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Rise & Shine: No testing waivers from state board for districts with high opt out rates

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 09:44

Waive Goodbye

The State Board of Education backed away from a plan to allow school districts to waive out of accountability requirements from standardized tests after being told it did not have the authority to grant them. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Local Testing

Legislators want to experiment with a non-PARCC alternative standardized test in Colorado, but the details aren't clear. ( Denver Post )


Teachers at STRIVE have traditionally written their own curriculum, but starting next year things will be more centralized. That's just as Denver Public Schools announced plans to decentralize curriculum decisions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Questions remain about how and if Jeffco Public Schools will fund and place a new elementary school in North Arvada, where classes are at capacity. ( Arvada Press )

Two cents

Eagle County's superintendent writes that the legislative session was a disappointment. ( Vail Daily )


Schools in Arapahoe and Burlington have experienced threats this week. ( 9News, Denver Post )


A Boulder student who was at Mt. Everest when the earthquake struck Nepal is working to raise money for relief efforts. ( Daily Camera )

Healthy Kids

The Colorado Healthy Kids Survey will remain intact despite triggering a wave of controversy. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, The Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

After ‘chaos,’ State Board denies testing waivers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 20:43

In an about face, the State Board of Education denied dozens of waivers from mandatory state testing school districts filed this spring after the board directed the education department to grant them.

The board also rescinded its original direction to the department to open up the waiver process.

Board chair Marcia Neal pointed out the waivers were moot after the attorney general’s office ruled that the neither the board nor the Colorado Department of Education had the authority to grant the requests.

“What this has done has caused chaos in local districts that have applied for the waivers and of course not received it,” Neal said.

The motions were the second retreat from a series of controversial moves the board, reconfigured after the November election, has made this year. Earlier Wednesday, the board dropped action to change how students participated in a health survey. However, the board tabled action on setting cut scores for science and social studies tests taken by seniors last fall.

Earlier this year, the board refused to set performance levels on the tests because a majority of members said they had philosophical concerns with the tests and how the data would be used. The board’s action has delayed release of the results to students and school districts.

Cut scores are the benchmarks that sort a student’s results into one of four achievement levels. In March, CDE had recommended cut scores that would have put only 1 percent of seniors taking the social studies test in “distinguished command,” the highest level of achievement. Only 9 percent would have been rated with “strong command.” The percentages for science were 2 percent distinguished command and 17 percent strong command.

Part of Wednesday’s discussion on the cut scores included options that moved more students into higher achievement levels.

The board is expected to spend 30 minutes Thursday trying to hash out a compromise that would release test results to students but not set cut scores.

Categories: Urban School News

State Board maintains status quo for health survey

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 20:30

The State Board of Education agreed Wednesday to seek no changes to a survey that asks students about drug use, sexual habits, and other health issues, ending months of controversy about how parents should be notified about the biennial questionnaire.

The board voted unanimously to stick with the status quo on the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which will be administered this fall. That means families who don’t want their students to take the survey will have to sign a form opting them out of it.

Board member Steve Durham, a Republican, made the motion to drop the crusade against the survey. He acknowledged that a revised letter to parents explicitly noting the voluntary nature of the survey was the biggest impact the board could have for now.

However, Republican board member Deb Scheffel suggested the Colorado Department of Education might want to remove itself from the survey in the future. The state health department partners with the education department and the Colorado Department of Human Services on the survey.

“If CDE wants to not accept the funds we can do that in two years,” she said.

The controversy about the survey bubbled up last winter amid parent complaints that some questions are inappropriate and invasive.

Parents wanted schools to get advance written permission from parents, known as “active consent,” for students to participate in the survey. Currently, most districts use “passive consent,” which means students are administered the survey unless their parents sign a form opting them out.

On the flip side, officials from the state health department emphasized that the survey is anonymous and voluntary, and said the survey data is critical to identifying trouble spots and tracking progress on adolescent health. They worried that an “active consent” model would dramatically reduce survey response rates.

Throughout the survey controversy, some state board members expressed interest in changing parental consent rules or otherwise curtailing the survey’s use in schools. These efforts, while much discussed, never got off the ground.

Last month, State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman weighed in on the issue after health department officials requested a formal opinion from her office. She wrote that state and federal laws don’t require schools to get advance permission from parents when students take the survey.

In other words, the passive consent model is legal.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey has been given under various names to the state’s middle and high school students since 1991. More than 40,000 students in 224 schools took the survey last time it was given in the fall of 2013.

During the next planned survey administration this fall, the number of students surveyed could grow because even if schools are not selected as part of the official survey sample, for the first time they are being invited to participate for free.

The high school version of the survey asks questions about sexual orientation, sexual behavior, suicide, smoking, alcohol, drugs, bullying, exercise, nutrition, grades, and school involvement. The middle school version of the survey doesn’t ask questions about sexual orientation or sexual behavior, but does ask about the other topics.

It’s up to participating school districts to decide whether to use active consent or passive consent to notify parents. About 92 percent of schools that participated in the 2013 survey chose passive consent.

The annual budget for the survey is about $950,000. Most of that funding comes from the state’s Marijuana Cash Tax Fund, with smaller portions coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state’s tobacco tax and other sources.

Chalkbeat Colorado reporter Ann Schimke contributed to this report.

Categories: Urban School News

Charter network moves from hand-crafted to more centralized curriculum

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 17:22

As Denver Public Schools makes plans to allow schools to choose their own curriculum and materials, at least one Denver charter school network is moving in the opposite direction.

STRIVE Preparatory Schools, a charter network with nine schools in Denver, has traditionally relied on teachers to create their own resources for everything from the scope and sequences that define the year’s coursework to individual lessons. Some teachers might not have drawn from traditional textbooks or resources at all.

But as the network has grown from one school in 2006 to the current nine, and as its schools have started to implement the Common Core State Standards, STRIVE is creating a set of “Core Curricular Resources” for all of its teachers.

The idea behind the old approach of using hand-crafted curriculum is that teachers should have as much autonomy in their classrooms as possible, said Joshua Smith, the network’s chief schools officer. “We provide them with exemplars, best practices, existing or purchased curricula they can start with,” he said. “But by and large, we rely on teachers to build their own curricula.”

That’s not uncommon in the charter world. The other large network of charter schools in Denver, DSST, also relies on teachers to create units and lessons, which are then often shared among teachers.

But it’s a different approach than some districts, including DPS, have traditionally taken: Adopting a set of textbooks and, increasingly, online materials, and outlining the scope and sequence of the year’s lessons for many courses in most schools.

Smith said as STRIVE has grown, however, the network has decided it makes sense to provide teachers with more standardized templates and resources.

“We feel like we’re very much centralizing and saying, here’s our approach to close reading, here’s our vision for how this works,” Smith said.

STRIVE is not unique, according to Alex Medler, the Vice President of Policy and Analysis for the National Association Charter School Authorizers. He said that more charter schools are part of networks and more of those networks are setting defined curricula than in years past.

At STRIVE, there are a few reasons for the timing of the shift. The network saw a drop in test scores at schools last year. Smith said more consistency and structures are part of an effort to address that drop.

It’s also part of an effort to make teachers’ workloads sustainable and to improve quality control.

“It seemed silly to have everyone creating things from scratch,” Smith said. “We want to have a common vision of what should be happening in the classroom.”

Smith said creating Common Core-aligned lessons is more challenging than what teachers have had to do in the past.

“There’s a level of critical thinking, a level of rigor, and a level of being able to dive deep into complex text that’s harder and more time-consuming,” Smith said.

STRIVE’s teachers are currently provided with materials from EngageNY and College Preparatory Math, both of which are advertised as aligned with the Common Core. DPS plans to use EngageNY for literacy in some grades starting next year.

At a meeting on Monday where DPS board members decided that schools should have the ability to choose their own curriculum, board members suggested that schools might even contract with a group like STRIVE, which has had several years of strong academic results, to use their curriculum.

But Smith said the switch to a more established curriculum is still a “work in progress” STRIVE has been moving toward over the course of a few years.

Smith said that the network’s plan is to have teacher leaders who are paid a stipend outline units, weekly schedules, and even sample lessons for others who teach their same course, starting in 2015-16. He said teachers would still have the ultimate control over their planning.

Smith said that regardless of the resources, “teachers have to be bought into what they’re teaching, and curriculum is just a bunch of words on paper if there’s not a deep understanding of what the choices are and why it’s designed the way it was.”

“Anyone can print a lesson or a unit off the internet. But you can’t print it, read it, and expect it to lead to student learning,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Group in Douglas County discusses race, violence

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 09:45

bureuacratic shuffle

In a dramatic shift, Denver's school board said it wants schools to make more decisions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

race matters

The roots of racism are historic and tangled, and linked to recent police shootings of unarmed black men, Denver Freedom Riders' founder told a group of people at ThunderRidge High School. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Jeffco Interupted

A Jefferson County District Court judge put a temporary hold Tuesday on portions of a compensation plan that would pay some educators new to Jeffco Public Schools more than some district veterans. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Lesley Dahlkemper, in her first interview since announcing she won't seek re-election to the Jeffco school board, said she felt strained between work, family, and the board. ( Arvada Press )

Best of the best

Fourteen Colorado high schools have been ranked among the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report. ( Denver Business Journal )

Human Resources

The American Federation of Teachers released on Tuesday the results of a survey that found only 1 in 5 educators feel respected by government officials or the media. ( Gazette )

Brian Kosena, assistant principal at Colorado STEM Academy in Westminster, is making a move to Tennyson Knolls Elementary as the new principal. ( Thornton Sentinel )


While state funding for the Colorado Preschool Program increased a bit last year, Colorado didn’t improve on measures of preschool quality or access, according to an annual ranking. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

to infinity and beyond

A Chatfiled High school engineering class has been designing an experiment regarding two different types of algae that will be sent up to the International Space Station in June. ( Denver Post )

a helping (and learning) hand

For the past few months, students from all five Adams 12 high schools have been doing construction work on a city-owned house in Thornton. ( Thornton Sentinel )

Hold up — wait a minute

The scientist most closely associated with the concept of "grit," is trying to put on the brakes. She argues in a new paper that grit isn't ready for prime time, if prime time means high-stakes tests. ( NPR via KUNC )

Two cents

This teacher gave his students confidence to fail at math and that makes all the difference, suggests this curriculum and game designer. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Judge puts part of Jeffco pay plan on hold

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 23:06

A Jefferson County District Court judge put a temporary hold Tuesday on portions of a compensation plan that would pay some educators new to Jeffco Public Schools more than some district veterans.

Judge Christopher Zenisek’s order prohibits Jeffco Public Schools from paying any new teachers hired after May 1 under a plan that was approved by the school board earlier this spring. However, the roughly 60 teachers hired between the time the plan was approved in March and May 1, the day Zenisek heard the case, may be paid what was offered.

The judge ruled that a trial be set within a year.

It’s unclear at this point how the district will determine how much to pay experienced teachers with advanced degrees hired after that May 1 cutoff date.

“We have not had an opportunity to exam the ruling in full with our attorney and after we do we’ll be prepared to comment,” said Lisa Pinto, spokeswoman for Jeffco.

The salary schedule that was put on hold was created as part of the new system approved by the board majority last fall. The salary system would pay some new hires who have master degrees and multiple years of classroom experience more than current Jeffco teachers with similar credentials. It also includes an additional stipend for teachers who work in schools that serve the county’s most at-risk students.

District officials developed the plan for new hires as part of the larger system the board majority approved in the fall. The new system did away with the traditional salary schedule the district used to determine what teachers would be paid. So, district staff created the plan to do that. When pitching the new system to board this spring, district staff said the increase in salary was needed to make Jeffco competitive with neighboring school districts.

The gap between new hires and Jeffco veterans is caused in part by salary reductions and freezes the teachers union and suburban school district agreed to during the Great Recession.

Lawyers for the Jefferson County Education Association, which asked for the injunction, argued earlier this month that the school board overstepped when it created a new plan to pay teachers based on evaluations, not years of service and level of education. The lawyers also asserted that the district unilaterally changed contract language without the union’s input.

The union did not ask for the entire system to be thrown out, only the portion approved this spring.

But a lawyer representing the school district said the board was well within its rights creating a new compensation system after negotiations failed to produce a compromise. Updating contract language and introducing a new system for paying experienced teachers new to the school district was procedural and not malicious, the district’s lawyer said.

The union and district are currently negotiating a new master contract.

JCEA president John Ford celebrated the decision.

“Today is a victory for hard working Jeffco teachers who have sacrificed our own pay through pay freezes and reductions to help the school district weather the recession,” he said in a statement. “To offer thousands of dollars more to new teachers while neglecting to honor your promises to your current teaching staff is inexcusable.”

Zenisek’s order DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-2080761-order-re-motion-for-preliminary-injunction' });
Categories: Urban School News

Denver school board sets course toward more decentralized district

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 13:38

Starting next school year, all principals in Denver will have the option to select and buy their own curriculum, school-based testing programs, professional development plans, and potentially to choose more of the programs and employees in their buildings.

Those are some early steps in a plan to decentralize decision-making and significantly change how Denver Public Schools works with its schools. They were laid out Monday at a day-long retreat for the district’s board and senior leadership.

The idea is to create more independent schools and turn principals into “chief strategists” — a move that will have ripple effects both for teachers and students and for the central office staff who have traditionally worked with schools.

This is the first time all district schools, not just charters and those that specifically request it, would have this degree of control over their programs.

DPS board members and staff said they will begin to flesh out the details of the changes and what more flexibility for budgets, hiring, transportation, scheduling, accountability, and more might look like in coming weeks.

Board members say the changes are an attempt to execute the vision they laid out last year in the updated Denver Plan, a set of goals for improving student achievement and school quality by 2020. The Denver Plan describes more flexibility for schools as one of the district’s key strategies.

“How do we make sure we’re walking the walk and not saying you have flexibility with one hand and taking it away with the other?” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Board members Barbara O’Brien and Anne Rowe described visits to schools where they said school staff currently felt stymied by supposed supports from district offices.

“Part of the culture shift has to be more respect for the autonomy of the school and their ability to control their days,” O’Brien said.

There was no outright opposition to the idea of shifting more decision-making power to school leaders. Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was not present for the retreat. Jimenez has been the board’s lone consistently-dissenting vote since the 2013 school board elections.

National trend, local changes

The idea of decentralizing power and changing the roles of bureaucracies has gained traction in many urban school systems in recent years, partly in tandem with the growing school choice movement and particularly charter schools, which have control over most aspects of their operations and programming.

The strategy is often tied to an approach to governance known as “portfolio management.” The name comes from the idea of an investment portfolio: Rather than managing and directly running programs at schools, a district’s central office is responsible for approving, monitoring, evaluating, and providing services to a portfolio of more-independent schools and “investing” in those that work. Budgeting is shifted so that schools can select and pay for certain services or staffing arrangement rather than having services paid for and distributed at the district level.

The state-run Recovery School District in Louisiana and Achievement School District in Tennessee are often cited as models of portfolio management, though they both work mostly with charter schools.

The idea is not new in Denver. DPS already has dozens of charter schools and more than 30 innovation schools, which can request flexibility from certain district policies, such as the length of a school day. It also has an elaborate accountability system that proponents of portfolio management recommend for gauging how schools are doing.

District officials also framed a recent set of staff cuts in the central office as an effort to move more functions out of the district office and to schools.

“We’re well on the path toward an opt-in district,” said O’Brien. She was referring to schools’ ability to “opt in” to services or programs traditionally required by the district’s central office, such as a common curriculum.

O’Brien said that even though many details need to be worked out, “I think we need to rattle the system a little bit if we’re ever going to do what we talked about at our first retreat, which is work for bold change.”

Devilish details

But the shift is not without complications.

Boasberg said said district would need to “per-pupil-ize” some costs for curriculum, assessments, and trainings — break down the costs of programs that are currently offered to the whole district by student so schools can decide how much money to spend on what.

Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust said that the district had made similar efforts to price out its offerings for charter and innovation schools and that it had been difficult.

Board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver, bristled when several board members mentioned that giving schools more freedom means some will likely fail. “Failing means something very real to my schools,” said Rodriguez. She said the district and board members need to take responsibility for problems.

Chief of Schools Susana Cordova warned that decisions made by a principal might not be supported by every staff member at a given school. She said she hoped the district would improve its methods of gauging staff satisfaction with school leadership and how that ties to school quality.

DPS has also struggled to retain principals in an already-challenging job. How ongoing principal churn might mesh or clash with a move to give schools more autonomy is an open question. Boasberg said he thought more independence for school leaders would help attract and retain talented principals.

Curriculum flexibility

DPS recently announced plans to adopt a new program for some of its grade levels to replace the current curricular materials, which are not aligned to the Common Core State Standards in literacy and math. Some schools, including the district’s Montessori and some innovation schools, already use individualized programs.

Board members debated whether schools should be able to opt out of or opt into the district’s new curriculum. They eventually decided it would be best if schools could actively opt in to using the new curriculum, and then select appropriate assessments and training for teachers. School leaders could share promising alternatives with the district or stick with the programs they currently have in place next school year 2015-16.

Boasberg cautioned that schools looking to use alternative programs would still have to meet state, federal, and district’s legal requirements, including complying with a federal consent decree that governs how the district works with English language learners.

Staff said that the district might not initially be able to support all of the different programs schools might be interested in. The curriculum flexibility might eventually include a list of vetted programs and trainings that schools could choose between, but next year, leaders opting for a new curriculum will also be accepting less direct support from the district.

Denver school board members discuss school autonomy.

“If we have far larger numbers of people opting out, it takes different skills to support people in that environment,” Cordova said.

Board members also discussed potentially changing the responsibilities and roles of instructional superintendents or changing how schools are organized into networks.

Boasberg said the district will also have to decide how or if it will intervene if a school is floundering with new freedoms. “Those are some of the hardest conflicts—if, when, and how to be directive when schools are struggling.”

The retreat was attended by Cordova, Boasberg, Whitehead-Bust, chief of staff Will Lee-Ashley, deputy chief of staff John Albright, and six of the seven board members.

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado plateaus in annual preschool ranking

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 13:07

While state funding for the Colorado Preschool Program increased a bit last year, Colorado didn’t improve on measures of preschool quality or access, according to an annual ranking published by the National Institute for Early Education Research or NIEER.

Among the highlights from the NIEER “State of Preschool Report 2014” released Monday:

  • Colorado ranks 22nd among 41 states for four-year-old preschool access, the same as the previous year.
  • The state ranks ninth for three-year-old access, a slight improvement from its previous ranking at 10th.
  • When it comes to state spending on preschool, Colorado improved its rank from 37th to 35th.
  • The state met six of 10 benchmarks of preschool quality, the same number it met the year before.

Among the quality benchmarks Colorado failed to meet is one that would require early childhood teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and a second that would require assistant teachers to have a Child Development Associate.

A decade ago, Colorado achieved only four benchmarks on the quality checklist.

While Colorado got a small pat on the back from NIEER officials in a state-specific press release accompanying the report, it was far from a ringing endorsement.

“The actions seen here could be the first small step to improving quality and access for Colorado’s young children, but overall the state’s program remains well below average,” said NIEER director Steven Barnett.

Colorado’s ranking on preschool access and spending among the 41 states that have state-funded preschool.                Source: NIEER DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-2077717-colorado-nieer-profile' });
Categories: Urban School News

This teacher gave his students confidence to fail at math and that makes all the difference

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:12

When it comes to a child’s education, teachers matter more than textbooks, tests, schools, grades, classes — everything. And while passionate high school teachers are wonderful, the truly great educators are those who build a love of learning in kids while they’re still young.

The truly great teachers are those like Joe Denoncourt.

Joe teaches second grade at Cowell Elementary in Denver, a school struggling with poverty and all the academic problems that go with it.

More than 95 percent of the students at Cowell receive free or reduced price lunches. English is not the first language for many Cowell students, and some of them are completely new to this country.

The numbers might make you think there’s no hope for these students. But Joe doesn’t give a fig about the numbers. He teaches and his students learn.

I own and operate a company called Teacher’s Professional Resource in Lakewood. We provide science, technology, engineering, and math workshops and summer camps for kids in the Denver Metro Area. My company also designs original educational math games. I had spent most of my career in business, but started out as a teacher, so every spring I go into classrooms to provide free workshops in an effort to give back to the community.

This spring, I went to Joe’s.

I arrived at Cowell a few minutes early to say hello. I noticed his classroom is like many in that there are small round tables and second grade-sized chairs around them. But there is a comfy couch and two stuffed chairs. The room is cozy.

His students waited outside the room to be invited in. Before class started, Joe said, “My friend Dr. Fun will be working on math with us this afternoon. Please make her feel welcome.”

The students listened intently while I told them I wanted to try a new math game. It was simply amazing how polite these kids were. No one talked out of turn, no one fidgeted in their chair, and no one made me feel anything but happy to be there.

When the games began, I was struck by how confident each and every student was in their math skills. I’ve taught in many math classrooms across the Denver metro area, and Joe’s students vastly outperformed many suburban kids.

Too often kids in well-to-do suburbs seem to have the edge academically. Their parents are almost always fluent English speakers, for example, and they can make a living with only one job instead of two or three, allowing them more time to practice academics with their kids.

But I’d put the students in Joe’s class ahead of any suburban kid. That’s because of Joe.

Joe’s students speak both English and Spanish. So he switches between the two languages frequently during his lessons. Students learn what they need to learn in English, but they still have a way to communicate with Joe in Spanish.

Joe knows that kids who live in difficult circumstances need their classrooms to be a respite from chaos. So, Joe’s is a peaceful classroom. You won’t find the walls of his classroom papered with cartoonish characters screaming out the most important educational content of the day.

The naughtier a child is, the quieter Joe speaks. He is incredibly polite to his students.

But maybe most important is that Joe makes it safe for his students to make mistakes, even a lot of mistakes. That’s because if there is a secret sauce to learning, it’s mistake-making.

In light of all that we invest trying to educate children, the idea that teachers matter can slip our minds. Far too often, teachers are blamed rather than praised. It’s time for that trend to be stopped. To anyone who has or has ever had a teacher like Joe Denoncourt, consider yourself lucky. You have first-hand knowledge of the value of a great teacher.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder schools, union settle contract

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 09:00

Time vs. skills

Schools in Colorado and around the country are part of a growing movement toward “competency-based education,” which replaces “seat time” with skills as the main standard for whether students are promoted. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Boulder Valley teachers have negotiated a 2.8 percent cost-of-living pay increase for the next school year, bringing the starting salary for district instructors to about $43,000. ( Daily Camera )

discipline disparities

Officials from Denver Public Schools do not dispute findings in a school discipline report presented Monday showing that some racial disparities are growing and that school-by-school implementation of practices is uneven. ( Denver Post )

It's back

The University of Northern Colorado faced a strong and immediate backlash when it decided to suspend its Mexican-American studies program back in March. Now the program is being reinstated. ( Latin Post )

running tribute

After a Denver KIPP charter school teacher died suddenly in February, family members decided to honor his memory by running in the Colfax Marathon this Sunday. ( Denver Post )

Scholarships served

The Hispanic Education Foundation has handed out over 475 scholarships to St. Vrain Valley School District students since 1989. This year they will be handing out another 17 to local students. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Early learning

Are you a glass half-full kind of person? Or glass half-empty? Depending on your answer, you'll find the new report on state-funded preschool programs from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University either delightfully encouraging or downright depressing. ( KUNC/NPR )


Chalkbeat's question of the week focuses on whether readers feel the legislature's 2015 education work amounted to much. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Question of the week: Are you happy with the new education legislation in Colorado?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/11/2015 - 17:14

Last week the Colorado General Assembly came to a close with little accomplished on the education front, even though more education-related bills were introduced this session than any time in recent memory.

The central debate on testing ended with a last-minute compromise and schools didn’t get nearly the funding many superintendents said they needed and wanted.

You can take a look back at all the education-related news from the Capitol in our review here.

But the session’s end brings us to our question of the week:


Powered by Typeform

Most weeks, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Specifics vary widely as ‘competency-based’ learning gains steam

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/11/2015 - 13:06

In a suburb just outside of Denver, Principal Sarah Gould stands outside a fifth-grade classroom at Hodgkins Elementary School watching students work. This classroom, she explains, is for students working roughly at grade level. Down the hall, there are two other fifth-grade classrooms. One is labeled “Level 2 and 3,” for students who are working at the second and third-grade levels. The other is for students who are working at a middle-school level.

But some of these students won’t necessarily stay in these classrooms for the whole school year. The students will move to new classrooms when they’ve mastered everything they were asked to learn in their first class. This can happen at any time during the year.

“We have kids move every day. It’s just based on when they’re ready,” Gould said.

Six years ago, Hodgkins Elementary worked the same way most schools and districts do: Students were assigned to a class for a fixed amount of time and were promoted when the time ended, assuming that they had gained the skills they needed for the next class — and sometimes even if they had not.

Now, the school is part of a growing movement toward “competency-based education,” which replaces “seat time” with skills as the main standard for whether students are promoted. Competency-based education goes by many names — mastery-based, proficiency-based and performance-based education — but the idea is the same: Students are measured by what they’ve learned, not the amount of time they’ve spent in the classroom.

Innovations in technology and how teachers can monitor students’ progress, along with changes to regulations about how long students must spend in class, have made it possible for schools and districts to adopt competency-based systems in an effort to use students’ time in school more effectively.

At least 40 states have one or more districts implementing competency education, and that number is growing, according to a 2013 KnowledgeWorks report with the most up to date numbers on the trend.

But competency-based education doesn’t look the same across the country. In fact, advocates say schools and districts fall on a “competency continuum,” based on which aspects of competency education they’ve implemented.

When advocates talk about a “pure” model of competency education, they describe a model that isn’t bound by grade levels or the Carnegie unit, a measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject in class. At that end of the spectrum, schools like Hodgkins or New York City’s Olympus Academy have essentially gotten rid of standard K-12 grade levels and only move students to the next learning level if they’ve proven they’ve mastered the concepts. (The schools generally must track students by grade level for funding and state testing purposes, even if their classes are not designed for single-age cohorts. Some advocates, including officials in Hodgkins’s district, want state policies changed to allow competency-based learning schools to track students differently.)

“Education systems in the past have been notorious for jumping on bandwagons but nothing substantially changes under the surface. In our model everything has changed under the surface,” said Oliver Grenham, chief education officer of Hodgkins’s district, Adams County School District 50 in Colorado.

But at the same time, advocates acknowledge that the “full system overhaul” is a heavy lift and that schools need to start from a place that makes the most sense for them based on their time, resources, and community support. For some districts, the clearest path has been to create new schools based on the model, as Philadelphia did this year when it opened three high schools that assign students to “workshops” rather than classes.

The schools retain some of the traditional school organization, but are working toward replacing standard grading with a detailed, competency-based matrix that lets students know at all times where they stand and helps them understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

Traditional letter grades don’t give students much information about what they know and can do, said Thomas Gaffey, the technology coordinator at Building 21, one of the three Philadelphia schools. The competency-based evaluation he helped design “makes the learning process transparent,” he said.

More often, schools have nestled a competency-based philosophy within their existing operations, maintaining their grade-level arrangements while adapting how they assess student learning.

“We’re a hybrid, which is what I think appeals to people who look at our model,” said Brian Stack, principal of Sanborn High School in New Hampshire. “It’s not vastly different from what they do with a traditional model, but it’s not so far out on the spectrum that it’s unattainable for them to get to where we are.”

At Sanborn, students are still enrolled in traditional classes and still receive credit for class at the end of the year. But all the courses have defined core competencies and if students don’t gain those competencies, they have to do extra work in order to earn credit for the class, rather than simply accepting the lower grade. The school is also in the process of doing away with numerical grades in favor of a scale that ranges from “limited progress” to “exceeding expectations.”

“We grade kids every day,” Stack said. “The difference is, what are you doing with that grade? Are you using that as feedback to tell students how they’re doing and to inform instruction or are you just using it as a determination to say did they know it or not?”

Stack said as much as he would like for his school to be totally unbound by seat time, its model is still dictated by the school calendar.

“If we can’t move kids when they’re ready, we can at the very least try to personalize instruction to the extent possible when they’re with us,” he said.

Other schools offer their own reasons for maintaining grade levels while rolling out a competency-based approach.

After a competency-learning pilot in math yielded major gains for California’s Summit Preparatory charter schools, the network adopted the approach in most academic subjects — and considered going further.

“We thought eliminating grades was the gold standard ideal,” said Adam Carter, chief academic officer. “We thought, ‘Those stupid grade levels are holding us back.’”

That changed when Summit officials thought through what they would lose by doing away with grade levels and realized that students benefit by belonging to a fixed cohort that advances together. “If students can plug into a project that is rich and full of layers, we don’t need to get rid of grade levels,” he said.

Schools operated by Rocketship, a national charter school network, regroup students four to six times a day based on their academic skills, in a robust example of how educators can use student data to foster competency-based learning.

“But we still have grade levels because of the social-emotional needs of students, especially early elementary,” said CEO Preston Smith. “Five-year-olds need to be with 5-year-olds most of the day so they can develop the life skills they need to be successful.”

Advocates of competency-based learning say the diversity among schools’ approaches should be expected — and appreciated — as more experiments take shape.

“Each school and each district is on its own journey and they’re going to have different entry points,” said Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, which champions online and blended learning models that are often part of competency-based programs. “Most school leaders who are implementing this well … had been working on the building blocks for three to six years.”

Lillian Pace, senior director of national policy for KnowledgeWorks, said, “Naturally, you’re going to see a tremendous amount of diversity in implementation. … That’s healthy. We need to try different approaches. We need to figure out ultimately which methods are the most effective.”

For now, the experience of schools like Hodgkins suggests that competency-based education might help engage students in their learning.

When kindergarten teacher Jenn Dickman recently asked for volunteers to share their “data notebooks” with a visitor, her students rushed en masse to grab the binders.

Jayleen Vasquez was first in line. She flipped quickly through the pages—each a mini-progress report of her skills. At the top were headers such as, “I can read a Level D book with purpose and understanding” or “I can read 50 sight words in 100 seconds or less.”

Underneath were columns shaded in colorful crayon hues showing whether she’d met the goal, and if not, how much farther she had to go.

“I passed these. I got those two right and this one I just forgot one. I did not pass this one,” she said, gesturing to one page. Then she concluded with pride: “I passed all this.”

This story was produced as a collaboration among all news organizations participating in the Expanded Learning Time reporting project. Reporting was contributed by Sue Frey for EdSource California, and Dale Mezzacappa for the Philadelphia Notebook.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS officials to discuss racial disparities in discipline data

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/11/2015 - 09:51


A compromise on how to reduce the state's testing system was the only notable education bill that passed the legislative session that ended last week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

safe schools

Denver Public Schools officials will meet with the advocacy organization Padres Unidos to discuss racial disparities in student discipline data today. ( Denver Post )


Chalkbeat Colorado has added 132 more schools in 10 Colorado districts to its database of immunization compliance and exemption rates. The database—first published in February–now includes schools in the state’s 30 largest districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School funding

Douglas County School Board president Kevin Larsen said the school district shouldn't rush to put a tax increase on the November 2015 ballot. ( Douglas County News-Press )

But the outgoing Littleton Public Schools superintendent said his community couldn't wait for help from the state. That's why they asked voters to for more money in 2013. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Career readiness

School officials from Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver, Englewood and Jefferson County met Thursday with several large corporations hoping to forge partnerships to focus on students' job readiness, under the auspices of a federal program. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

Lunch time

Food trucks in Boulder are serving cool — and healthy — lunches to students. And the White House is taking notice. ( Denver Post )

Teacher contract talks

Negotiations between the Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association have centered on issues of scheduling and how the two want to tackle hiring in the future. ( Arvada Press )

School snapshots

Here's a closer look at Lafayette's Centaurus High School, one of five high schools to receive the first "School of Opportunity" gold designation. ( Daily Camera )

A school at Mount Saint Vincent received a donation of furniture that might help the students, who have been abused, focus. ( 9News )

a survivor's song

A Parker student, who lost her parents in a murder-suicide, has found her voice in her school's choir ( 9News )

Devil in the details

Researchers, grant-makers, and policymakers have long relied on enrollment numbers for the federally subsidized Free and Reduced-Price Lunch program. But how that number is calculated is about to change. ( NPR via KUNC )

Two cents

Chalkbeat readers predict problems for the charter schools that are taking on more special needs students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

There were plenty of education winners and losers at the Capitol this legislative session, opines the Denver Post. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing bill the one notable achievement in education policy

EdNewsColorado - Sat, 05/09/2015 - 13:16

The sense of relief was palpable in the Capitol last Wednesday after it became clear that lawmakers had come together behind a compromise bill to reduce the amount of statewide standardized testing.

Sen. Rollie Heath called it “the absolute elation of getting the testing bill done.” The Boulder Democrat participated in the negotiations that led to the final bill.

Testing was education issue No. 1 for the legislature from the first day to the last, but things didn’t start to come together until the last week of the session.

School safety and K-12 finance were the year’s other big issues. Beyond those, things dropped off pretty quickly, even though the sheer volume of education bills was at record levels.

Despite split party control of the General Assembly, partisanship wasn’t a deciding factor for key education measures. Both houses had their own main testing bills, each backed by different coalitions of Democrats and Republicans.

In the end it was an unsatisfying session for lawmakers and activist groups that wanted big changes in the state’s system of academic standards, tests, school and district ratings, and educator evaluations. But the way things turned out was a relief for interest groups that have helped build the current system over the last seven years.

Some 119 education-related bills were introduced this year, a big increase from 80-90 of recent sessions (See this year’s full list in the 2015 Education Bill Tracker.).

This year’s mortality rate also was high; 74 of those education bills were killed, or 62 percent. In recent sessions the percentage of bills “postponed indefinitely” ran in the 30-40 percent range.

The high bill count can be attributed partly to lots of “statement” bills, both from freshmen fulfilling campaign promises and from veteran lawmakers. And an unusually high number of higher education bills were introduced. Many of those were unsuccessful Democratic proposal aimed at the rising costs of college.

Much debate, last-minute action on testing

Most legislators felt they had to do something this session about testing. The problem was it took them a long time to figure out what that “something” was.

Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker / File photo

Discussions were “back and forth and back and forth,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker and a key figure in the ultimate compromise.

The 2015 legislature was teed up to face the issue by the 2014 legislature, which created a study committee to review the state testing system and make recommendations for changes. That panel, the Standards and Assessments Task Force, generally recommended that state tests be reduced to the so-called federal minimums, but it couldn’t reach agreement on what to do about 9th grade and social studies testing.

Parent groups, usually referred to at the Capitol as “The Moms,” had been energized by expansion of testing into the 11th and 12th grades. They pushed for big rollbacks in exams, protection of parent opt-out rights and greater privacy protections for student data. Allied groups agitated to pull Colorado out the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing network. The Colorado Education Association also pushed for less testing.

On the other side, education reform groups rallied to warn against radical testing changes that they felt could compromise the quality of student and school achievement data and thereby threaten past education reforms intended to improve educational equity for low-income and minority students.

The 11 testing-related bills proposed a range of options from restrained tinkering to wholesale uprooting of the Common Core and PARCC and wide-open freedom for districts to choose their own tests.

Little progress was made as the session clock ticked toward adjournment.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, noted the debate “was polarized most of the time.” House Speaker Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, said, “This came close to falling apart almost every day of the session.”

Finally, with less than two weeks to go, legislative leaders took the issue in hand and convened a bipartisan group of senior lawmakers to hammer out the compromise.

Heath acknowledged that a “nudge” was needed “to make sure something happened.”

In the end, said Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, “It really was this organic confluence.”

Key elements of the compromise (HB1323) significantly reduce high school testing, streamline school readiness and early literacy assessments, guarantee parent opt-out rights, give districts and teachers a bit of breathing room on use of assessment data for accreditation and evaluation, and offer some modest steps toward district testing flexibility. Gov. John Hickenlooper said he would sign the bill.

A stand-alone bill on opting out of tests died, as did a measure on student data privacy. Both are issues closely related to assessment reform.

Get the details on the testing measure here.

K-12 funding will rise, but little dent made in negative factor

The session opened with hopes of further shrinking the state’s K-12 shortfall this session, building on decisions made by the legislature in 2014, when finance was the top education issue.

Hickenlooper proposed a $200 million increase in K-12 support on top of automatic increases triggered by inflation and enrollment growth. On top of the governor’s plan, the state’s superintendents proposed adding $70 million, with some of that money earmarked for at-risk students.

Additional proposals to divert various surplus funds to K-12 and to increase support for full-day kindergarten and at-risk preschool capacity all quickly died.

The final version of next year’s school finance bill (SB267) will increase K-12 funding by $306 million of state and local funds to about $6.23 billion. Most of that is driven by constitutionally required hikes to cover enrollment growth and inflation.

Gov. John Hickenlooper

Instead of Hickenlooper’s $200 million, the key discretionary increase in the bill is $25 million that will be applied to the funding shortfall, the so-called negative factor. That shortfall currently is about $880 million. Average per-pupil funding would rise to $7,295 from this year’s $7,026. Another $5 million was added and will be divvied up among school districts based on at-risk student enrollment. And a separate bill gives $10 million in per-pupil aid to small rural districts.

Funding “one place we didn’t get as far as we would have liked,” Hickenlooper said the day after the session adjourned.

See how your district will fare in this Department of Education spreadsheet.

The finance bill also includes a legislative “promise” that if district tax revenues rise more than currently forecast, the 2016 legislature will consider adding that amount to 2015-16 school funding. The usual practice when local revenue increases rise is to reduce the state contribution by the same amount.

Plans for a bigger cut in the negative factor were blighted by the state’s paradoxical financial situation. A healthy economy is driving higher state tax collections and other revenues. But that income has pushed the state above the annual spending limit imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which is enshrined in the state constitution. That surplus triggers refunds to taxpayers. And some of the money in the 2015-16 state budget was earmarked for transportation and building construction by a prior state law.

Lawmakers could have asked voters for permission to keep the excess revenue rather than refund it, but there was no interest in doing that.

Late in the session some Democratic senators pushed hard to boost school spending by taking money from the dedicated account called the State Education Fund. The problem is that using money from the education fund for basic school support puts additional obligations on the main General Fund in future years. So that effort was rebuffed in the face of warnings that spending from the education fund would consume all the new money available to the general fund in 2016-17.

As a nod to anxieties about school funding, a bipartisan group of House members proposed a two-year legislative study of K-12 finance (HB1334), with the study panel empowered to recommend proposed laws and constitutional changes to the 2016 and 2015 sessions. That bill sailed out of the House but died for murky reasons in a Senate committee, and the House ultimately chose not to press the issue.

School funding may be a tougher issue in 2016. Rising state collections from both taxes and fees have pushed state revenues past constitutional spending limits, triggering taxpayer refunds. A last-minute bill proposed to take some Medicaid-related fees out of that calculation, freeing up tax revenues for education and transportation. That failed in the Senate, meaning the 2016 legislative will have little or no flexibility in raising K-12 funding.

Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder

“We are facing a budget crisis,” Hullinghorst said. “As we reach more of a crisis on the budget there may be more interest in this,” referring to the proposed change in Medicaid fees.

Focus turned to school security

School safety emerge as a somewhat unexpected education issue this session, with most of the attention on a bill that creates limited liability for schools districts in cases of school violence (SB213). In the past districts have had immunity from such lawsuits.

The bill was named the “Claire Davis Act” in honor of the Arapahoe High School student killed in a December 2013 shooting. The bill had the support of top bipartisan leadership in both houses and was backed by skillful lobbying.

To the relief of districts, the bill gained some guardrails along the way. The main elements of the measure allow districts and charter schools to be held liable if they don’t use “reasonable care” in protecting students, faculty or staff from “reasonably foreseeable” acts of violence – murder, first-degree assault and sexual assault — that lead to serious bodily injury or death. Damage caps would be set at $350,000 for individuals and $900,000 in cases of multiple victims.

A key change gives districts two years to implement new safety policies before they could be held liable for incidents. And individual teachers would be protected from liability.

The bill also makes it easier for victims’ families to gain information about violent incidents before cases go to trial.

Two other bills passed by lawmakers have their roots in the Davis tragedy.

One measure (SB214) establishes a legislative study committee on school violence and youth mental health. A second bill (HB1273) is designed to improve statewide reporting of violent incidents at schools.

Other education issues

Higher education – Two-dozen bills related to higher education were introduced this session, part of the reason for the inflation in the total number of education-related bills. Most were of little consequence and included various changes in resident tuition eligibility, measures related to campus sexual assault, all those Democratic bills on tuition and student loan costs and various technical measures. Higher education officials were concerned about possible legislative tinkering with the performance funding system created by the 2014 legislature, but the changes made were minor.

Workforce development – This issue was an under-the-radar bipartisan favorite this session. Several bills intended to improve the quality of worker skills for new jobs were introduced. Among those related to education measures to expand the number of high schools that offer early colleges programs (HB1270), create new career pathways programs for students (HB1274), and add career and technical courses to programs eligible for concurrent enrollment (HB1275).

Ideological bills – These didn’t fare well in a split-control legislature. Take for example the Republican-backed parents’ bill of rights (SB77) and the Democratic bill to give the state veto power over schools’ use of American Indian mascots and symbols (HB1165). The first was killed in the Democratic House and the second in the GOP Senate.

Big ideas, little success – Proposals to pay extra stipends to high-performing teachers who work in low-performing schools, to create a system of electronic vouchers, and to provide colleges scholarships to the top graduates of every Colorado high school all dropped by the wayside. But a bill that would allow the state to create “pay for success” contracts to allow private funding for social services like early childhood programs did pass.

Other ideas that didn’t make it – Split partisan control and lack of money were factors in the high mortality rate for some education bills. Among other proposals that died were:

  • Expansion of full-day kindergarten and preschool for at-risk students
  • Changes in regulation of multi-district online schools
  • Increased salaries for community college faculty
  • Expansion of the state Charter School Institute’s ability to authorize schools in struggling districts
  • A grant program for districts to expand use of student learning objectives as a way to measure student growth as teacher performance
  • Expansion of free meal programs in schools
  • State sale of bonds to shore up pension funds for teachers and for state employees
Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: How Teach For America is switching up its recruiting process

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/08/2015 - 18:14
  • The co-CEO of Teach For America explains how, in response to the organization’s recruiting challenges, it is starting the process earlier and customizing teaching positions to applicants’ interests. (Forbes)
  • A Center for American Progress analyst argues that if we really want to show appreciation for teachers, we would give them a raise. (U.S. News & World Report)
  • HBO’s John Oliver takes on standardized testing, arguing that tests are taking too big a toll on students. (YouTube)
  • One advocate takes Oliver to task over his logic, but also concedes that the education field needs a better sense of humor. (Justin Cohen)
  • And, in response to the clip, a Pearson official defends testing’s role in ensuring equity for students. (Answer Sheet)
  • Data from 13 million students who took international math exams show that those who think of math as a set of connected ideas do better than those who memorize steps. (Hechinger Report)
  • Stephen Colbert is helping fund every grant request from South Carolina teachers on the crowdfunding site DonorsChoose, with nearly $800,000 going to more than 800 teachers at 375 schools. (Greenville News)
  • Michael Petrilli argues that one reason the opt-out movement is bigger in New York and New Jersey than elsewhere in the country is the strength of teachers unions. (Flypaper)
  • Two new reports suggest that schools should be skipping more high-achieving children through grades, but district policies often get in the way. (NPR Ed)
  • More schools serving low-income students are making it a priority to get kids taking Advanced Placement classes. (WUNC)
  • During Teacher Appreciation Week, recognizing some of pop culture’s more nuanced depictions of the profession. (Washington Post)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers predict problems for charters taking on more special needs students

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/08/2015 - 13:39

On Monday we asked our readers: Should charter schools be asked to serve the same proportion of students with special needs as district-run schools? If so, how much oversight should districts have over these programs and how much flexibility should charters have to create new programs for students with special needs?

We asked this because, as we reported last week, Denver Public Schools is working with its charters to offer services for more students with severe needs. You can (and should) read Jaclyn Zubrzycki’s report here.

Rocco Fuschetto, superintendent of the Ignacio School District, emailed: 

If charter schools want to be in the game, they need to be on the same playing field as any district and accept all students as we do in the public schools.  Once that happens, you will see their scores drop and public schools will out- perform many charter schools.

Reader Bob Harold thinks if Denver charter schools start taking on more special needs students their scores will go down and will prove a longstanding claim that some charters are self-selecting students:

If they start accepting special education students then it’s a tacit admission that even though they’re “public schools” they’ve been excluding special needs students in the past. And their test scores will start going down since they won’t be able to systematically exclude lower-performing students.

If they continue to refuse to serve special needs students then it’s just more evidence that people like me will use to argue that “public” charters systematically exclude the most needy students (which artificially inflates charter’s test scores) and that charters are simply a mechanism to resegregate public schools.

As always, we invite you to be part of the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.


Categories: Urban School News

Expanded Chalkbeat immunization database is here, with state database coming in 2017

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/08/2015 - 13:08

Chalkbeat Colorado has added 132 more schools in 10 Colorado districts to its database of immunization compliance and exemption rates. The database—first published in February–now includes schools in the state’s 30 largest districts.

The latest round of additions includes schools in the Pueblo 70, Cheyenne Mountain, Widefield, Fountain-Fort Carson, Lewis-Palmer, Adams 14, Mapleton, Montrose & Olathe, Eagle County and Roaring Fork districts.

Compliance rates indicate the percentage of students who are fully immunized, have signed exemptions, or are “in process” of getting required shots. Under state law, parents can opt their children out of some or all shots by signing an exemption form.

Among the highlights from the latest batch of data:

  • 16 schools had exemption rates of 10 percent or higher, with 11 of those in Colorado Springs-area districts.
  • The school with the highest exemption rate–22 percent– was The Vanguard Junior High School, a charter school in the Cheyenne Mountain district.
  • 64 schools, or nearly half the group, had exemption rates lower than 5 percent.
  • 11 schools had compliance rates lower than 90 percent, including four in the Fountain-Fort Carson district.
  • 60 schools had compliance rates of at least 99 percent, indicating that staff diligently track and collect student immunization and exemption paperwork.

State database coming

Prior to 2014-15, schools were not required to publicly disclose their immunization and exemption rates. That changed with the passage of House Bill 14-1288 last spring. Now, all Colorado schools, including charter schools, private schools and child care facilities, must reveal their rates upon request.

It’s well known that Colorado has lower immunization rates and higher exemption rates than most other states, but until now there has been no way to access the rates for individual schools. School-by-school rates can provide a valuable yardstick for parents, particularly those with babies, young children or immunosuppressed family members who are more vulnerable to disease.

Transparency will increase even more in the 2016-17 school year when the state health department unveils a new public database of school immunization and exemption rates. While HB 14-1288 did not require such a database, recent rule changes by the State Board of Health moved the project forward.

In addition to clearing the way for the state database, the recent rule changes will also create a set date–Dec. 1–by which districts must report immunization and exemption rates. Currently, there is no established deadline for reporting.

Diana Herrero, deputy chief of the health department’s immunization branch, said part of the hope in establishing the Dec. 1 deadline is that the database can be published early in the next calendar year, during the annual school choice window.

It remains to be seen how or if the public release of rates will affect parents’ school choice decisions, but some advocates of the law believe it could make a difference. After the publication of Chalkbeat’s database in February, some Colorado parents upset about low compliance rates said they would consider moving their children to different schools next year.

Efforts to improve rates

With a brighter spotlight this year on school immunization rates, some districts are making efforts to boost their rates, either by improving data collection processes or educating parents about immunization resources.

In Cheyenne Mountain, district staff have tightened up the enrollment process so that families who show up without immunization paperwork are immediately contacted by nursing staff. Previously, they were sometimes offered exemption forms by the secretarial staff, who typically were the first school employees parents saw, said Carolena Steen, deputy superintendent for student services.

Other districts are making efforts to ensure families have easy access to immunizations. Next week, the Widefield district will host a low-cost vaccination clinic offered by the county health department.

The district’s Director of Communications Samantha Briggs said while immunizations haven’t been a topic of  concern in the district this year, administrators figured, “Let’s take advantage of this and just kind of make it easier on parents.”

“We have a pretty good [compliance] rate, but we just thought let’s try to make it better,” she said.

Database terminology

Compliance rates include the percentage of students who have gotten all required immunizations, have signed exemption forms, or are “in process” of getting up to date on their immunizations. High compliance rates indicate that schools are doing a good job collecting immunization and exemption paperwork, and ensuring that students are complying with state law. High compliance rates don’t necessarily mean that all those students are fully immunized. Some “compliant” students may be partially immunized or unimmunized.

Exemption rates represent the percentage of students whose parents have opted them out of some or all required shots. In Colorado, there are three types of exemptions: medical, religious, and personal belief. The majority of parents who excuse their children from immunizations use personal belief exemptions. Exemption rates are one component of compliance rates.

High exemption rates—around 10 percent or higher–can have serious implications when there are outbreaks of contagious diseases like measles or whooping cough. That’s because herd immunity usually requires immunization rates of 90-95 percent. If too many students in a school have opted out of shots, the spread of disease is more likely. The same may be true when compliance rates drop below 90 percent, even if exemption rates are low.

To find immunization compliance and exemption rates for schools not listed in this database, make a direct request to the school or district of interest. Then let us know that information and we’ll add it to our database.

Note: Most districts provided compliance and exemption rates for their charter schools, but some did not. If you would like to add your school’s or district’s rates, please send an email to

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Dougco wins ruling in campaign spending case

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/08/2015 - 09:46

Campus sharing

Denver's Manual High School community is starting to consider the implications of possibly sharing the campus with a middle school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Mood of teachers

A periodic survey of Colorado teachers finds overall job satisfaction is up but confidence in evaluations has dropped. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Different kid of rating

Seven Colorado high schools have been designated as “schools of opportunity” by a program that seeks to rate schools on how well they help students succeed, not just by test scores. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Decision overturned

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in favor of the Douglas County School District, reversing a Denver judge and saying district officials did not violate campaign laws during a 2013 election. ( Denver Post, 9News )

Dual enrollment

The percentage of Colorado high school students also enrolled in college classes continues to rise, according to a new state report. ( Denver Post )

Human Resources

The Englewood school district has narrowed its list of superintendent candidates to four finalists. ( Englewood Herald )


Thompson School District board members don't agree on the definition of equitable funding for charter schools and are looking at different factors in addressing what some say isn't enough funding for these schools. ( Reporter-Herald )

Growth spurt

The Stargate Academy charter in Thornton has broken ground on a $51 million, 43-acre campus. ( 9News )

At odds

Contract negotiations between the Greeley school district and its teachers union will continue into the summer. ( Greeley Tribune )

Police report

Five students ingested marijuana at Denver's Skinner Middle School. Last month two boys were arrested after allegedly bringing loaded guns to the school. ( Denver Post )

Back to class

Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee taught P.E. classes in three district elementary schools earlier this week. ( CBS4 )

Categories: Urban School News

Survey: Teacher confidence in evaluations lower than two years ago

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 18:43

A biennial survey of Colorado teachers finds that while more teachers are satisfied with overall working conditions at their schools than in 2013, fewer are confident in the helpfulness of state teacher evaluation systems and assessment data than in the past.

The Teaching, Empowering, Leading & Learning survey, or TELL, has been administered by the New Teacher Center every two years since 2009. It was commissioned by the state legislature as a way to evaluate the working conditions of teachers.

Overall, 84.8 percent of teachers agreed their school is a good place to work and learn, up from 82.7 percent in 2013. That’s despite a statewide budget crunch and changes to standardized assessments that have drawn complaints from teachers, administrators, and families across the state.

But in the first survey since significant changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system have gone into effect, just 51.7 percent of teachers agreed that teacher evaluations help improve instructional strategies. That’s down from 61.5 percent in 2013. Fewer agreed that teacher evaluations are fair than in the past: 73.7 percent in 2015, compared to 79.8 percent in 2013.

This is the first school year that school districts have been required to implement new evaluation systems for teachers and principals as part of Senate Bill 10-191. The law required annual evaluations for the first time. It also required districts to tie half of teachers’ evaluations to multiple measures of students’ academic growth, though districts had flexibility in how much to weight student growth this year due to changes in the state’s assessment.

The drop in teachers who agree that evaluations are improving instruction and fair doesn’t come as a surprise, said Katy Anthes, the executive director of educator effectiveness at the Colorado Department of Education.

“When you go through a major transformative change in how you do personnel evaluations, it’s not unexpected that we’d see a drop,” Anthes said. “We’re very aware that a lot of learning has to take place.”

Anthes said that data showed that teachers’ trust in their school leadership influenced their views on evaluations: Approximately 84 percent of teachers who ranked their school leader highly said evaluations were fair, more than 10 percentage points more than the state average.

Teachers who are newer also have a more favorable take on evaluations: 60 percent of novice teachers agreed that evaluations positively affect instruction, compared to 48 percent of experienced teachers.

Fewer teachers agreed that data from state assessments is available in time to affect instructional practice. Just 32.1 percent agreed, compared to 44.4 percent in 2013. Due to new standardized tests, teachers will not receive results from this year’s assessments until well into next school year.

Overall, teachers’ opinions on school and teacher leadership in their schools had slightly improved since 2013.

This year, 32,000 Colorado teachers in public and charter schools — 51 percent of all the state’s public schol teachers — completed the survey.

Some districts’ results are not publicly available because too few teachers took the survey. For instance, just 573 of Denver’s 6,729 teachers took the half-hour survey.

In districts where data is available, some interesting local changes are apparent. For instance, in Douglas County, 62.8 percent of teachers felt class sizes are reasonable, compared to 47 percent in 2013. Students in Douglas County had raised concerns about class size in 2012.

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado high schools honored for providing opportunity

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 18:05

Seven Colorado high schools have been designated as “schools of opportunity” by a program that seeks to rate schools on how well they help students succeed, rather than by more traditional metrics such as test scores.

Participating schools were reviewed on practices including effective student and faculty support systems, community outreach, health and psychological support, judicious and fair discipline policies, little or no tracking, and high-quality teacher induction and mentoring.

Organizers of the program believe that more common rating methods often give top designations to schools with affluent student bodies and undervalue the work done at schools with more diverse populations.

Receiving a “gold” designation were Centaurus High School in Lafayette, Grand Valley High School in Garfield County and the Jefferson County Open High School.

Designated as “silver” schools were Center High School, Durango High School, Long View High School in Lakewood and Mapleton Early College High School in Thornton.

Ten high schools in New York state also received designations. The effort hopes to expand to additional states next school year.

The program is directed by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder and funded by the Ford Foundation and the National Education Association’s NEA Foundation. The project is being led by CU’s Kevin Welner and Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y.

Learn more about the program and read what reviewers said about the individual schools here.

Categories: Urban School News

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