Put to the test

Hickenlooper stands firm on testing ninth-graders, but which test will they take?

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to reporters on the eve of the 2017 General Assembly.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday reasserted his support for continuing standardized testing in the ninth grade but did not indicate whether he would support dropping the existing tests to better align with those given to other high school students.

In comments to reporters previewing his legislative priorities, Hickenlooper was non-committal on another education issue expected to get attention this session — whether the state’s teacher licensing system needs revamping.

Two years ago, a group of lawmakers from both parties sought to eliminate ninth-grade tests as part of legislation to reform and reduce the state’s standardized testing. Hickenlooper, however, made clear he valued the tests. With a potential veto looming, both chambers passed testing legislation with ninth-grade testing intact — and Hickenlooper signed it into law.

As a result, the state’s ninth graders are still required to take the state’s English and math test, known as PARCC. Students in grades three through eight also take PARCC tests, which have been a target of testing critics.

The testing reforms of 2015 did eliminate PARCC testing for high school sophomores and juniors. Sophomores began taking the PSAT last year, and juniors will take the SAT as their mandatory test for the first time this year.

With eliminating ninth-grade testing altogether no longer being discussed, the discussion has now shifted to potential legislation that would that would bring all the high school tests into alignment. That could result in freshmen also taking a test tied to the SAT, if that testing product continues to be the state’s choice.

While Hickenlooper on Tuesday did not take a position on switching tests, he did underscore that he believes testing in ninth grade provides a crucial datapoint for parents and the public.

“We have a responsibility to be able to talk to our taxpayers and tell them whether they’re getting the best value for their dollar,” said the Democratic governor, whose son is in ninth grade this year. “That requires a certain level of testing … If you take it out, I think we fall behind.”

Lawmakers and political observers also are expecting a series of bills that would reform the way the state license its teachers — an issue Hickenlooper has taken on in the past with little success.

In 2013, Hickenlooper and then-state Sen. Michael Johnston, a Denver Democrat, created a committee to make recommendations on how to change the state’s licensure process. But the committee’s work never led to legislation.

Hickenlooper said Tuesday he thought the conversation should be focused more on teacher preparation than licensing.

“If you go and look at the schools that really do educate a large number of our teachers, they want to educate great teachers,” he said. “So they’re open and willing to modify their curriculum and their teacher profiles to try and create better teachers. And I think they are.”

Hickenlooper, who has two years left in office before term limits end his governorship, is expected to lay out his legislative agenda Thursday when he addresses the General Assembly. Funding for education and transportation are expected to be key debates during this year’s legislative session.

Here We Go

House education committee greenlights increasing funding for kindergarten, banning corporal punishment

PHOTO: Ann Schimke
Kim Ursetta works with a student in her classroom at Denver's Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy.

The Colorado House Education Committee on Monday gave bipartisan blessing to two bills that would increase funding for kindergarten in the state’s public schools and ban corporal punishment in schools and child care centers.

The bill to fund the state’s kindergarten programs in public schools, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican, is expected to be short-lived given the state’s fiscal constraints. If Wilson’s bill were to become law, it would cost the state more than $42 million. The state currently is funding schools at a $830 million deficit.

The state currently gives schools about $5,000 for every kindergarten student. However, schools receive more than $8,000 for every student in grades one through 12. Wilson’s bill would work toward closing that gap.

“We say we can’t afford it. Well, guess what? Our districts can’t afford it either,” Wilson said.

Most of the state’s school districts offer full-day kindergarten. However, some rely on charging tuition while others divert federal funds to make up the difference.

The bill passed 12-4 with Rep. Lang Sias, an Arvada Republican, joining all the Democrats on the Democratic-controlled committee. But committee members were well aware of the bill’s likely fate.

A similar bill sponsored by Lakewood Democrats Sen. Andy Kerr and Rep. Brittany Pettersen  has already been sent to the Senate’s state affairs committee, where it’s expected to die. The difference between the two bills: Kerr’s and Pettersen’s bill would ask voters to approve a tax increase to pay for kindergarten.

The bill to prohibit corporal punishment, sponsored by Denver Democrat Rep. Susan Lontine, would outlaw using physical punishment for children in public schools and private child care centers. That would extend to small licensed day cares run out of private homes.    

Colorado is one of 19 states that does not currently ban physical violence used as punishment in schools or day cares. Lontine’s bill, which passed on an 11-2 vote, would end such practices, which are rare.

“If you did this at home, it’d be child abuse,” Lontine said. “But if you did it in school, it’d be corporal punishment and it’d be allowed.”

According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, nearly 500 incidents of corporal punishment were reported in Colorado. However, that data was called into question when Michael Clough, superintendent of the Sheridan School District, said the 400 cases his district mistakenly reported the data.

“We have not and we do not have corporal punishment,” he said. “It does seem like we need work with data collection.”

Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, attempted to amend the bill that would recognize local school district policies. However, that amendment was defeated on a party-line vote.

Pettersen, the committee’s chairwoman, and other Democrats expressed interest in taking a second look at the amendment when the bill is debated by the entire House of Representatives. They want to ensure that every school district was meeting a state standard.

Monday’s meeting of the House Education Committee marked the first time this session education related bills were discussed. The session is expected to be largely defined by the budget debate and how educators respond to the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.  

hold up wait a minute

Colorado Latina lawmakers to Trump: Back off pledge to end protections for young undocumented immigrants

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Colorado's Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran

Colorado’s two highest ranking Latina lawmakers are asking President-elect Donald Trump to back off his promise to revoke temporary protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children.

Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman wrote in a letter that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order allowed undocumented young adults access to a better education and job opportunities — including teaching.

The letter was cosigned by seven other Latino lawmakers.

“We are simply asking that the president-elect put an end to the fear and uncertainty of the 742,000 men, women and children, and the millions of our fellow Americans that know them as our friends, neighbors, family members and coworkers,” Duran, a Denver Democrat, said in a statement. “We are talking about keeping families — children and mothers and fathers — together. This is their home and they are a part of us.”

Duran is Colorado’s first Latina Speaker of the House. She co-sponsored state legislation in 2013 that provided in-state tuition at Colorado colleges for undocumented high school graduates.

Obama’s executive order provided an opportunity to aspiring teachers to enter the classroom, including those in Denver.

Denver Public Schools was the first school district in the nation to hire undocumented teachers.

In a statement released Thursday by the nonprofit education advocacy group Stand for Children, Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg also called on Trump to abandon his campaign promise.

“To deport talented teachers and students in whom we have invested so much, who have so much to give back to our community, and who are so much a part of our community would be a catastrophic loss,” he said.

Here’s the complete letter from lawmakers to Trump, who is to be sworn in on Friday: