Standards Showdown

Supporters of bill that would delay new standards, test make pitch to state board

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Anita Stapelton sets up for a rally protesting the implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards, which have been fused with the controversial Common Core Standards. Stapelton has demonstrated in front of the Colorado Department of Education each month since August.

Supporters and opponents to a bill that would delay the full implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards lobbed their opening pitches to lawmakers, the State Board of Education and the media Wednesday, the day before the Senate Education Committee may decide the fate of the measure.

Supporters of the bill, which would also delay the rollout of standardized tests aligned to the standards and create a committee to review the standards and their implementation, raised concerns about the standards’ lack of rigor and transparency in how the standards were developed. Several individuals also predicted a botched testing apparatus and student data being sold and manipulated to serve private-business interests. The other predominant theme was local control.

“Ultimately, it is our belief that content standards at a national level will drive conformity, instead of innovation, and mediocrity instead of excellence,” said Wes Jolly, the director of academic services at the the Classical Academy, a public charter school in Colorado Springs. “We, as a state, can do better. Common Core’s implementation and assessment strategy ultimately will prove detrimental to the goals we should be pursuing as a state.”

Opponents of the bill argued that Colorado has gone too far in implementing the standards to turn back now. Student outcomes are already improving, they said.

“The new standards provide students, teachers and parents a clear understanding of what students are expected to learn at every grade level — this serves as a road map for a quality education,” said Shelby Edwards, a senior education fellow at the Colorado Children’s Campaign . “We know, however, there is more to be done. We support the implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards and we ask for your continued support as well. Colorado has been developing these higher standards since 2008. And every school across the state has implemented these standards this school year. It is not time to turn around — it is time to continue our efforts of improving education in Colorado.”

State Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, explains her rational for sponsoring a bill that would delay the implementation of new standards in Colorado at an 11:30 a.m. press conference. To her right are Director of Academic Services at the Classical Academy Wes Jolly and Monument Academy Principal Lis Richards.
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
State Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, explains her rational for sponsoring a bill that would delay the implementation of new standards in Colorado at an 11:30 a.m. press conference. To her right are Director of Academic Services at the Classical Academy Wes Jolly and Monument Academy Principal Lis Richards.

The new standards, developed in Colorado but fused with the controversial Common Core State Standards, were approved by the State Board of Education in 2011. School districts must have either adopted the standards or created their own that meet or exceed the state’s.

The controversy surrounding Common Core has risen to a fever pitch across much of the nation. Since the Common Core’s inception, 45 states have adopted the standards for math and English language arts. But during the last few months, dozens have since either delayed the implementation and several have dropped out of the state consortia developing the accompanying tests.

Since August, a small but consistent group has voiced their frustration with Colorado’s participation with both the standards and the tests, but Wednesday’s gathering was the largest yet. Public comment at the state board’s monthly meetings are usually a pro forma affair, but the back-and-forth on the standards ran for more than two hours.

Most in attendance spoke out against the standards, requesting just a little more time to study issue. Several who want to see the bill passed agreed standards and assessments are needed, but believe the Common Core standards, which were developed by Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, and heavily encouraged by the Obama administration, are a one-sizes-does-not-fit-all approach.

“All we ask for is more time,” said Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins mother who helped author the legislation being heard tomorrow.

But time is something the state may not have. The standards and how well students demonstrate mastery of them on state standardized tests are a linchpin to many of the education reform policies the state has implemented throughout the last five years including district and school accountability frameworks and teacher effectiveness evaluations.

Nearly a dozen school districts are nearing the end of the so-called “accountability clock.” If student performance on standardized tests don’t improve their accreditation will be yanked. And beginning next school year, teachers will be evaluated, in part, by those same student outcomes.

The bill’s sponsor, Fort Collins Republican Vicki Marble, said putting too much emphasis on standardized tests is one of many reasons why she’s sponsoring the bill.

“We’re changing the definition of education to assessment,” she said during a press conference held before the state board meeting.

The State Board of Education has taken a “monitor” position on the bill, meaning it neither supports or opposes the bill.

But the board’s president, Paul Lundeen a Republican from Colorado Springs, said he personally supports the bill and has raised concerns about Common Core before.

Halfway through Wednesday it appeared much of the crowd that was promised to show support for a bill that would delay the implementation of Colorado's new standards would fail to materialize. But by time public comment was received by the State Board of Education, the crowd showed and spilled out into the hallway.
Halfway through Wednesday it appeared much of the crowd that was promised to show support for a bill that would delay the implementation of Colorado’s new standards would fail to materialize. But by time public comment was received by the State Board of Education, the crowd showed and spilled out into the hallway.

“I’ve never been a fan of the Common Core,” Lundeen said. “I think we’re creating a linkage between Common Core and assessments that will ultimately drive what curriculum looks like and I’m very concerned what that looks like for the students of Colorado.”

Board member Jane Goff, a Democrat from Arvada, had mixed feelings after the meeting ended.

“I don’t know if [another year] would be any more telling as far as the standards,” she said.

But Goff was open to a larger discussion on assessments as whole.

“We feel it, the pressure [of assessments],” she said.

Goff, who was a teacher for more than 25 years, said the current debate reminds her of the one in 1993, when Colorado first implemented statewide standards.

“Change is hard,” she said.

Today’s debate is more complex, she said, adding that “this is a complex world.”

The public comment portion of the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting ended a day of mostly poor turnout from both supporters and opponents of the bill on a high note for supporters who hope to pack the Old Supreme Court Chambers at the Capitol tomorrow for the hearing.

Organizers behind the bill, earlier in the day, were disappointed the “bus loads” of supporters didn’t show up for a morning rally, which was eventually pushed to the afternoon. Mostly parents, lacking political prowess, they cited other obligations and a lack of organization.

But a well-orchestrated panel featuring Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and other supporters of Colorado’s standards fared about the same. Only eight lawmakers showed up at 7:30 a.m. to that event.

— Todd Engdahl contributed to this report. 

Test tweaks

Tennessee will halve science and social studies tests for its youngest students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday plans to slim down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders as she seeks to respond to complaints of over-testing in Tennessee.

McQueen has been mulling over that option since meeting last summer with her testing task force. The State Department of Education received more public feedback on testing during the last eight months while developing the state’s new plan for its schools in response to a new federal education law.

Tennessee already has eliminated a state test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as shortened TNReady, the state’s end-of-year tests for math and reading.

It’s uncertain just how significant the latest reductions are, since McQueen also said that some “components” would be added to English tests in those grades.  

And the trimming, while significant, falls short of a suggestion to eliminate the tests altogether. Federal law does not require tests in science and social studies for those grades, like it does for math and English.

Parents and educators have become increasingly vocal about the amount of testing students are undergoing. The average Tennessee third-grader, for instance, currently spends more than 11 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science. That doesn’t include practice tests and screeners through the state’s 3-year-old intervention program.

McQueen noted that more changes could be on the horizon. Her testing task force has also considered eliminating or reducing TNReady for 11th-graders because they already are required to take the ACT college-entrance exam. “We will continue to evaluate all of our options for streamlining assessments in the coming years, including in the 11th grade,” she wrote in a blog post.

McQueen also announced that the state is tweaking its schools plan to reduce the role that chronic absenteeism will play in school evaluation scores.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to evaluate schools based off of a measure that’s not directly tied to test scores. Tennessee officials have selected chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including absences or suspension. McQueen said the measure will be changed to count for 10 percent of a school’s final grade, down from 20 percent for K-8 schools and 15 percent for high schools.

Some local district officials had raised concerns that absenteeism was out of the control of schools.

Field trip

Here’s what Superintendent Hopson told state lawmakers in Nashville about Memphis schools

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson visits in the halls of Legislation Plaza Tuesday after speaking before a legislative committee at the State Capitol.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson came to Nashville on Tuesday seeking to break the stigma and stereotypes of Memphis schools, as well as to build better relationships with state lawmakers.

He left calling his time in the State Capitol “a good first step.”

“Oftentimes, the discussion around Shelby County is somewhat negative. And we certainly have a long way to go,” Hopson told legislators on two House education committees. “I’m not going to sit here and say we’re doing everything right, but there are some things to be proud of.”

His presentation came as lawmakers begin to review legislation that could have a major impact on Memphis schools. Lawmakers are considering two private tuition voucher bills, one of which would target Memphis as a pilot. Leaders of Shelby County Schools vehemently oppose both proposals.

Lawmakers also will consider several bills that would change how Tennessee addresses its lowest performing schools, most of which are in Memphis. The State Department of Education backs those bills, which are part of Tennessee’s proposed education plan under the new federal education law.

Hopson joined school board members and other district officials in Nashville as part of the Tennessee School Boards Association Day on the Hill.

He began his presentation promising to do a better job of telling the story of Memphis schools and working with legislators to improve education in Tennessee.

Hopson then cited the district’s growth in math and literacy in 2015, the latest available testing data for all schools, as well as highlighting a number of high-performing schools and the district’s turnaround work through its Innovation Zone.

Hopson noted the poverty rate in Memphis — 40,000 students live in households where the income is less than $10,000 a year — and its affect on education of students. He also appealed to the Christian faith professed by many state lawmakers.

“When you think about faith, the word compassion comes to mind,” Hopson said. “In my mind, compassion is: You see a need, you’re moved by that need, and then you act on that need.”

He went on.

“Our district is so unique because we have suffocating poverty that many of our kids live in. And if you just think about that for a minute — what that would be like to live in a house with five, six, seven people on 200 bucks a week — … I mean, it just creates really significant challenges because kids are not always prepared to show up to school ready to learn.”

Poverty is “not an excuse” for poor performance in schools, he continued. “But I think it is important when you think about our school district and some of the challenges we have to just take a moment and think about the population that we serve,” Hopson said.

Unfortunately, the superintendent’s presentation was cut short after just 10 minutes, following Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s remarks on school turnaround work that went long. He said later that he wanted to talk more about the challenges faced by Memphis schools, many of which are priority schools that are academically in the state’s bottom 5 percent.

“We’ve got kids with severe, severe social-emotional needs,” he said of the state’s largest school system. “And absent a strategic attempt to address those needs, we’re not going to ever see the progress in accelerated fashion we want to see. It is what it is. I hope they heard that.”