From the Statehouse

READ Act rules taking shape

Members of the State Board of Education last week took their first detailed look at the proposed new system intended to improve the literacy levels of the state’s youngest students.

Child readingThe draft regulations reviewed by the board Jan. 10 outline an implementation plan for the 2012 READ Act, a law that sets an expectation for all students to be reading at grade level by third grade.

A key element of the regulations is the definition of “significant reading deficiency.” Schools will be required to provide special, individualized services for students with that designation. And students who are still deficient in the third grade could be held back.

The current draft of the rules proposes a three-part process to determine significant reading deficiency, but a coalition of education reform and business groups is urging a simpler method.

Ed groups question process for identifying struggling readers

The three proposed criteria include: a child scoring twice in the lowest quartile on state-approved assessments, identification of a significant deficiency in one or more components of reading as determined by a diagnostic assessment; and a “body of evidence” showing a child is not making sufficient reading progress.

A coalition of education-reform groups is questioning the three-part process. The groups are Colorado Succeeds, Stand for Children Colorado, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Concern. All were in the forefront of lobbying to pass the READ Act, House Bill 12-1238, last year.

“This three-step approach creates a threshold that is unnecessarily high, unclear, and leads to a precarious loss of time. The intent of the Colorado READ Act was for struggling readers to be identified early so that they will receive immediate reading interventions and support,” representatives of the groups wrote to CDE last week.

“We urge the State Board to adopt a less stringent and more straightforward threshold for determining if a student has a significant reading deficiency,” the groups wrote, suggesting that scoring in the bottom quartile of any approved assessment should be sufficient grounds for identifying a child with a significant reading deficiency.

Department of Education staff appeared open to making tweaks.

“The department is considering that suggestion. … We will address that during the next board meeting,” Dian Prestwich, CDE assistant director of literacy told the board.

Significant reading deficiency is a specific individual determination and would not include all children who are merely reading below grade level.

The Department of Education is proposing use of the current DIBELS, PALS and DRA2 assessments for this school year and next. It’s expected other tests will be added to the approved list in the future.

The proposed regulations also define reading competency skill levels in detail for kindergarteners and for students in grades 1-3. (See pages 4-10 of the draft rules) and lay out specific amounts of instruction for struggling readers, time frames for administering tests at the beginning of school years and detailed descriptions of what constitutes appropriate instruction and on what data districts will have to report to the state.

There was no testimony at the Jan. 10 session. The board will hold another hearing during its Feb. 13-14 meeting and is set to vote on the final rules during the March 20-21 meeting.

READ Act details

At the end of this school year districts will report to the Department of Education the number of K-3 students with significant reading deficiencies.

The law is expected to cover up to 24,000 students. An estimated quarter of Colorado third-graders don’t read at grade level.

Starting in 2013-14 districts will annually assess K-3 students’ reading abilities with the CDE-approved tests. The department is required to create a list of approved instructional programs and professional development resources that districts can use.

Individual READ plans have to be created for students with significant deficiencies. The law also creates a process for parent, teacher and administrator consultation to determine each year if students should advance to the next grade level. Parents have the final say for K-2 students. Superintendents (or designated administrators) will review the cases of third-graders recommended for advancement and can decide to retain a student. Special services must be provided for third-graders who are held back.

The law contains protections and exemptions for students with disabilities, limited English proficiency or who have already been held back.

The program will divert interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund to provide about $16 million in per-pupil funding (about $700 per student) to districts working with students who have significant reading deficiencies. The law also includes some $5 million in funding to be used for CDE administration costs ($1 million) and for professional development grants to districts. So total funding first-year will be about $21 million.

Districts receiving the per-pupil funding will be required to use specific interventions, such as enrollment in full-day kindergarten, summer school or tutoring.

rules and regs

New York adds some flexibility to its free college scholarship rules. Will it be enough for more students to benefit?

PHOTO: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2017 regional State of the State address at the University at Albany.

New York is offering more wiggle room in a controversial “Excelsior” scholarship requirement that students stay in-state after graduating, according to new regulations released Thursday afternoon.

Members of the military, for example, will be excused from the rule, as will those who can prove an “extreme hardship.”

Overall, however, the plan’s rules remain strict. Students are required to enroll full-time and to finish their degrees on time to be eligible for the scholarship — significantly limiting the number who will ultimately qualify.

“It’s a high bar for a low-income student,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading expert on college affordability and a professor at Temple University. “It’s going to be the main reason why students lose the scholarship.”

The scholarship covers free college tuition at any state college or university for students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year. But it comes with a major catch: Students who receive Excelsior funding must live and work in New York state for the same number of years after graduation as they receive the scholarship. If they fail to do so, their scholarships will be converted to loans, which the new regulations specify have 10-year terms and are interest-free.

The new regulations allow for some flexibility:

  • The loan can now be prorated. So if a student benefits from Excelsior for four years but moves out of state two years after graduation, the student would only owe two years of payments.
  • Those who lose the scholarship but remain in a state school, or complete a residency in-state, will have that time count toward paying off their award.
  • Members of the military get a reprieve: They will be counted as living and working in-state, regardless of where the person is stationed or deployed.
  • In cases of “extreme hardship,” students can apply for a waiver of the residency and work requirements. The regulations cite “disability” and “labor market conditions” as some examples of a hardship. A state spokeswoman said other situations that “may require that a student work to help meet the financial needs of their family” would qualify as a hardship, such as a death or the loss of a job by a parent.
  • Students who leave the state for graduate school or a residency can defer repaying their award. They would have to return to New York afterwards to avoid having the scholarship convert to a loan.

Some of law’s other requirements were also softened. The law requires students to enroll full-time and take average of 30 credits a year — even though many SUNY and CUNY students do not graduate on time. The new regulations would allow students to apply credits earned in high school toward the 30-credit completion requirement, and stipulates that students who are disabled do not have to enroll full-time to qualify.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”