Who Is In Charge

Plan to trim social studies tests comes to screeching halt

House sponsors of a bill to cut back on the state’s new social studies tests asked the House Education Committee to kill the measure Monday afternoon, and the panel did so on a 13-0 vote.

“This bill is trying very hard to be responsive to what we’ve been hearing,” said sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. She was referring to rising parent and teacher complaints about the amount of state testing.

But, she added, “We haven’t been able to work with our stakeholders on a solution that has been fully vetted.”

“We need to take a close look at the whole testing regime,” said her cosponsor, Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley. He noted that another bill proposes a wide-ranging study of testing this summer and fall. That measure, House Bill 14-1202, received final Senate approval last week.

The social studies measure, Senate Bill 14-221, surfaced just last week, the brainchild of two Democratic senators from Jefferson County, Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger. It passed the Senate 24-11 Monday morning and was immediately introduced in the House.

It proposed delaying next fall’s first 12th grade social studies tests for a year and then moving all three sets of tests to a “sampling” schedule under which an individual school would have had to give the test only every three years. The tests also are given in the 4th and 7th grades. Schools still could have administered the tests every year if they chose to do so.

The bill was criticized for doing too little about the testing burden and for singling out social studies. There reportedly weren’t enough votes on House Education to pass it on to the floor.

The panel also voted 10-0 to kill Senate Bill 14-185, which proposed creation of a “pay for success” method to fund early childhood programs. Sponsor Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, asked that the bill be killed, saying, “We have a lot of work to do to ensure we have the correct guardrails in place.” (Get more background on this innovative but complicated idea in this story.)

Senate whittles down its calendar

The Senate worked through a long list of education bills as it attempted to clear its calendar ahead of adjournment on Wednesday.

Perhaps the most significant for education was House Bill 14-1319, which received preliminary approval. It would create a new funding formula for the state’s higher education system that gives greater weight to enrollment and would base a modest amount of funding on institutional performance measures such as graduation and student retention.

There was no Senate debate; most of the concerns with the bill were dealt with before it reached the floor in the House. The bill gives substantial flexibility to the Department of Higher Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in designing the new funding formula, which won’t go into effect until 2015-16.

Nearing the finish line

These bills received final Senate approval Monday but still require House consideration of Senate amendments before passage.

House Bill 14-1118 would budget $261,561 to provide incentives for rural school districts to offer Advanced Placement classes. It passed 21-14.

House Bill 14-1301 allocates $700,000 to the Safe Routes to School program, which provides information for students and parents about safe walking and biking to school, as well as grants for driveway and sidewalk improvements and similar work. It passed 24-11.

On the the governor

These bills have passed – or been re-passed – and are on their way to the governor:

House Bill 14-1085 – The Senate voted 20-15 for this bill, which provides $960,000 in funding for adult literacy programs.

House Bill 14-1156 – The House accepted Senate amendments and passed the measure 39-26. The $809,095 proposal would make 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-graders now eligible for reduced-price lunches able to receive free lunches.

House Bill 14-1288 – This is the controversial vaccination education proposal, which was amended to remove its original requirement that parents who choose to opt out of immunizations first receive education on pros and cons. The measure now basically requires the state to set up an immunization information website and requires schools to maintain and provide data on the number of students who haven’t had their shots. The House agreed to Senate amendments and re-passed it 39-25.

House Bill 14-1294 – The House accepted Senate amendments and voted 62-0 to re-pass this measure, which sets various data privacy and security requirements on the Department of Education.

Senate Bill 14-124 – This bill would set up a $2 million program to train leaders for turnaround schools. The House passed it 37-28.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to the texts of bills covered in this story and other 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: