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Rise & Shine: Schools’ concussion policies in the spotlight

EdNewsColorado - 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

EdNewsColorado - 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

Another change proposed to rating policy

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 12:47

In August of 2013, CPS officials announced they would make the school rating system more comprehensive, looking at multiple factors, including college enrollment and how particular groups of students were doing, and change the ratings from three "levels" to five "tiers" to make it more nuanced.

But this new rating system does not seem to be working out.

Schools have yet to see the results for 2013-14 and now CPS is announcing yet another change. The CPS board meeting agenda posted this morning includes an amendment to the comprehensive performance policy that would retain a three-level system but would add "Level 1+" and "Level 2+."

Also, it adds a paragraph that would allow CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to keep a school to at "Level 1+"  (the highest level) or "Level 1" if the school experienced a “significant event.” Significant events are defined as a change in student population, teaching staff, principal, academic program or “any other event that had a significant impact.”

That Byrd-Bennett could overrule the rating system’s results would be unprecedented. It is sure to raise the ire and suspicion of principals and parents who are already suspicious of the ratings because they are late. Even before the more recent amendments were announced, one principal said he thinks that CPS officials are trying to protect particular schools that didn’t do well under the new policy.

In a statement released Monday afternoon*, Byrd-Bennett said that "schools that experienced a significant change that may have contributed to a lower rating deserve a full school year to recover without an impact to their rating.  By giving schools a one-year reprieve, we are recognizing the effect of the change on students, teachers and leadership without unfairly burdening the school with the additional requirements of a lower level school.”

District officials said the new ratings will be released "in the coming weeks" but did not specify when. The ratings are usually released in late September and given to parents as part of a school progress report on the November report card pickup days, which were last week.

This would be the second major change since CPS adopted a comprehensive rating system. In August of this year, CPS already had decided to give schools two ratings, one based on multiple measures and the other based solely on test scores. Schools get to claim the higher of the two ratings. Many suspected these changes were made to protect high-performing schools that didn’t do well on the other factors. ​

Ratings are used by parents to help choose schools. Principals say they are frustrated that the ratings are not available yet, especially if they are expecting to do better, because they use the ratings to market their schools.

The ratings are also used by officials as they decide what schools to close or turn around.

*This story has been updated to include Byrd-Bennett's statement.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Discipline reporting push, CPS schools in football semi-finals and Senate Bill 16

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 11:43

Young advocates will go to Springfield this week to press lawmakers to pass a bill that would make it mandatory for school districts to release information on punitive discipline practices. Jose Sanchez, coordinator for the student group VOYCE, says the group would like to see the legislation passed in the veto session. The bill calls for the reporting of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and student retention. It also requires school districts to report law enforcement involvement, including arrests--something already required by the federal government. And it prohibits schools from charging students fees for misbehavior, a controversial practice that the Noble charter schools once used but abandoned last year under political pressure.

The bill also calls for school districts to report when students are removed to alternative settings. In revising its Code of Conduct this past Spring, CPS officials created a loophole that allows schools to transfer students to what is called a Safe School--a special school historically reserved for expelled and dangerous students awaiting expulsion--as an alternative to expulsion, without any due process, Catalyst reported this summer. Without this bill, it will be near impossible to find out how many students were given this "disciplinary reassignment."

Under the bill, schools with the highest rates of exclusionary discipline would need to submit improvement plans to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Sanchez says that some school superintendents are pushing against the bill. But he thinks the stories of students who have been suspended for small things or things that they couldn’t help, like being near a fight but not in it, have helped to convince lawmakers that some light needs to be shined on the issue.

After years of having advocates fight for the information, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett released school-level suspension and expulsion data. However, that data, which cover the first semester of last year, have not been updated. Byrd-Bennett also announced a revision of the Student Code of Conduct that made suspension and expulsion the punishment of last resort. However, Sanchez says he still hears stories of students being suspended for what seems like insignificant reasons. For example, one boy, who is struggling since his father passed away, was suspended for missing school.

2. Three cheers… The football teams of Simeon and Phillips made it to the state semi-finals--the first time two public league teams have been in the final four, reports DNA info. The last public league team that made it this far was Hubbard’s 2005 team,  and the last state championship won by the public league was Robeson in 1982. Simeon’s coach Dante Culbreath says that the achievements show the “growth in the public league.”

Phillips seems to be beating the odds in other ways. It is a turnaround school, managed by the Academy of Urban School Leadership. Though ratings aren’t out for this year, it earned the district’s top rating last year. Yet like other public high schools in Chicago, it still is losing students. This year only 614 enrolled, which makes fielding a strong football team even more impressive. Simeon, the career and technical education school attended by the Bulls' Derrick Rose, has a middle rating and has been able to maintain a healthy student body of 1,400 students, though it also has lost students.

The importance of a strong sports program was underscored in a 2009 Catalyst story on the achievement gap between black male students and other racial/gender groups. Researchers say organized athletics can provide a sense of structure and discipline for youngsters. “There’s a point when you realize that stability is really the beginning point of academic achievement,” said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Sports in Society, a Boston-based sports research and advocacy group.

3. Bring them back… WBEZ’s Curious City returned to the question of whether CPS should bring back truancy officers, a position the district eliminated more than 20 years ago to help balance its budget. Curious City had previously looked into the history of truancy officers, but in this update to that story, the reporter actually interviews someone who used to have the job.

Patrick Nelson, who was a full-time truancy officer in the 1990s, offers an interesting and timely perspective. He says he tried to be “as positive and uplifting with children as possible, to show them that someone cared — and noticed — they were missing.”

This summer, a state-appointed task force suggested CPS create a position similar to truancy officer. These “attendance coordinators” would go out to find absent students fortified with a background in psychology or social work and training in data analysis and counseling.   The task force was convened in response to a 2012 Chicago Tribune investigation into the “empty desk epidemic." Catalyst reported earlier this year that chronic absenteeism and truancy increased in 2013, despite all the additional attention, though the numbers fell slightly last school year. Nelson told Curious City he thought the state was asking for too much in the catch-all “attendance coordinator” position: “You put too much plumbing in the works, you’re gonna get clogs.”

4. Senate Bill 16's future... Lawmakers are set to take up Senate Bill 16 -- the proposed legislation to revamp how schools are funded -- on Tuesday at the start of the Legislature’s fall veto session. But as an Associated Press article points out, it’s unlikely to get very far before the January inauguration of Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner.

Republicans in the Illinois House criticized their Democratic colleagues for excluding the GOP from summer meetings about SB 16. “Sadly, the way in which the majority party presented it and went into hiding was a terrible disservice to taxpayers and families whose children are part of the public education system,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

Meanwhile the parent group Raise Your Hand came out against the bill over the weekend, noting it brings no additional revenue to schools. “Our schools are severely underfunded and merely shifting inadequate dollars won’t change that,” Wendy Katten posted on the group’s Facebook page.  Raise Your Hand is asking legislators to pledge to support a funding reform bill only if it “includes a fair weighted formula, significant new funding for education and adequate resources for students with disabilities.”

5. Four more years … The U.S. Department of Education last week extended waivers for states to avoid compliance with the tough 2002 No Child Left Behind law. Forty-one states, including Illinois, had gotten waivers -- which were set to expire next year but can now be extended for up to four years, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Politico says the long extension “would carry the Obama administration’s policies well into the next presidential administration and possibly buy time for a congressional fix to the law,” which requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

To get the waivers, states must do more to show how they plan to intervene in low-performing schools, but, as Education Week reports, “they won’t have to provide any data to show their new systems are actually improving student achievement.”

Anne Hyslop, a senior analyst at Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit consulting organization in Washington, told EdWeek it doesn’t seem like the federal government is “really making significant changes [...] They are not necessarily doing anything new or ambitious, they are not collecting any new outcome data. It's kind of just the same old, same old."

 

 

 

 




Categories: Urban School News

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

EdNewsColorado - 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

EdNewsColorado - 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?

EdNewsColorado - 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

EdNewsColorado - 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

EdNewsColorado - 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

Most teachers get high ratings in second year of new system

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:05

More teachers evaluated under the district’s new rating system scored in the top two categories as “proficient” or “excellent” in the classroom, with elementary school teachers scoring higher than their counterparts in high schools.

The scores from evaluations conducted last year are from the second cycle of the REACH (Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago) Students system, which takes student test scores into account as well as classroom observations.

Non-tenured teachers, who had already been rated once using REACH, scored better than the small subset of tenured teachers who were being evaluated for the first time.

In the first cycle, only non-tenured teachers were rated with REACH; in last year’s second cycle, about 10 percent of tenured teachers were included.

This school year, in the third cycle, all tenured teachers will be evaluated and student performance on tests will account for 30 percent of ratings. (In the first two years, tests accounted for 25 percent of ratings.)

According to CPS data from the second cycle:

- 65 percent of the 7,031 evaluated teachers were rated proficient or excellent. In comparison, just 58 percent received these high ratings a year earlier.

- About 59 percent of tenured teachers were rated excellent or proficient, compared to 68 percent of non-tenured teachers.

- More than 8 percent of tenured high school teachers were rated unsatisfactory – the lowest category – compared to about 5 percent of elementary school teachers.

District officials said the improved performance of non-tenured teachers could be because they have had “additional experience with the evaluation […] Also, previous evaluations enabled principals and assistant principals to improve feedback and develop targeted support for teachers.”

Jennie Jiang, a research analyst at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research who has studied the new system, cautioned against comparing the ratings of non-tenured versus tenured teachers, because the pool of tenured teachers who were evaluated using REACH included only those who’d been rated poorly under the previous system or who hadn’t received any rating a year earlier.

“These are the teachers who were already struggling in the previous system or, for whatever reason, they had no rating,” she said. “We’re not really getting a sense of what ratings for tenured teachers would look like.”

Meanwhile, CPS officials said they are still looking into why ratings for elementary and high school teachers were different. Jiang said the issue merits further analysis, but offered some possible explanations. She said the observation rubric – known as the CPS Framework for Teaching – was orginally piloted more in elementary schools than in high schools, meaning that elementary school principals and teachers are more familiar with it.

In addition, in interviews with teachers, Jiang and her colleagues have found that more high school teachers complained that their principals were unfamiliar with their specific subject area – which could have negatively impacted the observations.

“Teachers don’t feel that their principals understand their specialization, which we heard more at high schools than elementary schools,” she said.

Jiang further added that "it’s easier in elementary schools to really observe that a student is engaged. Kids tend to get excited, and there are visual cues of engagement,” Jiang said. “High school students are different. They could be listening, but maybe they’re not showing it as much.”

In a report released last year, Jiang and her colleagues at the Consortium found that most teachers and administrators thought REACH provides helpful feedback. But researchers pointed to several important challenges, including an increased workload for principals and anxiety among teachers about using test scores as part of evaluations.

The consortium plans to release a follow-up to the report in two weeks.

Questions about delay

CPS released ratings to individual teachers on Oct. 30, more than a month after teachers got the data last year. In the weeks prior to receiving the ratings, many teachers had expressed anxiety over not knowing how they performed. Though teachers got immediate feedback from the observations, they did not know how students’ test scores affected their cumulative ratings.

The frustration mounted after principal observations for this year’s evaluations began in late September.

“No one has been clear on when we’re getting them,” one teacher said during a study group on the CPS Framework for Teaching last month organized by the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center.

(In collaboration with CPS, the Quest Center offers teachers regular study groups on different parts of the Framework, which is the rubric principals use to grade teacher performance.)

In a statement on the Chicago Teachers Union web site, officials called the delay “entirely unprofessional and unacceptable.”

“Educators started to receive new observations in their classrooms without full information from the previous year,” according to the statement. “Educators have a right to accurate, thorough and timely feedback at the end of a given school year so that over the summer, they can either begin or seek out new professional learning opportunities and state the process of adjusting their plans for the following school year based on complete feedback."

CPS officials said it took longer to release the data this year because of the higher number of teachers being evaluated.

"Adding these teachers increased the amount of time necessary to review and incorporate the data into composite scores," a district spokesperson said in a statement.

Categories: Urban School News

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

EdNewsColorado - 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?

EdNewsColorado - 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

Most teachers get high ratings in second year of new system

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 17:05

More teachers evaluated under the district’s new rating system scored in the top two categories as “proficient” or “excellent” in the classroom, with elementary school teachers scoring higher than their counterparts in high schools.

The scores from evaluations conducted last year are from the second cycle of the REACH (Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago) Students system, which takes student test scores into account as well as classroom observations.

Non-tenured teachers, who had already been rated once using REACH, scored better than the small subset of tenured teachers who were being evaluated for the first time.

In the first cycle, only non-tenured teachers were rated with REACH; in last year’s second cycle, about 10 percent of tenured teachers were included.

This school year, in the third cycle, all tenured teachers will be evaluated and student performance on tests will account for 30 percent of ratings. (In the first two years, tests accounted for 25 percent of ratings.)

According to CPS data from the second cycle:

- 65 percent of the 7,031 evaluated teachers were rated proficient or excellent. In comparison, just 58 percent received these high ratings a year earlier.

- About 59 percent of tenured teachers were rated excellent or proficient, compared to 68 percent of non-tenured teachers.

- More than 8 percent of tenured high school teachers were rated unsatisfactory – the lowest category – compared to about 5 percent of elementary school teachers.

District officials said the improved performance of non-tenured teachers could be because they have had “additional experience with the evaluation […] Also, previous evaluations enabled principals and assistant principals to improve feedback and develop targeted support for teachers.”

Jennie Jiang, a research analyst at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research who has studied the new system, cautioned against comparing the ratings of non-tenured versus tenured teachers, because the pool of tenured teachers who were evaluated using REACH included only those who’d been rated poorly under the previous system or who hadn’t received any rating a year earlier.

“These are the teachers who were already struggling in the previous system or, for whatever reason, they had no rating,” she said. “We’re not really getting a sense of what ratings for tenured teachers would look like.”

Meanwhile, CPS officials said they are still looking into why ratings for elementary and high school teachers were different. Jiang said the issue merits further analysis, but offered some possible explanations. She said the observation rubric – known as the CPS Framework for Teaching – was orginally piloted more in elementary schools than in high schools, meaning that elementary school principals and teachers are more familiar with it.

In addition, in interviews with teachers, Jiang and her colleagues have found that more high school teachers complained that their principals were unfamiliar with their specific subject area – which could have negatively impacted the observations.

“Teachers don’t feel that their principals understand their specialization, which we heard more at high schools than elementary schools,” she said.

Jiang further added that "it’s easier in elementary schools to really observe that a student is engaged. Kids tend to get excited, and there are visual cues of engagement,” Jiang said. “High school students are different. They could be listening, but maybe they’re not showing it as much.”

In a report released last year, Jiang and her colleagues at the Consortium found that most teachers and administrators thought REACH provides helpful feedback. But researchers pointed to several important challenges, including an increased workload for principals and anxiety among teachers about using test scores as part of evaluations.

The consortium plans to release a follow-up to the report in two weeks.

Questions about delay

CPS released ratings to individual teachers on Oct. 30, more than a month after teachers got the data last year. In the weeks prior to receiving the ratings, many teachers had expressed anxiety over not knowing how they performed. Though teachers got immediate feedback from the observations, they did not know how students’ test scores affected their cumulative ratings.

The frustration mounted after principal observations for this year’s evaluations began in late September.

“No one has been clear on when we’re getting them,” one teacher said during a study group on the CPS Framework for Teaching last month organized by the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center.

(In collaboration with CPS, the Quest Center offers teachers regular study groups on different parts of the Framework, which is the rubric principals use to grade teacher performance.)

In a statement on the Chicago Teachers Union web site, officials called the delay “entirely unprofessional and unacceptable.”

“Educators started to receive new observations in their classrooms without full information from the previous year,” according to the statement. “Educators have a right to accurate, thorough and timely feedback at the end of a given school year so that over the summer, they can either begin or seek out new professional learning opportunities and state the process of adjusting their plans for the following school year based on complete feedback."

CPS officials said it took longer to release the data this year because of the higher number of teachers being evaluated.

"Adding these teachers increased the amount of time necessary to review and incorporate the data into composite scores," a district spokesperson said in a statement.

Categories: Urban School News

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

EdNewsColorado - 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

Common sense on Common Core

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 13:34

David Coleman and his team developed the Common Core State Standards in slightly less than a year between 2009 and 2010.  That quick turnaround time begs the question, “How complicated can this be?” 

But in the four years since, education’s mandarins have produced landfills-worth of material to explain and promote the new standards--graphs, charts, curriculum documents, reference material, frameworks and guidelines.  Textbook publishers rushed out “old wine in new bottles,” by slapping on labels proclaiming, “Aligned with the Common Core!”  Yet no one has comprehensively piloted this new paradigm, and no one can provide enough longitudinal evidence on the effectiveness of any particular instructional approach for it. 

The end result is a web of complexity that too often results in pedagogical overload for administrators and classroom teachers who will have to do the work “in the trenches” of transforming teaching and learning.

Yet what the education world needs right now is a dose of perspective and common sense when it comes to the Common Core.

Putting content into context

First, the shift to Common Core-focused instruction will have to take into account two contradictory realities. One is education’s obsession with the amount of content students should process and remember. For confirmation of this, just skim through any of today’s 800 to 1,300-page high school textbooks. Juxtaposed with this focus on content is another reality: An unlimited amount of information is available, 24 hours a day, from practically anywhere on the planet, via the Internet.  Further, the amount of information, on any subject, is increasing at almost an exponential rate.  Soon, technology will not only be able to provide content, but to furnish the answers to questions about content.

As a result, it will become paramount for students to learn how to put content into a productive context, rather than just know what that content is. The justification for the Common Core rests on one overriding, hoped-for outcome: That students will develop the ability to think, not just remember information.

As I deconstruct what David Coleman and his team have wrought, I believe that the foundation of Common Core rests upon thinking skills represented by about two dozen key terms. Each of these terms—such as analyze, evaluate, develop, main idea, infer, theme and others—represents a specific cognitive process required for learning within the structure of Common Core.  Understanding what these terms actually mean is more important than being able to recite simple definitions.  For example, “metaphor” is often defined as, “A comparative not using the words ‘like’ or ‘as.’ ” However, if you ask a student, “What does that actually mean?” you will often get a simple shrug of the shoulders.  Indeed, “rock is a stone” is a comparative, but not a metaphor. 

The more useful meaning of metaphor can be expressed as, “understanding one thing in terms of another,” or describing something as being something else, even though it is not actually that something else, as in 'He is the black sheep of the family.”

For students who enter school with a vocabulary deficit, like many of those in Chicago Public Schools, it is all the more important for them to grasp the concepts inherent in each of the key terms that are the foundation of the Common Core’s thinking skills.

Giving ‘teaching to the test’ a positive spin

While the upcoming Common Core-aligned assessments such as the PARCC will focus exclusively on passages of text as the content of their tests, application of the thinking skills referenced above is not limited to the written word. “Content,” per se, can be anything--students can analyze a piece of music, develop an hypothesis, interpret data, determine a common theme that flows through an historical period, compare or contrast two images on the same subject, evaluate the claims made on a website, and so forth. 

Each of those italicized words is embedded repeatedly in the Common Core English Language Arts standards and collectively they form the basis of PARCC questions and prompts. Lesson content used to develop students’ understanding can even come from the students’ own cultural and social contexts, not being limited to strictly academic material.  Proficiency with these skills increases students’ development into competent adults.

Bottom line: The Common Core was devised not only as a way to level the pedagogical playing field from state to state, but also to prepare students to grow up as capable adults in an increasingly complex, global 21st Century economy and society that will require them to imagine things that do not yet exist, produce products and methods that matter to someone else, and communicate effectively with people different from themselves.

So if teaching through the prism of Common Core is intended to deepen students’ capacity to actually think in a variety of ways, and if assessments such as the PARCC actually measure to what degree this has been attained, perhaps “teaching to the test” could take on a more positive gloss.

 Ultimately, the Common Core has the potential for encouraging a greater interest in life-long learning as our children will live in a more dynamic world that will require constant adaptation to new and unfamiliar experiences.  In spite of some current efforts to derail the implementation of Common Core, the train has left the station. If past precedents regarding educational reform are any indication, Common Core, or some manifestation of it, is on track to remain with us for at least the next decade.

Bruce Taylor is a consultant and the author of  two books on arts education: "The Arts Equation"  and "Common Sense Arts Standards." He has served as a cultural envoy for the U.S. State Department and as the director of education for Washington National Opera.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Emanuel on risky bond deals, charter closure, selective segregation, teacher ed

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:20

In response to the Chicago Tribune series detailing how CPS is paying millions more as a result of risky bond deals, Mayor Rahm Emanuel tells reporters it’s too late to do anything about it: “Unfortunately there’s a thing called a contract.”

But as the Tribune points out -- and as the Chicago Teachers Union has been arguing for some time now -- the city could do as other government agencies around the country have done and seek legal recourse to recoup some of the money. “A federal rule requires banks to ‘deal fairly’ with governments when they underwrite government bonds,” the article notes. The investigation showed how bank officials failed to fully disclose the risks of the deals and drew a parallel to a suit filed by New Jersey’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. The suit alleges that its underwriter, UBS, “fraudulently urged the agency to temporarily change the terms of its contract so there would be no cap on the interest rate.” Attorneys for the state agency say the issue that came to light only after the contract was signed. That case is awaiting trial.

The story ends with a quote from Brad Miller, an attorney who has worked with the CTU on urging the city to take action on related deals known as interest-rate swaps: “I don’t think CPS needs to show fraud, just that the banks left out information about what could go wrong that might have scared CPS off.”

2. Easy come, not so easy go… An Ed Week story on charter school closures reminds us of another reason it would be good for the district to release school ratings that have been delayed with little explanation. These ratings help determine whether charter schools will be placed on academic warning or, if already on the warning list, allowed to stay open. Schools on the warning list get one year to improve. Last year, four campuses were put on the warning list and parents don’t yet know if the schools will remain open.

The story points out the difficulties of closing any school, charter or not, and highlights one instance in which an Indianapolis charter school was shut down after a cheating scandal. There, the mayor’s office, which serves as the authorizer, reached out to each family and held enrollment fairs where parents could talk to other schools and enroll their children on the spot.

One question for districts is the timing of announcements if charters are to close. If a closure is announced in the fall, sometimes teachers check out for the rest of the year. But waiting till spring cuts close to the deadlines to apply to new schools for the coming fall.  

Parents in Chicago would likely want to know soon because the application deadline for selective enrollment and magnet schools is December 12.

3. Where are the white kids? “Curious City” on WBEZ asks why so few white children attend public schools in Chicago and notes that just half of white children in the city attend public schools. The district’s white enrollment is just 9 percent.

The story doesn’t raise any new points about Chicago’s long-standing racial segregation. It features two white families to tell the larger story. One white family sent its children to the University of Chicago Laboratory School – an expensive private school where Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his own children. The other family sent its children to public school, Ray Elementary in Hyde Park. The first family said it has nothing against public schools, but that the elite Lab School was more convenient because one parent works at the university. The second family chose public schools for political reasons, saying they “believe in public education and always knew their children would attend CPS.”

In both families, at least one child attended the public Whitney Young for high school. The story reiterates the point that white children are disproportionately represented at elite selective and magnet schools. Other public schools are hyper-segregated, high-poverty and close to 100 percent African American.

4. Not just a Chicago problem... Chicago isn’t the only big city with selective public schools that disproportionately enroll white and Asian students.

A story from the Gotham Gazette looks at the admissions policies of districts with the highest number of elite public high schools -- Chicago, New York and Boston. Of the three, New York City has the biggest demographic mismatch. Nearly 60 percent of students at these high schools are Asian and another 24 percent are white, though whites and Asians are just 30 percent of the total student body.

Chicago is the only district of the three that reserves seats for students from low-income areas, so the racial makeup of these schools does more closely match the overall demographics. (The end of Chicago’s federal desegregation decree led to a whitening of CPS’s top schools.)

Ultimately, the article points out, the debates around admissions policies across the nation boil down to equity. “Are the terms of access to these scarce and coveted institutions fair - and where does the measurement of fairness begin?”

5. Teachers get easy As… A new report by a group that some educators love to hate, the National Council on Teacher Quality, says that it’s too easy to get A’s in university schools of education. The report states that an average of 44 percent of education majors qualified to graduate with honors, while only 30 percent of all graduating students got that distinction. One reason is that education courses were more likely to dole out easy assignments than other kinds of courses.

Like other reports by NCTQ, the study has been denounced by college programs and teacher unions that say the organization relies on faulty data and assumptions, according to a story in Inside Higher Ed. NCTQ developed its own “rigor standard” to rate the colleges, but most of the Illinois schools on the list have a caveat because the final score was “derived from less precise data.”

While it might easier to get good grades in teacher education programs, Illinois, like other states, have taken steps to make it harder to become a teacher. In 2010, Illinois raised the cut scores needed to pass the basic skills test, limited (but later scrapped) the number of times teachers could take the tests, and now requires teachers to pass a new performance assessment.

Categories: Urban School News

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

EdNewsColorado - 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

School quality ratings delayed, but no details on why

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 20:17

Parents picking up their children’s report card today and on Thursday were supposed to find out their school’s rating based on a new, more comprehensive accountability system, but for some reason CPS officials have not released the ratings, nor did they give out the colorful school progress report parents are accustomed to receiving.

Principals use the ratings as a way to market their schools. Also, parents use them to decide which schools to apply to or whether they want to keep their child at their current school. Applications for selective enrollment and magnet schools are due on December 12.

Since 2008, when CPS started rating schools in an attempt to help parents choose among them, the ratings have been released in early fall. The new rating system, which was announced in August 2013, has five levels rather than three and takes into account more factors, including college enrollment and how many students took tests.

In response to questions about why the ratings have not been released yet, CPS issued a vague statement: “CPS has spent considerable time reviewing data and examining the impact of this new system, which has caused a delay in releasing the new ratings. As a result, the school ratings were not included in student report cards. We expect to release more information on the new ratings in the near future."

The lack of information has fueled speculation that the ratings are being withheld for political reasons or because the ratings are not what leaders expected.  One principal said the delay raises questions about the validity of the ratings.

Parent Andrew Kaplan plans to go to next week’s board meeting to press the district to release the information. Kaplan’s daughter attends Mitchell Elementary School in West Town. He says the school's attendance rate, among other indicators, has improved. 

“They (the principal and staff) worked their tail off,” says Kaplan, who is involved in the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand. “We expect to do really well. I want them to get credit for their work.”

Kaplan also says it is ridiculous that the ratings are not out since applications for selective schools are due soon. “If there is a problem, CPS owes us some transparency,” he says. “Parents use these ratings to make important decisions about their children’s education.”

Morrill Principal Michael Beyer says that school ratings affect entire communities. He is working with local housing groups to try to bring in developers to rehab foreclosed homes. His school’s neighborhood of Gage Park was hit hard by the housing crisis, he says.

Morrill was rated Level 3, the lowest level, based on 2012-2013 data, but Beyer believes his school will be a Tier 2 school—the second to the highest rating—based on last year’s progress.

“What bothers me is that we are stuck at Level 3,” he says. “We are still considered by parents as a Level 3 school.”

Many suspected that there were problems with the new rating system when, this past August, district officials announced  that they were making a big alteration. After originally touting the fact that the new rating system was more comprehensive and was based on academic research, CPS officials asked the board to allow some schools to be rated solely on test scores.

Under the revised policy, schools will get two ratings: one based on multiple factors and one based solely on test scores. The higher of the two ratings would be their official rank in the district’s 5-tier system.

Under the new performance policy, growth on the NWEA exam counted for 45 percent of the school’s score, but Chief of Accountability John Barker told the board at the time that schools that already have high achievement would have a harder time achieving more growth in scores.

In addition to using the rating system to help parents, the district uses the ratings to to decide which schools will be recommended for closure or turnaround. CPS is now in the second year of its five-year moratorium on closings.

.

 

Categories: Urban School News

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

EdNewsColorado - 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

EdNewsColorado - 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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