Who Is In Charge

New testing system starts to take shape

Educators working on a new state testing system envision a continuously updated “electronic report card” that will measure the college and career readiness of every Colorado student from the earliest grades.

The State Board of Education was briefed Wednesday on the work of five subcommittees of experts that have been studying different aspects of testing.

Jo O’Brien, the assistant education commissioner who’s overseeing the process, said the subcommittees see an assessment system that “measures one thing – college and career readiness.”

“It’s pretty exciting,” said education Commissioner Dwight Jones.

A 2008 state law requires a new testing system to replace the current CSAP tests, although the 2010 legislature extended the deadline for the switchover because of budget problems. It’s expected that a new testing system won’t roll out any earlier than the spring of 2014.

The most intriguing part of O’Brien’s presentation was the description of a personalized online “dashboard” that would compile student test scores – and other work including student portfolios – and allow students and parents to track college and career readiness throughout students’ school years.

The subcommittees see the new system as “online, fast and lean,” O’Brien said.

The system will include an end-of-year test that can be used for school and district accountability but also likely will include interim or formative tests at intervals during the school year, designed to help teachers gauge student progress and take corrective action as necessary. The testing subcommittees see those tests as being chosen by districts, O’Brien said.

The annual assessments would be in math, reading, writing and science in 3rd through 8th grades, she said, although some subcommittee members also are pushing to add social studies. In the higher grades, tests (perhaps end-of-course exams) would be given to 9th and 11th graders, and a college placement test such as the ACT would continue to be offered.

Tests would be designed to measure both content knowledge and learning and behavior skills, O’Brien said.

Board members had plenty of questions.

Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, asked, “Has there been consideration of the amount of time that will be required of teachers?”

O’Brien said a technical advisory committee that’s also involved in the process already has raised that question.

State Board of Education member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District
State Board of Education member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District

Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, noted that parents of younger children aren’t necessarily thinking about college readiness – “That’s not part of our culture” – and said schools will need good parent communications when rolling out a new system. “How do we make parents comfortable with what we’re doing?”

Commenting on the issue of letting districts choose their own interim tests, Marcia Neal, R-3rd District, said, “You don’t want to just turn them loose” without some guidance and standards.

The subcommittees’ suggestions aren’t the last word on a new state testing system. Another body, the Assessment Stakeholders Committee, will discuss the issue at Sept. 20 and Oct. 15 meetings and make a recommendation to the state board. The department also is running a series of 13 public meetings around the state from Sept. 27 to Oct. 13 to gather comment.

The state board will receive the recommendations on Nov. 10 and then consider adoption of specifications for the new system on Dec. 8. (Also, the board has Oct. 21 and Nov. 29 sessions with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to discuss assessments and coordination between K-12 and higher education.)

That decision won’t include adoption of specific tests; that’s further down the road. It’s considered likely that Colorado may chose tests from one of the two multi-state groups that are developing new tests with the help of recent federal Race to the Top grants.

Budget skies getting darker?

Vody Herrmann, CDE school finance chief, told the board, “We certainly have the potential of further reductions in funding for K-12 education” in the current budget year.” She said state budget director Todd Saliman is urging school districts not to spend their federal Edujobs money until they have a better idea if the state will need to make K-12 cuts in the middle of the current budget year. “I’ve been sending that message out and asking people not to make quick decisions unless they have other reserves,” Herrmann said.

Colorado recently was certified for about $160 million from the Edujobs program, which is designed to save school district jobs. Herrmann said some 60 districts have filed the paperwork for their money.

The likelihood of budget cuts will become at least a bit clearer Monday when state economists submit quarterly revenue forecasts to the legislative Joint Budget Committee. Herrmann also reported that CDE is still trying to figure out how to help a handful of districts with cash-flow problems related to proposed Amendment 61, which would bar the state from incurring debt.

For fear of legal problems if 61 passes, the state has canceled a no-interest loan program that some districts have used to pay bills until local property tax revenues are collected each spring. The state has been able to help districts that receive substantial amounts of state aid by accelerating those payments. But, a few districts have sufficient property tax revenues and don’t need state support, so they’re in a bind.

Superintendent Linda Chapman of Estes Park, one of those districts, said the Estes schools will have to tap $4 million in reserves and use a bank line of credit to pay bills until property tax revenues come in next spring. “This is a ludicrous situation,” she said.

On Thursday the board will consider a resolution opposing 61 and two companion measures, Amendment 60 and Proposition 101. (See our Election Data Center for information on the three measures and this story for more background on district cash-flow problems.)

Denver innovation applications approved

The board voted unanimously to give innovation designation to two additional schools in the Denver Public Schools.

The designation gives Martin Luther King Early College Innovation School in Green Valley Ranch and Whittier K-8 Innovation School at 2480 Downing St. waivers from a wide variety of state laws and rules and from some provisions of the district’s union contract. Such waivers give a school freedom in hiring, employee compensation, curriculum, scheduling and other matters.

A school has to demonstrate staff and community support for changes before innovation status can be granted, and the documentation and application process is a lengthy one.

Five other district schools already have innovation status. The only non-DPS school with innovation waivers is Wasson High School in Colorado Springs, which received them from the board recently.

(Read the Martin Luther King application and the Whittier application.)

Statehouse rumors already swirling

She wasn’t naming names, but CDE lobbyist Anne Barkis told the board she’s heard that some legislators may be interested in trying to tinker with Senate Bill 10-191, the still-controversial educator effectiveness law, during the 2011 session.

But, she added, “I’m hearing recently that that might not be as likely.” And, Barkis noted, “We have an election coming and who knows … some of these things are being discussed by people who are in hot races and may not be there to carry the bills.”

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.

saying goodbye

Here’s how the local and national education communities are responding to Boasberg’s exit

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As the news of Tom Boasberg’s departure ricocheted through the local and national education community, critics and champions of the Denver schools superintendent sounded off.

Here’s a roundup of comments from teachers, parents, school board members past and present, elected officials, and some of Boasberg’s colleagues.

Alicia Ventura, teacher

“I am shocked! I understand his decision as I have one (child) grown and out of the house and one in middle school. Time with our children is short and precious! I will always remember how fun and open-minded Tom was. He would do anything for children and truly lived the students first vision! We will miss you!”

Michael Hancock, Denver mayor and Denver Public Schools graduate

“I am saddened that DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will be stepping down but full of gratitude for his close partnership with the city on behalf of Denver’s kids and families. As a DPS graduate and a DPS parent, I know firsthand that Tom has led DPS with integrity and commitment. His focus on success for all kids has greatly improved our schools and provided better opportunities for all students to live their dreams.

“We have much work still to do in DPS, but we have an incredible foundation for moving forward and we are committed to continuing in partnership with the next DPS leader.”

Corey Kern, deputy executive director, Denver Classroom Teachers Association

“We were a little surprised by it ourselves. For us, we obviously wish Tom the best. The big focus for us is making sure the selection process for the next superintendent is something that is fair and transparent and open to the public; that it’s not a political appointment but talking to all stakeholders about who is the best person for the job for the students in Denver.”

Anne Rowe, president, Denver school board

“He has given … 10 years to this district as superintendent, and it is an enormous role, and he has given everything he has. … My reaction was, ‘I understand,’ gratitude, a little surprised but not shocked, certainly, and understand all the good reasons why he has made this decision.

“With change, there is always some uncertainty, and yet I look at the people here and their dedication to the kids in DPS and I have full confidence in these folks to continue driving forward while the board takes on the responsibility to select the next superintendent. We won’t miss a beat, and we have a lot of work to do for kids.”

Jeannie Kaplan, former school board member critical of the district’s direction

“I was very surprised. … I wish Tom well. I still do believe that working together is the way to get things done. I’m sorry we weren’t able to do that.

“My one hope would be that one of the primary criteria for the next leader of the district would be a belief in listening to the community – not just making the checkmark, but really listening to what communities want.”

John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor and former Denver mayor

“Tom Boasberg has invested a significant part of his life into transforming Denver Public Schools into one of the fastest-improving school districts in America. As a DPS parent, former mayor, and now governor, I am deeply grateful for the progress made under Tom’s leadership. I applaud Tom and Team DPS for driving the innovations that are creating a brighter future for tens of thousands of young people in every corner of the city.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who preceded Boasberg as Denver superintendent from 2005 to 2009 and has known him since childhood

“As a DPS parent, I thank him for his commitment, his compassion, and his extraordinary tenure. As Tom always says himself, we have a long way to go, but his transformational leadership has resulted in extraordinary progress over the past 10 years. Our student achievement has substantially increased, the number of teachers and other school personnel serving our children has grown tremendously, and the school choices available to children and their families have never been greater.”

Bennet also penned an op-ed in The Denver Post with this headline:

Ariel Taylor Smith, former Denver Public Schools teacher and co-founder of Transform Education Now, a nonprofit that focuses on improving schools through parent advocacy

“I was a teacher during Tom’s first half of his tenure at DPS and was amazed at how often he would walk the halls of North High School during our turnaround. Tom has dedicated 10 years to this work and for that I am grateful. I also believe that we have a long way to go to getting where we need to be. I believe that we are ready for new leadership who operates with the sense of urgency that we need to see in our city. There are 35,000 students who are attending ‘red’ and ‘orange’ (low-rated) schools in our city right now. One out of every three third-graders is reading on grade level. We need a new leader with a clear vision for the future and an evident sense of urgency to ensure that all our kids are receiving the education that they deserve.”

Brandon Pryor, parent and member Our Voice Our Schools, a group critical of the district

“You have a number of people he works with that are reformers. They think he’s leaving an awesome legacy and he did a lot to change and meet needs of the reformist community. You ask them and I’m sure his legacy will be great. But if you come to my community and ask some black folks what Tom Boasberg’s legacy will be, they’ll tell you something totally different.

“I think he has time with this last three months in office to follow through with some of the promises he’s made us (such as upgrades to the Montbello campus) to improve his situation.”

Jules Kelty, Denver parent

“He personally responded to an email that I sent him about my school. I appreciated that.”

Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado

“On the one hand, I’m not surprised. And on the other hand, I’m surprised.

“I’m not surprised because he’s had a track record of pretty remarkable service for a decade, which is amazing. Nobody else has done that. The district has improved pretty dramatically. He deserves a great deal of credit for that. …The surprise is that we’ve all become so used to him being the superintendent, it’s just a little weird (to think of him leaving).”

Lisa Escárcega, executive director, Colorado Association of School Executives

“Tom’s longstanding commitment and service to DPS have made a significant impact on the district. He is strongly focused on ensuring student equity, and the district has seen improvement in several areas over the last 10 years under his superintendency. Tom is a strong and innovative leader, and I know he will be missed by the DPS community and his colleagues.”

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education

“Under Tom Boasberg’s leadership for the past decade, Denver Public Schools has made remarkable academic progress and has become one of the most innovative school districts in the country. Tom has brought tremendous urgency and a deep commitment to closing both opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. For many school districts throughout the country, Denver’s innovative and collaborative approaches serve as a valuable model.”

Katy Anthes, state education commissioner

“I’ve appreciated working with Tom over the years and know that his personal commitment to students is incredibly strong. I thank Tom for his service to the students of DPS and Colorado.”

Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a national group of district and state superintendents 

“Tom Boasberg is an extraordinary leader who has dedicated his life to expanding opportunities for all of Denver’s children. During his tenure, the district has made remarkable gains on virtually every measure of progress. Denver Public Schools is a national model for innovation, district-charter collaboration, and teacher and school leader support. Every decision Tom has made over the course of his career has been focused on helping students succeed. No one is more respected by their peers. As a member of the Chiefs for Change board and in countless other ways Tom has supported education leaders across the nation. He leaves not just an impressive legacy but an organization of talented people committed to equity and excellence.”

David Osborne, author of the book “Reinventing America’s Schools,” which included chapters on Denver’s efforts

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