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. 

getting to know you

These 10 Colorado lawmakers are rethinking how the state pays for its public schools

PHOTO: Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
State Sen. Rachel Zezninger, an Arvada Democrat, on the first day of the legislative session.

Ten Colorado lawmakers, many with longstanding ties to the education community, are set to begin debating the future of Colorado’s school finance system.

The legislative group tasked with studying and making recommendations about how the state pays for public education includes former teachers and superintendents, a former State Board of Education member and a practicing charter school lawyer.

State Rep. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, will lead the committee during its first year.

Garnett helped establish the committee earlier this year when he co-sponsored House Bill 1340 with state Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican. Lundeen also will serve on the panel.

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, will be the vice-chair.

The committee was formed against a backdrop of fear that the state’s schools would face deep budget cuts next school year. However, lawmakers at the last minute averted putting the state’s schools in an even deeper financial hole.

Still, lawmakers from both parties and members of the state’s education community agree the funding system is outdated and in need of a massive overhaul. The state last made significant changes to the system in 1994.

The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for July 24. Among its first decisions will be selecting a third-party consultant to help with research and guide discussions and decisions.

Here’s the full committee:

  • State Rep. Alec Garnett, Denver Democrat, chair
  • State Sen. Owen Hill, Colorado Springs Republican, vice chair
  • State Sen. Janet Buckner, Aurora Democrat
  • State Sen. Bob Gardner, Colorado Springs Republican
  • State Rep. Millie Hamner, Frisco Democrat
  • State Rep. Timothy Leonard, Evergreen Republican
  • State Rep. Paul Lundeen, Monument Republican
  • State Sen. Michael Merrifield, Colorado Springs Democrat
  • State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, Sterling Republican
  • State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, Arvada Democrat

rules and regs

New York shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online

PHOTO: G. Tatter

After pushback from teachers, the New York State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.

The original rule stated that teachers could not use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam period ended on June 23. As Chalkbeat reported Tuesday, teachers objected, arguing that they sometimes needed to discuss questions in order to properly grade the tests or to challenge questions that seems unfair.

Under the change, tests taken between June 13 and June 16 can be discussed online beginning June 23. And for those taken between June 19 and June 22, teachers can discuss content online beginning June 27.

According to education department officials, the provision was intended to ensure that testing material did not spread online before all students had completed their exams, particularly among schools that serve students with special needs, who qualify for multiple-day testing.

“We believe that nearly all students who are testing with this accommodation will have completed their exams by these dates,” Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, wrote in a memo to school principals and leaders.

Still, longtime physics teacher Gene Gordon and former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State noted that, to some extent, the damage was done since the amendment to the rule came out only after many teachers had already graded their exams.

“It did not have any real effect,” Gordon said.

The New York State United Teachers — which criticized the new provision on Tuesday as a “gag order” and called for its repeal — called the amendment a “clear victory” for educators. Still, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Chalkbeat, “it clearly will be more helpful in the future than this year.”