Who Is In Charge

State board opposes testing bill

Updated 4:15 p.m. April 27 – The State Board of Education has voted 4-3 to oppose Senate Bill 12-172, the measure that would require the board to join one of two groups that are developing multi-state achievement tests.

The board spent more than two hours on the issues, including a lengthy discussion with legislative sponsors of the bill. The exchange was friendly, but it doesn’t appear that minds were changed.

The board’s four Republicans voted to oppose the bill, while the three Democrats supported it.

Text of original Thursday story follows.

The low-grade disagreement between the State Board of Education and key legislators over the future shape of state testing is threatening to flare up as the legislature enters its final nine days.

Pencil on test paperThe spark is Senate Bill 12-172, passed 4-2 Thursday night during a Senate Education Committee meeting that was delayed for some four hours because of prolonged floor debate on the civil unions bill and a school discipline measure.

The measure would require the state board to choose between one of two groups that are developing multistate achievement tests in language arts and math.

Making such a choice would commit Colorado to using multistate tests instead of the developing its own, which is what the state board has wanted to do.

Colorado is participating in both the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, but it isn’t a governing member of either. States that join a group’s governing board have a greater say in test development – but they also commit to use that group’s tests. Both are expected to be available in 2015.

The bill doesn’t specify a consortium, nor does it set a deadline for the SBE to decide.

The legislation, introduced quietly just a week ago, seemed to catch some committee members by surprise. “I didn’t realize this bill would be up today,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver / File photo

After sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, explained the measure, Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said, “I’d like to know where the state board is on this.”

A little later in the meeting, he asked Anne Barkis, lobbyist for the board and Department of Education, to take the witness seat.

Barkis said the board hasn’t taken a position because it hadn’t met since the bill was introduced but that it was meeting Friday afternoon.

“I anticipate we will have a slightly divided board and that the majority will come out opposed to the bill,” Barkis said in very measured tones. “Generally speaking, the state board would prefer not to be told what decisions to make.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Senate Ed chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs
Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs / File photo

“It seems to me there should be some sort of collaboration between the state board and the legislature,” King said.

But Johnston, Bacon and Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, all made the argument that the General Assembly is constitutionally superior to the board.

The state constitution says, “Their duties will be defined by law,” said Hudak, a former member of the board. “That means us.”

“I do see it as a function of this body,” said Johnston, noting that while the board can vote on what tests it wants, the legislature has to come up with the money to pay for them.

Money has been at the root of the testing dispute since last November, when the board requested $26 million to develop a full battery of new state tests to replace the CSAPs, which are obsolete because of new state content standards. The Hickenlooper administration requested exactly zero dollars for new tests, indicating the state could use the transitional TCAP tests for an extra year and then sign on to multi-state assessments.

The Joint Budget Committee fussed with the issue for months, with members complaining about the mixed signals from the board and the governor’s office.

Senate Education weighed in with advice to the JBC that a smaller amount of money should be spent on some specialized tests but that the state should develop its own reading and math assessments.

Coincidentally, the budget question was answered Thursday with final votes in the House and Senate on House Bill 12-1335, next year’s main state budget. The bill includes some $6 million for development of new social studies and science tests, plus Spanish language and special education tests.

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster / File photo

Hudak, who last week tried to strip all testing money from the budget bill, voted for the final version Thursday. But she took five minutes at the microphone to criticize her former board colleagues.

While saying she understood the need for new science and other tests, “What troubles me is the $2.5 million to develop a whole new set of tests, the social studies tests.

“This is sort of a case of the tail wagging the dog. … That was a decision made by the State Board of Education in a discussion with the commission on higher education. We the legislature tell the state board what they must do. This is not what happened with social studies. They decided that they would like them, and now we are funding it,” Hudak told her fellow senators.

Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, sounded a similar note during the floor discussion.

While the legislature may have constitutional authority on its side, the state board could have a political ace up its sleeve. Lame-duck SBE chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, reportedly has been lobbying against the bill and could well have some influence with the Republican majority leadership in the House.

The measure’s prime sponsors are Johnston and Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, plus the other three Democrats on Senate Education. But as yet the measure has no House sponsor from either party.

Senate Ed members struggled a bit when it came time to vote. Both King and Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, passed when the roll first was called, and paused a moment when their turns came up again.

Heath paused again and voted yes. King finally said, “I just don’t know which side of the fence to fall off of. … I think I’ll go no today, a weak no.” Also voting no was Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.

Johnston, Hudak and Bacon all voted yes to send the bill to the full Senate.

The next round in the fight comes Friday at 2 p.m., when the state board convenes its regularly scheduled legislative meeting at the Department of Education, 201 E. Colfax Ave. The seven-member panel has four Republicans and three Democrats.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”


Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”