From the Statehouse

Session ends and CSAP bill dies

Final roundup
CAP4K delay bill
Financial aid bill
Other action

The Colorado legislature ended its 2010 regular session early Wednesday evening with the usual mix of chaos, frivolity, backslapping and hurried meetings, and with the usual dead bills.

There are always a few measures that die on the last day of the session because of House-Senate differences. Last year higher education flexibility legislation died on the last day; this year it was House Bill 10-1430, the CSAP bill.

What many thought in January would be a measure designed to clarify and expand on the testing changes mandated by the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids turned out to be something quite different when introduced in the House on April 29.

Colorado CapitolThe version by Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, proposed to phase out high school CSAP tests starting next year and replace them college-and-workforce readiness assessments. The bill also would have shifted the responsibility for writing tests from the state to school districts. Some legislators, agencies and interest groups privately felt Solano had sidestepped them to continue her years-long anti-CSAP crusade.

The House passed her bill overwhelmingly. The Senate Education Committee returned the bill to its original pre-introduction version, and senators passed that 21-14 and sent it back to the House on the session’s last afternoon Wednesday.

Solano and the House requested a conference committee; the Senate declined. So, late in the day, Solano called on the House to stick to its version. That killed the bill.

Debate on CAP4K delay bill takes lively turn

The Senate voted 22-13 final approval for a little-discussed bill that pushes back some CAP4K deadlines, but there still was some lively debate on House Bill 10-1013 Wednesday afternoon.

On preliminary consideration Tuesday Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, slipped on an amendment that requires a certain district budget report be posted on district websites. (The original purpose of the bill was to clean up various school finance details in state law.)

That budget report, which goes by the name of CDE-18, has been a minor point of contention because the only organization that reportedly uses it is the Colorado Education Association. School districts and the Colorado Department of Education wanted to eliminate it; conservative Republicans have used the issue as an excuse for a little union bashing.

After a fight, the CDE-18 report was eliminated in another bill.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, on Friday objected to Romer’s maneuver. But, his attempt to extract CDE-18 from the bill was defeated by Democrats, some of whom voted against the CEA on the much bigger issue of educator effectiveness.

The most important part of the bill, the CAP4K delays, have been little noticed or discussed. The bill slips the upcoming Dec. 15 for adoption of a new state testing system “until financially practicable.”

Scholarship bill passes

Both houses Wednesday also approved House Bill 10-1428, which will transfer $15 million from the pending sale of a CollegeInvest loan portfolio to state financial aid for college students.

News of the pending sale broke late in the legislative session and offered lawmakers a rare chunk of unclaimed money to plug into higher education.

Romer on Tuesday night tried to tap $5 million for teacher professional development – seen as a sop to the CEA – but the Senate turned that idea down.

There was a brief flap Wednesday over minor House-Senate differences, but House sponsor Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, and the House backed down to avoid the measure experiencing the same fate as the CSAP bill.

In other action

Two low-profile but important charter school bills are headed to the governor after the House accepted Senate amendments and re-passed House Bills 10-1345 and 1412 Wednesday morning. The first would create a method for the state to intervene with charter schools in emergencies; the second creates a commission that will develop and recommend operational standards for both charter schools and for authorizers. HB 10-1345 was re-passed 62-3, and the HB 10-1412 vote was 64-1.

The House also already has accepted Senate amendments and voted 65-0 the re-pass House Bill 10-1274, the two-years-in-the-making measure that requires notification of schools when students are to return from treatment centers.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts, status information and a listing of all the education bills that were killed this year.

Colorado's 2017 General Assembly

Colorado students could earn biliteracy credential on diploma

A 2010 graduation ceremony of Denver's Bruce Randolph School (Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post).

Colorado high school graduates next year likely will be able to earn a new credential that proves to colleges and employers they can communicate in at least two languages.

The House Education Committee on Monday approved Senate Bill 123, which lays out the criteria students must meet to earn a biliteracy endorsement.

The bill already has won support from the state Senate and faces one last debate in the House of Representatives before going to the governor’s desk.

Three school districts began issuing their own bilingual endorsements in 2016.

Last year, the State Board of Education rejected a resolution that would have encouraged more schools to develop their own seal of biliteracy. Republicans on the board voiced concern about a lack of statewide criteria and that the endorsement would be handed out unevenly.

If this bill becomes law, that would change.

For a students to earn the seal, they would need to prove they’ve mastered both English and another language by earning at least a B in all of their language classes, earning high marks on the English portion of the SAT, and pass both an English and foreign language test provided by either the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs.

If such a test doesn’t exist for a language the student has studied, the school may either create a test that must be vetted by the state education department or the student may submit a sample of work for review.

Ella Willden, a seventh grader at Oberon Middle School in Arvada, told Colorado lawmakers she and her fellow students are excited for the chance to earn the diploma seal, and that it would mean a better shot at a good college or career after high school.

“I know many of my classmates will jump at the chance to earn this seal if given the opportunity because they want to get into some of the top schools in the nation and they want every advantage they can get,” she said. “Whether I go to college or I go to work, this seal will open doors for me throughout the state.”

overruled

Lawmakers take first step to ease testing burden for young English language learners

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post
Justin Machado, 9, reads on his iPad during his 3rd grade class at Ashley Elementary in 2015.

State lawmakers from both political parties are seeking to undo a controversial State Board of Education decision that called for schools to test thousands of Colorado’s youngest students in English — a language they are still learning.

House Bill 1160 cleared its first legislative hurdle Monday with unanimous support from the House Education Committee.

The bill would allow school districts to decide whether to use tests in English or Spanish to gauge whether students in kindergarten through third grade enrolled in dual-language or bilingual programs have reading deficiencies.

The bill is sponsored in the House of Representatives by Reps. Millie Hamner, a Frisco Democrat, and Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican.

If the bill becomes law, it would overrule a decision by the State Board of Education last year that required testing such students at least once in English. That meant some schools would need to test students twice if they wanted to gauge reading skills in a student’s native language.

Colorado’s public schools under the 2012 READ Act are required to test students’ reading ability to identify students who aren’t likely to be reading at grade-level by third grade.

The bill is the latest political twist in a years-long effort to apply the READ Act in Colorado schools that serve a growing number of native Spanish-speakers.

School districts first raised concern about double-testing in 2014, one year after the law went into effect. The state Attorney General’s office issued an opinion affirming that the intent of the READ Act was to measure reading skills, not English proficiency. The state board then changed its policy to allow districts to choose which language to test students in and approved tests in both English and Spanish.

But a new configuration of the state board in 2016 reversed that decision when it made other changes in response to a 2015 testing reform law that included tweaks to early literacy testing.

The board’s decision at the time was met with fierce opposition from school districts with large Spanish speaking populations — led by Denver Public Schools.

Lawmakers considered legislation to undo the board’s decision last year, but a committee in the Republican-controlled Senate killed it.

Capitol observers believe the bill is more likely to reach the governor’s desk this year after a change in leadership in the Senate.

Some members of the state board, at a meeting last week, reaffirmed their support for testing students in English.

Board member Val Flores, a Denver Democrat who opposed the rule change last year, said she opposes the bill. In explaining her reversal, Flores said she believes the bill would create a disincentive for schools, especially in Denver, to help Spanish-speakers learn English.

“If the district does not give the test in English, reading in English will not be taught,” she said.

Board member Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said he still believes the intent of the READ Act was to measure how well students were reading in English.

“I think this is a serious departure from what the legislature intended initially,” he said last week. “The READ Act had everything to do with reading in English.”

Hamner, one of the sponsors of House Bill 1160, also sponsored the READ Act in 2012. She disagrees with Durham and told the House committee Monday that the intent was always for local school districts to decide which language was appropriate.

“We’re giving the local educators and districts the decision-making authority on what’s best for the students,” she said.

Multiple speakers on Monday said the requirement to test native Spanish speakers in English was a waste of time and money, and provided bad information to teachers.

“A teacher who teaches in Spanish will not be able to use data from an English assessment to drive their instruction, much like a hearing test would not give a doctor information about a patient’s broken arm,” said Emily Volkert, dean of instruction at Centennial Elementary School in Denver.

The bill only applies to students who are native Spanish speakers because the state has only approved tests that are in English and Spanish. Students whose native language is neither English nor Spanish would be tested in English until the state approves assessments in other languages.

“The question is can you read and how well,” said bill co-sponsor Wilson. “We’re trying to simplify that.”