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.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.

parent voice

It’s not enough just to stay open, say Memphis parents of their struggling elementary school

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Sonya Smith, a longtime community organizer in Memphis Frayser, speaks to parents at Hawkins Mill Elementary School on Thursday during a community meeting about state intervention plans.

For six years, Hawkins Mill Elementary School has been on the state’s radar because of students’ low scores on standardized tests — an issue cited again last month when Tennessee officials urged local leaders to close the Memphis school.

Shelby County Schools is passing on that recommendation, but agrees with the state on one thing: Hawkins Mill faces big challenges, including declining enrollment and a mostly impoverished student population.

Now the question is what to do about it. Among the issues is whether Principal Antonio Harvey should stay on for a sixth year, and if the district’s first $300,000 investment in Hawkins Mill went toward the right interventions this school year.

During a Thursday evening meeting, about 50 parents and community members got their first opportunity to ask questions about competing visions for their Frayser school.

What parents like

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Principal Antonio Harvey, front, and parents listen to a Shelby County Schools presentation on the state’s new accountability model.

Parents applauded the district’s stance to keep Hawkins Mill open, in defiance of the state’s recommendation, in order to give their school a fair chance to improve.

Many also spoke in favor of Harvey, describing him as a stabilizing and nurturing force who has ushered in new opportunities in the arts, sports, and other extracurricular activities. The school’s suspension rate also has declined in recent years, except for a slight uptick last year.

“I saw how he took unruly, disrespectful kids and they shake his hand now. He sits down and talks to them. … We’re constantly adding programs,” said PTA member Sharanda Person. “Doing things that way makes me think he cares about the kids.”

Several spoke favorably of their children’s school experience.

“Since she’s been here, I’ve seen exponential growth,” said Tonyas Mays, who transferred her daughter from a state-run school last August. “My child’s potential has been recognized here and she’s testing out of (special education) now.”

What parents didn’t like

A presentation on the low percentages of students on grade level in reading and math drew moans from parents as the data was explained by Antonio Burt, the district’s assistant superintendent for its lowest performing schools.

Notes: 2013-14 science and 2014-15 social studies test scores were not listed in the state report card. Elementary students did not take TNReady in 2015-16. The 2016-17 social studies test did not count toward school accountability measures.

But some questioned the validity of the state’s new test called TNReady, which has been marred by technical glitches in administration and scoring during its first two years.

“The state of Tennessee has made excuses as to why the test wasn’t ready. They get a pass while our children don’t,” said Sonya Smith, a community organizer. “Every time our children meet the test, they tell us that test was no good.”

Another disappointment is declining enrollment. Hawkins Mill had 357 students when Harvey started in the fall of 2013. Last month, enrollment was at 314.

What parents aren’t sure of

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Antonio Burt, assistant superintendent for low-performing schools, speaks to parents.

Burt said some assessments and attendance data show “some positive trends” this school year.

His presentation was void of nitty-gritty detail on progress as outlined under the school improvement plan that went to effect this school year. However, information provided to Chalkbeat on Friday showed that student growth this school year was higher than average in reading and math — a measure key to showing whether students can catch up. Also, the school’s suspension rate so far this school year is about 4 percent of students, compared to almost 13 percent at this time last year.

Several parents asked whether Harvey would remain as principal, worrying that a new leader could set the school back because of the adjustment in getting to know the students and faculty.

Burt responded that leadership is being reviewed, but that no decisions have been made. “To be completely transparent, we have to reassess everything,” he said.

Because Hawkins Mill is a priority school on track for state intervention, the state Department of Education must approve any plan outside of its recommendation to close.

The school is slated to continue under Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them. District leaders are still discussing the amount of new funding and where to invest it.

Burt thinks the district’s plan has a “50/50 chance” of state approval since it’s new.