How would you feel if your teacher gave you nearly two-dozen homework assignments and then left school for the next seven months?

That’s kind of the spot the Department of Education and the State Board of Education are in with the work assigned to them by Colorado legislators, who finished their 2014 session more than a month ago and won’t be back at the Capitol until January.

The state board was briefed Wednesday on all those tasks, which range from significant policy work like writing new regulations for English language learner programs to little stuff like organizing a way to award trophies to high schools with high academic growth.

“It’s heavier relative to last year,” department lobbyist Jennifer Mello told Chalkbeat Colorado. She also said there’s a “big difference in the number of new programs [and] program expansions.”

The legislature “always puts a load on us,” said education Commissioner Robert Hammond, but he feels CDE can handle it. “I think we’re fine.”

The new laws provide about $6.6 million in new money to CDE – most of which will go out in grants to districts and payments to contractors – and authorize 6.2 new department positions, Mello told the board.

Board member Marcia Neal of Grand Junction commented that legislators like “pet projects.”

“I’m sure the school districts would have been very pleased to see a bigger reduction in the negative factor” rather than spending on special programs, she said.

Mello focused on the bills she said would “create the most work for the department.” They include:

  • The Student Success Act (House Bill 14-1292), primarily its provision that the state create a website containing information about district spending, broken out by school. “It’s going to take some work to get there,” said Mello, even though an outside vendor will be hired to gather data from districts and build the website. The department got $3 million for this project.
  • The portion of the School Finance Act (House Bill 14-1298) that overhauls state law on and CDE supervision of ELL programs. “There are a lot of changes the department has to make,” Mello said. The bill provided an additional $17.5 million for districts to run ELL programs. Among other tasks, the state board will have to approve two new sets of regulations for the program.
  • A $1.9 million measure (House Bill 14-1102) that requires CDE to review district plans for gifted an talented students and to run grant programs for districts that want to screen all students for G&T and hire qualified administrators to oversee their programs. CDE got an additional staff member out of this bill.

Depending on how one parses the new laws, CDE got assignments from 23 bills passed by the 2014 session, including 14 that include funding and provide new staff or money for contractors. Another nine legislative mandates for the most part require tinkering with existing laws and programs, without additional staff or funding. And the new laws will require CDE lawyers and the board to draft and deal with nine sets of rules and regulations.

(By the way, state bureaucrats aren’t unhappy when lawmakers go home for the year, just like kids don’t necessarily miss the teacher. Ask most anybody at CDE or any other state agency how they feel when the legislature adjourns, and the universal reaction is relief.)

See the full list of and details on CDE’s homework here.

Berman wants to make sure testing group has Dems

Another 2014 law, House Bill 14-1202, creates a 15-member task force to study testing issues (details in this story).

Members of the task force will be appointed by a variety of legislative officers and by SBE chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument who has three picks.

Elaine Gantz Berman, a Democrat from Denver, raised the issue with Lundeen during Wednesday’s meeting, saying, “I know you have not consulted with the board … it is my expectation that one of three would be a Democrat. I’d like to hear what your thinking is.” (The board has a 4-3 Republican majority.)

Lundeen said, “It’s early in the process” for the selections (even though the appointment deadline is July 1) and that “applications are coming in to the speaker’s office.” (The speaker of the House is coordinating the appointments and convening the task force.)

“It’s a foregone conclusion that it [the task force] will be Democrats and Republicans,” Lundeen said.

HB 14-1202 doesn’t specify party representation on the group, but it is highly proscriptive about the interest groups to be represented. The task force has to include three administrators, two school board members, two teachers, two charter school representatives, two parents, one student, two business people and a representative of the PARCC testing group. The usual interest groups suspects – Colorado Association of School Executives, Colorado Education Association, etc. – also are supposed to be represented by some of the members.

Neither Lundeen nor Berman – the board’s ideological polar opposites – will be around next year to receive the task force’s recommendations. Berman isn’t running for re-election from the 1st District, and Lundeen is running for the legislature in a heavily Republican House district. Once he’s elected he’ll have to resign from his 5th District seat on the state board.

New testing labels

For years Colorado students have borne the labels of “advanced,” “proficient,” “partially proficient” and “unsatisfactory” based on their scores on CSAP and TCAP tests.

That – and a lot of other things – apparently will change after the new online CMAS tests (including multi-state PARCC tests in language arts and math) roll out in 2015.

“We’re looking at new labels,” state testing director Joyce Zurkowski told the state board Wednesday during a briefing on how the state’s new science and social studies tests will be scored.

The new labels could be “distinguished command,” “strong command,” “moderate command” and “limited command.”

See Zurkowski’s presentation on science and social studies scoring here. Because those two tests were new this spring, a panel of teachers and testing experts still have to set the “cut points” that will determine whether a kid had “distinguished” or “limited” command. Those cut points will be developed this summer and considered by the board in August.

If the board approves the eventual plan, students and parents will get their scores in September, Zurkowski said.