … take that on. I think that has everything to do with the leadership.

What’s the biggest challenge in spreading the word about adverse childhood experiences?

One of the biggest challenges …is that many of us think of it as an issue only for low-income communities of color. In that, I think we’re missing a big part of the picture. I like to remind people that the original ACE study was done in a population that was 70% caucasion and 70% college educated.

If we only look at it in those communities then what we miss is that this is a public health crisis that affects every socioeconomic status, every geographic location, every racial/ethinic group. It affects all of us.

What other work is happening now that’s piggy-backing on what you started and seeding it even further?

The work that we do really is part of a national movement. There are folks working tremendously hard on this issue, that are really taking leadership in Iowa, in Maine, in Wisconsin, in Washington state, just all over the country.

In California, we just hosted the first California statewide summit on adverse childhood experiences. There are a lot of places where this movement is being seeded. There’s a lot more work to be done.

We need to get to the point to [where] the household recognition of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a threat to the health and development of our children is as well-known as the link between second-hand smoke and adverse health outcomes. It needs to be a thing where people are talking to their neighbors about it. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the way there.

Similarly, I’ve heard people say that adverse childhood experiences needs to be recognized in the same way that lead poisoning is, but one difference seems to be that with lead-poisoning you try to prevent it, but you can’t always prevent adverse childhood experiences.

I think that’s right, but the thing that I would say to that is by treating it when it comes up you’re preventing it for the next generation…That’s the importance of the two-generation approach. When you work with both the caregiver and child, it really does help to decrease the child’s dose of adversity and we need to be thinking about it in that way.

Have you heard of the term herd immunity?…So, everyone gets the flu shot and not only are they less likely to get the flu, they’re less likely to spread the flu. That’s what we need to do here in terms of spreading the word and raising that national awareness, and then also doing interventions for children who are affected.

If we can prevent those kids from going on….or even their parent from having the same issue with their subsequent siblings then we are creating this zone of kids who have much more healthy attachment, who have much more healthy ways of relating…who are able to serve as a healthy emotional buffer for their kids when stressful or traumatic situations come up. So that then really prevents the progression of toxic stress.

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Path to top colleges for low-income kids is smoother in affluent districts

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 17:13

Low-income students in some of Colorado’s more affluent school districts—Boulder, Cherry Creek, and St. Vrain Valley—are more likely to attend top colleges than their peers around the state.

But across the state, and even in those districts, less well-off students attend elite schools at a lower rate than more affluent students.

A new report from A+ Denver, a nonprofit education advocacy group, encourages districts, parents, and policymakers to pay attention to where, not just whether, students enroll after graduation, and to make an effort to ensure that more low-income students have access to elite schools.

Everyone from public school leaders to universities to President Obama’s administration has made helping low-income students attend and graduate from college a priority. This report argues that elite schools, which tend to have higher graduation rates, are more likely to help students improve their social standing and secure high-paying jobs after graduation.

Statewide, just 3 percent of low-income students attend elite colleges, compared to 12 percent of more affluent students. According to the report, ten percent of all Colorado students attend elite colleges (in this case, schools that earned a place on the U.S. News and World Report rankings) and 57 percent attend college at all.

The researchers write that the current situation may actually exacerbate income inequality, with high-income students having easier access to elite schools and the opportunities that come with them at higher rates

The findings may bolster the arguments of advocates of socioeconomic diversity in schools: Poorer students at wealthier schools and in wealthier districts were more likely to go to college, and wealthier students at poorer schools were less likely to go to college.

The ten districts that sent the biggest portion of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (a common measure of students’ economic background) to elite schools were Boulder (10.9 percent); Cherry Creek (6.3 percent); St. Vrain Valley (5.7 percent); Jeffco (5.1 percent); Westminster (4.4 percent); Denver (3.7 percent); Northglenn-Thornton (3.5 percent); CO Springs (3 percent); Adams-Arapahoe (2.9 percent); and Poudre (2.4 percent).

Of course, overall college-going rates also varied: Just 3 percent of Adams-Arapahoe students who were not low-income went to elite schools, while in Boulder, the rate was more than 30 percent.

The schools that sent the highest portion of low-income students to top schools were the International Baccalaureate program at George Washington in Denver, DSST, and Boulder High School. The drop-off between the very best schools and the next tier was steep: Forty-four percent of low-income George IB students enrolled in elite colleges, compared to 4 percent of such students at East, the tenth-most-successful school.

The researchers advocate for more transparency in the data about which students attend what schools and why; better communication about college to students in an effort to encourage more students to strive for elite colleges; and improving K-12 education so more students in all racial and income groups are equipped for elite schools.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Schools’ concussion policies in the spotlight

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 09:34

concussions

A fallen soccer goal highlights schools' concussion policies. ( Chalkbeat )

That's what I want

Colorado superintendents tell lawmakers they want $70 million more for schools. ( Chalkbeat )

Just Say No

Boulder Valley teachers asked legislators to cut back on standardized testing at a roundtable hosted by the BVEA. ( Daily Camera )

Blended Learning

The superintendent at St. Vrain was recognized at an event for "connected superintendents" hosted by the White House. ( Daily Camera )

Defying Stereotypes

Local Muslim students share their stories with peers. ( The Gazette )

Hello, Mavis Beacon

Students in Widefield and around the state are learning computer skills and typing to prepare them for PARCC. ( The Gazette )

moving on up

Douglas County earns the state's highest accreditation rating. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Teaching and Rhyming

A rapping teacher brings together his musical & academic sides. ( KUNC )

Test Nation

A new study shows that students take as many as 113 standardized tests in their school careers—and even Arne Duncan is acknowledging the stress. ( CPR )

Critical Thinking

A backlash against No Excuses discipline. ( Hechinger Report )

Categories: Urban School News

Falling soccer goal raises questions about how schools handle concussions

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 13:36

Eighth-grader Mia Leff was jogging around the soccer field during PE class at Denver’s Skinner Middle School when it happened. As she passed one of the soccer goals last March 13, a gust of wind blew it over.

It hit her on the shoulder, knocked her to the ground and came to rest on her head. It took at least four students to pull the metal frame off her, said her mother Suzanne Leff.

“It was a pretty strong blow,” Leff said. “She was clearly disoriented. She couldn’t remember where she was, what had happened.”

Suzanne Leff became more alarmed by something her daughter said during the car ride to  Children’s Hospital’s emergency clinic. Mia described having back pain “where my wings are.” The strange comment underscored the fact that Mia may have been walking and talking, but something wasn’t right.

It turned out Mia had a severe concussion, which led to a referral to a concussion clinic and weeks of recuperation. As is often the case with concussion sufferers, Mia appeared outwardly normal soon after the incident. Some of her teachers reported that she was a bit quieter than usual, but there was more to it.

She had headaches, blurry vision, light sensitivity, fatigue and trouble concentrating. While preparing for an annual Shakespeare performance in which she’d often played multiple parts with ease, memorizing lines proved so difficult that she barely managed a minor role.

As Mia got better—she’s now a healthy ninth-grader–her parents decided to dig deeper into the district’s concussion training requirements and its system for securing soccer goal posts. What they found was both encouraging and disheartening.

On the plus side was the district’s eventual decision to replace more than 150 mobile soccer goals, including the ones at Skinner, with new tip-resistant, anchoring models. The bad news was that the district’s concussion protocol—a system for handling such injuries and helping students return to school and sports–was absent from the district’s website and routine staff training.

“The protocol looks really great on paper,” said Suzanne Leff.

But when she asked whether school-level staff are advised about the protocol, the district’s Deputy General Counsel Michael J. Hickman replied in an e-mail, “It’s my understanding there is no district-wide implementation.”

That, Leff said, “explains why the school didn’t have a copy of it and there was no understanding of what needed to be done [when Mia returned to school.]”

Sports rules the roost

Experts say many educators lack awareness about “return-to-learn” practices because concussions have long been considered a low-incidence injury that mostly happened in sports. In other words, it’s been the domain of coaches and trainers, not teachers and principals.

Concussion resources

Karen McAvoy, director of the Center for Concussion at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, said the first priority for many school districts is to comply with the law, and most states’ concussion laws focus exclusively on the sports side of the equation—requiring things like annual coach training and doctor clearance before kids return to play. That’s the case in Colorado, which passed the Jake Snakenberg Youth Concussion Act in 2012.

“Nowhere in there does it say, ‘You will support them academically at school,’” said McAvoy, author of a highly regarded concussion management protocol called REAP.

The language also leaves out the many children and youth who sustain concussions outside of sports, in car accidents, bike or skateboard crashes or playground mishaps.

“I am not surprised that grade schools and middle schools are not necessarily up to speed,” said R. Dawn Comstock, associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health.

That’s not where the focus or funding has been as the concussion field has evolved over the last five to eight years, she said. Plus, the question of how schools address concussions gets more complicated because not every family reports suspected concussions and common symptoms of concussion can mirror other conditions.

“This isn’t like a kid who shows up on crutches and in a cast,” said Comstock. “Concussions are a silent injury, particularly for the junior high school or high school age.”

Comstock, who runs the RIO surveillance system that tracks sports-related injuries at the high school level, said finding the sweet spot on concussion awareness can be tough for schools when they have so many other things, including a long list of student health issues, to address.

“One of the problems is providing training to every single educator….it’s expensive,” she said.

McAvoy said while concussion management practice very widely among schools, some districts are ahead of the curve. She cited Jeffco, Dougco, Cherry Creek, Boulder and Mesa County Valley 51,  as districts that have taken advantage of the free resources available, include her trainings, the REAP booklet, and downloadable concussion guidelines from the Colorado Department of Education.

In Denver Public Schools, academic personnel haven’t pursued concussion training or resources with the same vigor that the athletic staff has, she said.

“Their athletics and academics seem separate.”

Still, she’s hopeful that one outcome of Mia’s injury might be to galvanize district leaders around increased concussion awareness and training.

“I think it needs to have enough administrative support to be a districtwide kind of effort”

The slow journey back

When Mia returned to Skinner after her concussion, her parents were persistent about arranging a gradual re-entry to the academic rigors of school. At first, Suzanne Leff contacted the principal and each teacher individually, but eventually a school liaison coordinated communication between teachers and the Leffs.

For weeks, Mia received a number of accommodations. She was excused from TCAP testing as well as non-critical homework assignments. Because she couldn’t tolerate looking at screens, her teachers made print-outs or otherwise modified computer-based assignments.

She used the school elevator because her balance was off and ate lunch in the principal’s office or another quiet place to avoid the hubbub in the cafeteria. She was also allowed to leave classes early so she could navigate the hallways in relative calm. Friends were enlisted to carry her books.

Staff members at Skinner were receptive and accommodating, but Suzanne Leff, an attorney, began to wonder what would happen to other students in Mia’s situation if they didn’t have vigilant advocates.

“If we hadn’t known how to advocate for our daughter, she would have been in a classroom flailing for weeks….We pressed hard with her teachers and principal.”

Scrap metal

While falling soccer goals are hardly a common cause of concussions, they are not unheard of either. Such tip-overs have caused dozens of serious injuries or deaths across the nation over the last thirty-five years, usually because children or teens were climbing or hanging on them.

In Mia’s case, the factors were windy conditions and the fact that the goal had been moved into place for a game that afternoon. Usually, it was stored off to the side, chained to a fence.

The Leffs are pleased with the district’s decision to replace 166 soccer goals with newer models. The replacement effort began earlier this fall with the replacement of 46 goals at a cost of $100,000. An additional 120 goals will be replaced before the start of the spring sports season.

Trena Deane, executive director of facility managment for DPS, said not every soccer goal in the district is being replaced. Some were judged safe by an action team that formed soon after Mia’s injury and assessed all the district’s goals.

The Leffs learned about the goal replacement project in early October, the same weekend that the first set of old goals were cut up for recycling.

Suzanne Leff said Mia was thrilled with the news, saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad they’re doing that…So no one else has to go through what I had to.”

Categories: Urban School News

Colo. superintendents tell lawmakers they want $70M more for schools

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 10:16

Colorado’s superintendents have a message for the legislature: if you want results, we need more money.

That’s the sentiment expressed in a letter signed by most of the state’s superintendents to the Colorado General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee, the panel responsible for drafting the state’s budget.

“To meet the expectations that have been set forth for Colorado’s schools and students, we must receive adequate funding to carry out this important work,” the letter, sent Friday, reads. “We see both short- and long-term challenges to adequately funding Colorado’s schools.”

The letter goes on to outline challenges and the superintendents’ proposed solutions.

In the short term, superintendents want an additional $50 million, on top of what Gov. John Hickenlooper has already proposed, allocated to their schools based on free- or reduced-lunch populations. They also would like to see an additional $20 million given to rural school districts.

And they want that money with no strings attached.

“We further propose that decisions about the specific allocations and use of the aforementioned funds, as well as funds included in the Governor’s State Budget Request, should be made by local boards of education and not directed by policymakers at the state level,” the executives wrote.

Further, the 174 superintendents go on to say the state’s funding system for schools is “structurally flawed.” But they say they’re ready to work with lawmakers to fix the system.

Part of the problem, as the superintendents see it, is the legislature’s use of the “negative factor,” a legislative workaround of multiple constitutional requirements.

While it’s unclear how the state’s school executives and policymakers will work through their issues next year, a Denver judge last week rejected the state’s request to dismiss a lawsuit on the negative factor.

Signed, your state’s superintendents DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1362346-superintendent-position-statement-to-jbc-1.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1362346-superintendent-position-statement-to-jbc-1' });
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Preparing students for new online tests in Colorado Springs

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 09:44

chalkbeat question of the week

Chalkbeat asked our readers what role technology should play in the classroom and how much screen time students should have; readers responded that tech should have a limited and purposeful role. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

This week, we want to know where you fall on the debate over what role testing should play in schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

beyond typing class

Colorado Springs school officials have carved out weekly computer labs for young students in an effort to get them the tech skills they need to do well on new online state tests. ( Gazette )

bad news

A new report says that child homelessness in the United States has reached an all-time high. ( AP via Denver Post )

giving the brain a workout

Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School hosted a chess tournament for around 150 students in Fort Collins. ( Coloradoan )

the jeffco debate continues

A U.S. News and World Report columnist argues that Jeffco students were right to walk out of classrooms to protest a proposed curriculum review committee meant to ensure patriotism in schools. ( U.S. News and World Report )

global perspectives

Local foreign exchange students from Yemen, Jordan and Pakistan are trying to teach fellow students that their home countries are more than what Americans might hear about on the news. ( Gazette )

college preview

About 50 Peak to Peak Charter School students are sitting in on a CU-Boulder climate change class. ( Daily Camera )

can you tell me how to get to wall street

Roughly 1,200 students gathered at the University of Denver to simulate the stock market. ( Denver Post )

teachers behaving badly

A Denver teacher who was caught on video ingesting an unknown substance that may have been drugs resigned before the district completed its investigation. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: what should Colorado’s assessment system look like?

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 08:00

Last week hundreds of suburban high school seniors refused to take the state’s standardized tests. After the most public assault on the system so far, it’s clear Colorado’s testing system is at a crossroads.

And now state officials are looking for direction. Joyce Zurowski, executive director of assessment at the Colorado Department of Education put it this way:

Colorado still has to have that conversation — what is that we want from our state system. I think that conversation should be occurring. … This new assessment system has been built off [previous conversations and] those assumptions, those priorities, those values, and it may very well be across time those have shifted. We need to know how those have shifted, and we can try to adjust within the confines of the law.

This weeks question: What do we want state standardized assessments to accomplish and how should we use the results?

For example: should the test results be used only for school and district accountability purposes? Or should we have a required graduation exam for all 12th graders? Or is do we just need to adopt the federal minimum?

Each Monday, 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.

See last’s week’s responses here.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Family-friendliness as a teacher retention strategy

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 15:50
  • Charter schools are increasingly trying to retain teachers by adopting family-friendly work rules. (Hechinger)
  • Five real-life educators share their takes on what makes a good teacher. (NPRed)
  • A Milwaukee education reporter trashed public schools in a speech accepting an award. (Gawker)
  • A new study says D.C.’s test score gains mostly were not driven by an influx of affluent students. (Greater Greater)
  • Minneapolis’s superintendent will personally review all suspensions of students of color. (Blackstar)
  • Several big cities are reevaluating elite schools’ admissions policies. (Gotham Gazette)
  • One teacher’s story of the roller-coaster ride from optimism to defeat to joy. (Edwize)
  • Research explains why some high schools are cliquier than others, and the finding is surprising. (Atlantic)
  • Decades before Teach For America, there was the National Teacher Corps. (American Prospect)
  • A major publishing company is outlining its vision for high-quality content in a new “manifesto.” (HMHCo)
  • Teachers did better in the second year of Chicago’s new evaluation system, which weighs test scores. (Catalyst)
Categories: Urban School News

We asked, you answered: technology in a classroom should have a purpose

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 15:39

On Monday, we asked you, “What role should technology play in the classroom and how much ‘screen time’ should a student have?”

We asked that question based on a new report about personalized learning we shared with you earlier. Personalized learning maybe very dependent on technology.

Here’s a look at what some of our readers had to say.

Jon Wolfer, a teacher in Boulder, emailed us:

What a timely question for Chalkbeat to ask, as we are in the midst of addressing this question at my elementary school in Boulder. These are my personal thoughts, not necessarily representative of the entire school or district.
First, students in second grade and below, in my opinion, should have limited screen time in the classroom. By limited, I would suggest an hour a week!

Students in third through fifth grade are doing an amazing job of word processing in the classroom, so as long as the work is meaningful and not screen time for entertainment purposes, I don’t know what limit needs to be set there. We are also finding students successful in e-readers like Kindles or Nooks, and again, as long as they are actually engaged in reading, read on.

The answer to this question is developmental – not sure how meaningful screen time is to education in 7 year olds and younger – and practical – what are the kids doing on the screen? Sit-and-getting or engaged in reading, writing and/or research?

On Twitter, Scott Esserman shared this:

@ChalkbeatCO Is it possible (as w/ many content areas in ed.) that it’s not so much about time/quantity, but quality/competency?

— Scott Esserman (@sdesserman) November 13, 2014

Laurie Seiler, an advocate at Touchstone Health Partners in Fort Collins, wrote:

Technology is a very real and significant part of modern life, and as such it should be included in the tools that our students learn to use effectively.  They should also know how to use a phone book, look up a word in the dictionary, or use a map (for example) for times when the computer system is down for one reason or another.  Our students need both common sense knowledge and experience, as well as technology knowledge and experience, just as they will need both in the workplace and in “real life.”

Check back on Monday for next week’s question. As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or onTwitter.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Hundreds of students opt out, protest standardized tests

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 10:24

Opt Out in the cold

Boulder high schoolers at Fairview High protested standardized tests while other schools saw large opt-out rates. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Colorado Public Radio, Denver Post, 9 News, Daily Camera, Gazette )

Just Right

How hard should reading be? NPR explores in its Common Core series. ( KUNC )

Getting it right

High-achieving students were sometimes not enthused by the switch to Common Core reading. ( KUNC )

Model UN

Community college students in Aurora are headed to a Model UN Conference. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Make Your Voice Heard

What were the most important education stories in your year? Tell us. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Hmm

A study on the success of New Orleans education reforms was retracted; what does that mean for New Orleans and similar efforts elsewhere? ( KUNC )

Cold Snap

Jeffco bus drivers get to work even earlier on frigid mornings to get their buses up and running. ( 9 News )

ACT Ace

Twenty-two students statewide aced the ACT last year. ( Gazette )

Colorado

The state provided $975,000 in marijuana-funded grants to schools. ( The Cannabist )

Around the network

Kevin Huffman will no longer be education commissioner in Tennessee, after a year of controversies and successes. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Poverty

Report says "two-generation approach" to addressing poverty is most effective. ( Hechinger Report )

It's Hard to Say Goodbye

Charter school authorizers struggle to close schools. ( Education Week )

Categories: Urban School News

Make your voice heard: what were the biggest changes affecting schools this year?

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 18:36

As the year comes to a close, Chalkbeat Colorado is working on a special end-of-year project. And we need your help.

What was the most surprising education news of the year? Who was the most influential person in the state’s education community?

We want to hear from you about how education changes affected your school or how you believe those changes affected the state’s education community as whole.

To share your opinions, please take this brief survey.  We’ll use the results to inform our coverage later.We’re collecting responses until Nov. 19. But why wait?

And stay tuned for news about our special project!

Categories: Urban School News

Boulder students rally against senior tests, other districts see fewer students take exam

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 16:52

BOULDER — Instead of taking the state’s science and social studies tests, seniors at Fairview High School here braved below-zero temperatures to rally against a testing system they believe is burdensome and unnecessary.

As part of the protest, they waived signs at passing cars that read “legislators listen to the educators,” ate doughnuts, and drank hot cocoa. They also collected canned goods for a local food bank, did jumping jacks to keep warm, and fired off a string of letters to lawmakers explaining why they opted-out of new tests that are supposed to measure how proficient they are in social studies and science.

“We never had a voice in the first place,” said senior Rachel Perely. “They kinda just threw the test at us without [asking us] what is the student input on having another test as seniors. So, we’re out here saying we need this voice and we’re trying to get that conversation rolling.”

While the student protest is without a doubt the loudest and most public assault on the state’s testing system so far, it is just the latest in a growing cacophony calling on state lawmakers and bureaucrats to scale back — if not eliminate — the state’s testing system.

Across the metro region, some of Colorado’s most distinguished school districts saw low numbers of seniors participating in the tests.

Chalkbeat wants to know! 
Who was the most influential person in the state’s education community this year? Tell us in our end-of-year reader survey.

As of this morning, only 3 percent of the entire senior class at Cherry Creek High School took the state’s assessments due to opt outs.

“We respect the decision that students have made for themselves,” said Tustin Amole, spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District. “And look forward to having discussion with policy makers about how to go forward.”

Preliminary numbers from Douglas County showed participation by their seniors ranged from 27 percent to 80 percent.

At Fairview High only nine students took the exam. That means fewer than 1 percent of seniors took the test there.

While the students who didn’t participate might not face consequences, those kind of numbers mean trouble, or at least extra paperwork, for school districts. Colorado law requires that schools maintain a 95 percent participation rate in each exam. If 95 percent of students don’t participate in two or more content areas the school’s accreditation rating is lowered. If a school’s accreditation drops too low, and stays there for five years, the school district that operates that school could face more sanctions.

Given the political landscape, the department of education has issued guidance to school districts that they may provide evidence that they administered the assessments and made a good-faith effort to have students participate in order to protect their accreditation. That means schools and districts will likely need to turn over letters of refusal from parents, log phone conversations, and offer makeup assessments.

While Colorado has long had a community vocally opposed to the test, they haven’t gotten very far. Prior to this fall’s exams, the number of families who refused to allow their students take the tests barely broke 1 percent.

During the 2014 legislative session, the debate about standardized exams intensified among parents, educators, lawmakers and officials at the Colorado Department of Education. At issue is how much standardized testing is too much and what, if any, changes should be made to the testing system.

As a result of the debate, a committee has been established to study the issue of testing and make recommendation to the General Assembly next year.

Colorado’s testing system goes beyond the federal requirements, which says schools are required to test third through eighth grades in language arts and math. Also, one grade level in elementary, middle, and high school must be assessed in science. Colorado also tests high schools through the 11th grade in language arts and math. And this year, the state added the social studies tests for some elementary, middle, and high school students.

This is the first year seniors have had to take standardized tests.

Meanwhile, state officials are watching and listening and ready to engage in what the future of standardized exams look like in Colorado.

“Colorado still has to have that conversation — what is that we want from our state system,” said Joyce Zurowski, executive director of assessment at CDE. “I think that conversation should be occurring.”

Zurkowski noted the state’s current system — including the senior test — was borne out of a similar conversation in 2010.

“This new assessment system has been built off those assumptions, those priorities, those values, and it may very well be across time those have shifted,” she said Wednesday. “We need to know how those have shifted, and we can try to adjust within the confines of the law.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Opt-out worries spread beyond Boulder and Dougco to Poudre and Glenwood Springs

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:15

accountability talks

The number of Colorado school districts named to a state accountability watch list went down this year but nine districts still face state sanctions if they don't improve quickly. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Among the districts that achieved the highest accreditation rating were Dougco and the Pikes Peak region's smallest school district, Edison School District 54-JT. ( Gazette, 9News )

Testing madness

Worries about a critical mass of high school students refusing to take new standardized tests this week have spread beyond Boulder and Dougco; schools in Poudre and Glenwood Springs are also worried. ( Coloradoan, Glenwood Springs Post Independent )

see you in court

A Denver court rejected the state's request to toss out a lawsuit that alleges that the negative factor --- the mechanism by which the state has been cutting school funding -- is unconstitutional. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, CPR )

beyond the marshmallow test

A Colorado-developed curriculum that emphasizes skills like grit and resilience is poised to expand as new research bolsters its claims of effectiveness. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

for your consideration

The Denver Public School board is poised to vote this month on a set of changes intended to improve schools in southwest Denver, including a shared enrollment boundary with transportation options for middle schoolers. ( Denver Post )

gone to pot

The state on Wednesday handed out more than $975,000 in grants from marijuana revenue to school districts looking to hire health workers. ( Denver Post )

brrrrrrrrrrr

The weather is bad! Most schools in the Pikes Peak region delayed their openings this week because of ice and snow. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver court rejects state’s request to toss negative factor lawsuit

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 18:18

A Denver District Court judge today rejected the state’s request to toss a lawsuit that challenges the state’s “negative factor.”

The lawsuit, Dwyer v. State, was filed June 27 by a group of school districts and parents who claim the negative factor is unconstitutional. The negative factor is a tool used by the legislature to attempt to both balance its budget and maintain constitutionally-required funding for education.

Attorney General John Suthers formally asked for dismissal of the lawsuit in August. In his request, he claimed, in part, the plaintiffs didn’t have standing.

Denver District Court Judge Herbert Stern disagreed.

“Parents allege that they and their children are harmed by the reduced funding apportioned to schools in … As taxpayers, parents have a legally protected interest in determining whether the government’s implementation … violates Amendment 23,” Stern wrote in his decision. “Thus, they have standing.”

At issue is interpretation of Amendment 23, the 2000 constitutional provision that requires annual K-12 spending increases based on inflation.

In 2010 the legislature created the negative factor to control school spending as lawmakers struggled with the overall state budget during the Great Recession. The legal reasoning behind the negative factor is that Amendment 23 applies only to base per-student funding, not to additional funds districts receive to compensate for size, number of at-risk students, and other factors.

Estimates suggest the state is short-changing school districts by about $900 million.

The plaintiffs argue the negative factor cut into the base of education funding, but the state’s motion to dismiss emphatically disagreed.

DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1359829-dwyer-order-11-12-14.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1359829-dwyer-order-11-12-14' });

Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the position of the plaintiffs in Dwyer v. State. 

Categories: Urban School News

Fewer Colo. school districts on watch list, but looming accountability tests remains for some

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 14:46

The number of Colorado school districts on a state accountability watch list dropped this year, but nine school systems still face looming sanctions if they don’t improve soon.

And the path for those districts off the watch list will get trickier this year due to a change in the testing system that produces most of the data the state uses to rate schools. Without that standard measure, districts looking for a higher rating will be required to submit their own data to prove their improvement efforts have worked.

Seven school districts — including two small rural systems that had reached the end of the state’s school improvement timeline — moved off the watch list this year. The two rural districts, Vilas and Karval, narrowly missed state sanctions by shuttering their low-performing online schools.

Since 2009, the Colorado Department of Education has reviewed school district performances annually. The results are based on data from the state’s standardized exams, ACT scores, drop-out and graduation rates. School districts are classified in five categories, the highest being “accredited with distinction” and the lowest being “turnaround.”

School districts that land in the bottom two categories have five years to improve or face a loss of accreditation.

Do your homework
• Find your school district’s accreditation
• Review CDE staff’s slideshow presentation

In total, eight districts are entering the final year of their timeline and face a loss of accreditation. They include Pueblo City Schools, Sheridan Public Schools, and Julesburg Schools.

Aurora Public Schools, the largest system on the accountability timeline, has two years to improve.

“District leaders are working closely with teachers and school leaders to continue to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps,” said Rico Munn, Aurora’s superintendent. “Our expectation is to make significant gains that move us out of priority improvement status.”

All of the school districts that are being monitored by the Colorado Department of Education serve large populations of poor and Latino students. But not all school districts that serve those populations are on the clock, state officials pointed out. They highlighted the Center Consolidated School District as a medium-size system that has improved student achievement. Center has a higher concentration of poverty than any other school district in the state. More than 90 percent of their students qualify for free- or reduced-lunch prices.

School districts being monitored
Aurora Public Schools, year 4
Adams County 14 (Commerce City), year 5
Ignacio 11, year 5
Julesburg, year 5
Montezuma Cortez, year 5
Pueblo City Schools, year 5
San Juan BOCES, year 1
Sheridan City Schools, year 5
Adams County 50 (Westminster), year 5

Because of the forthcoming data gap between the two assessments, the Colorado General Assembly passed a law this year that allowed the state to use this year’s accreditation ratings for tow years.

However, districts may submit additional data, such as internal assessments that are supposed to gauge student progress throughout the year, to the department to have their accreditation rating reconsidered. This year 19 districts submitted such a request; 16 were approved. Due to the gap, state officials are expecting a great number of requests next year.

“We have limited information,” said  Keith Owen, CDE’s deputy commissioner. “A request to reconsider is an opportunity for the school and district to help paint an accurate picture. It’s a great system that Colorado has that not every state utilizes across the country. None of this is perfect, but the whole goal of [accreditation] is to have public accountability with how schools are preforming.”

Overall, most of the state’s school districts should be commended for improving or maintaining student achievement levels despite a heavy burden to implement more laws and policies, like teacher evaluations, Owen said.

“There are a lot of districts doing hard work in the midsts of substantial transition across the state with laws passed, five, six, seven years ago,” Owen said in an interview. “The amount of pressure those laws put on districts — but that we’re still seeing districts making improvement over time, it sends a strong message about the kind of improvement going on in the state.”

The board asked department staff various questions regarding the accreditation process, flexibility around the law, and what they were doing to assist school districts that are at risk of losing their accreditation.

In a rare moment, Elaine Gantz Berman, a Denver Democrat, agreed with chairman Paul Lundeen, an Colorado Springs Republican, that the state should research and develop flexibilities for school districts that are performing well. Ideally, that would allow the department to target more of their efforts on low performing school districts, Gantz Berman said.

“I think there would be strong consensus from the board that it’d be great if you could focus your efforts on the school districts that need the most,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

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