Who Is In Charge

Boards endorse social studies CSAPs

Colorado students should be tested on social studies at least three times during their K-12 careers, the state’s two top education boards proposed Monday.

The recommendation came as the State Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education agreed to a broad set of five “attributes” they want to see in a new state testing system to replace the current CSAPs.

A 2008 state law, the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, requires creation of a new state testing system and specifically assigned the two boards to agree on a broad shape for the program by Dec. 15. The SBE also is scheduled to consider a more detailed description of the new system, also mandated by the law, at a meeting next week.

The language agreed on by the two boards reads: “Science and Social Studies will be measured at least once in elementary, middle and high school.” (The original staff recommendation included only science.)

The boards’ endorsement represents a victory for a group of education and business groups that have been lobbying to add social studies tests. But, Colorado students probably don’t need to worry about boning up on their civics books right away. New state tests aren’t expected to roll out any earlier than 2014, and adding a test – and the attendant costs – likely will raise questions and opposition, including in the legislature.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton
Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton

Two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster and Rep. Judy Solano, attended Monday’s joint meeting and warned against expanded testing.

“I’m very concerned about adding a new CSAP,” said Solano, the legislature’s leading critic of the current testing system. “We’ve talked about fewer.” Hudak noted that the legislature considered social studies tests in the 1990s when the CSAPs were developed and chose science over social studies because of cost.

Based on the dictates of that 2008 law, the new testing system is supposed to measure student progress toward “postsecondary and workforce readiness” – the ability to enter college or the workforce without academic remediation.

The testing system attributes agreed upon by the two boards include. (Read full document here):

• Summative tests (whatever replaces the current annual CSAPs): Math and language arts will be given in grades 3-11 plus the less-frequent social studies and science tests. Test results will be included on student transcripts, and SBE and CCHE will agree in the future on what specific scores indicate college readiness. The 11th grade test would be a national college readiness test of some type.

• Use of formative and interim tests by schools to gauge students’ progress between the annual tests. Such tests, widely used now in various forms, wouldn’t be used to measure district and school performance, as the annual tests are.

• Measurement of academic mastery in grades 1 and 2. Hudak and Solano raised concerns that this might lead to a “baby CSAP,” and the boards clarified the language in this attribute to ease such concerns.

• Creation of some sort of online database – the planners call it a “dashboard” – that students could use to track their postsecondary and workforce readiness throughout their school years.

The meeting, which packed both boards, various education bureaucrats, lobbyists and assorted onlookers into a stuffy, windowless conference room at the Department of Higher Education, got confusing at times as members of the two boards nit-picked their way through a draft of the attributes.

“Where are we?” CCHE member B J Scott of Colorado Springs asked at one point. She was dialed into the meeting by telephone.

State Board of Education member Peggy Littleton, R-5th District.

Seventeen amendments were proposed – 10 of them by outgoing SBE member Peggy Littleton, R-5th District – but only eight were adopted, just one of them Littleton’s. The major change, addition of social studies tests, was proposed by SBE member Marcia Neal, R-3rd District.

Littleton suggested an amendment that would launch social studies tests “when fiscally possible,” but that was defeated.

Rico Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education, moderated the discussion and, with varying degrees of success, tried to keep things moving. “Focus,” he told the group at one juncture.

The amendments were decided on by the whole group, and then each board voted separately to adopted the revised set of attributes. SBE members voted 4-0 to adopt. (Neal had to leave before the vote, and Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, and Vice Chair Randy DeHoff, R-6th District, couldn’t attend.) Six members of the 11-member CCHE participated – two in person and four on the phone. They voted 6-0 to adopt the attributes – after member Richard Kaufman had to be called back on Munn’s cell phone.

Staff members of the departments of education and higher education, along with advisory panels of educators and experts, have been working for more than a year to prepare recommendations for a new testing system. A subcommittee urged that social studies tests be added, but the main advisory committee didn’t agree.

Since then a coalition of education and business groups have been pushing for addition of the tests.

Walter Rakowich, CEO of ProLogis
Walter Rakowich, CEO of ProLogis

Walter Rakowich, CEO of Denver-based ProLogis, an international logistics and warehouse firm, testified at Monday’s meeting, saying, “Social studies is a crucial subject” in an increasingly interconnected world. He said the some of the firm’s Indian and Chinese employees “know more about American politics than our kids do.”

The current CSAP testing system requires students to take reading, writing and math tests in grades 3-10. Science tests are given in grades, 5, 8 and 10. All 11th graders take the ACT test.

CDE information about revision of the testing system

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: