Who Is In Charge

Testing bill passes Senate

Updated 10:15 a.m. – The state Senate voted 31-4 this morning for final passage of Senate Bill 12-172, which would require the State Board of Education to take full membership in one of two national groups developing common tests in language arts and math.

Text of Tuesday story follows.

Sen. Mike Johnston trimmed down his already-short Senate Bill 12-172 Tuesday, and the Senate gave it preliminary approval on a voice vote Tuesday.

Pencil on test paperThe bill would require the State Board of Education to become a governing member of a multistate testing group.

One amendment successfully proposed by the Denver Democrat would allow the board to withdraw after Jan. 1, 2014, from whichever group it joins if the board doesn’t like the tests the group develops.

English and math tests based on the Common Core Standards are being created by two national consortia, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Colorado now is participating in both but it isn’t a governing member of either. States that join a group’s governing board have a greater say in test development – but they also commit to use that group’s tests, based on the rules of the groups. Most Colorado education leaders favor joining the second group, known as PARCC.

The state board – at least its Republican majority – has been skeptical of Johnston’s bill. At a face-to-face meeting with Johnston and cosponsor Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, last Friday, some members made it clear they’d be more comfortable, among other things, with an opt-out clause in the proposal.

But after Johnston and Spence left last week’s meeting, the board voted 4-3 to oppose the bill, even if amendments were added (see story).

Johnston’s original bill also contained language encouraging the board to work with other states, if possible, on development of tests such as science and social studies. At Johnston’s request, the Senate removed that language from the bill. He said the language wasn’t necessary because the Department of Education already is involved in such discussions.

Testing has been a nagging issue throughout the 2012 session.

The board last fall requested $26 million to develop a full battery of new state tests to replace the CSAPs, which are obsolete because of new state content standards. The Hickenlooper administration proposed no funding.

The Joint Budget Committee fussed over the issue for months, with members complaining about mixed signals from the board, the governor’s office and the House and Senate education committees.

The legislature finally decided to provide only some $6 million for development of new social studies and science tests, plus Spanish language and special education tests.

Johnston is now optimistic about the bill’s chances in the Republican-controlled House. He told Education News Colorado that he’s signed on Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, as a prime sponsor. Massey, chair of the House Education Committee, has been a central figure on most major education bills this session. Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County, also will be a House sponsor.

Colorado currently is using the transitional TCAP tests but needs new permanent tests to both fully assess students on new state content standards and to implement the educator evaluation law.

Although Johnston described his bill as “Colorado’s long-term assessment plan,” only one thing is certain out of this year’s testing debate. Colorado students will be taking a third year of TCAPs in the spring of 2014, instead of just the two years originally planned.

House GOP wants to intervene in Lobato

A resolution introduced Tuesday in the House would require the legislature to hire its own lawyers and enter the Lobato v. State lawsuit as an amicus curiae (friend of the court).

The measure, House Joint Resolution 12-1023, argues that the Denver District Court’s decision against the state threatens the legislature’s constitutional powers to set the state budget.

The defendants in the case include Gov. John Hickenlooper, the State Board of Education and education Commissioner Robert Hammond but not the legislature. Attorney General John Suthers has appealed the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, with his appeal brief due in June.

A victory for the plaintiffs could have massive implications for the state budget. Although the trial court’s ruling was issued in December, the case has received scant mention during the legislative session. (See EdNews’ Lobato archive for background.)

The resolution is sponsored by House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and 16 other House Republicans. There are no Democrats or senators on the measure (read the resolution).

Key change made in literacy bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning made a significant amendment to House Bill 12-1238, the proposed early literacy measure. In order to fund interventions for K-3 students with significant reading deficiencies, the bill proposed to use $16 million in interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund.

Committee chair Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, successfully proposed an amendment that would cap annual literacy revenue at that $16 million, allowing revenues above that to flow into the permanent fund, the body of which can’t be spent. The permanent fund has been flat at about $600 million for some years, a subject of concern for some education groups that would like to see it grow and be able to provide revenue for future education spending.

The committee passed the amended bill on an 8-1 vote.

Union dues bill passes House

The House Tuesday gave 33-32 party-line approval to House Bill 12-1333, a measure that would allow school district employees who are members of unions to have payroll deductions for dues stopped at any time.

Union contracts now typically allow members to withdraw only during a single short period once in the school year.

Teachers’ unions oppose the measure, which isn’t expected to survive in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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: