Hot issues

Testing, Common Core officially on the legislature’s plate

A Republican-sponsored bill to delay rollout of new statewide tests and to require a new study of the state’s academic standards – which include the controversial Common Core Standards – was introduced in the Senate Monday.

That sets the stage for legislative debate on some of the nation’s most contentious education issues, although the odds may be long for passage of the bill.

Prime sponsor Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, told Chalkbeat Colorado last week that she hoped to find Democrats to sign on to the bill, but none were listed as sponsors at introduction. (Neither, interestingly, was Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, and a senior GOP figure on education issues.) So Democratic majorities in both houses are a hurdle for Senate Bill 14-136 — not to mention the commitment of the Hickenlooper administration, the Department of Education and key legislators to the current standards and the plans for new tests.

The bill would delay by one year the rollout of the new statewide assessments in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. (One problem here is that new online science and social studies tests, to be given to one grade each in elementary, middle and high school, are scheduled for this spring.)

The bill also would create a Colorado Academic Standards Task Force to study implementation of the Colorado academic standards, including the Common Core. The task force, including legislators and public members appointed by chair of the State Board of Education, would have to issue recommendations by Dec. 15, 2015, which would be considered by the legislature and the state board. The bill also would require the Department of Education to hire an outside entity to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of implementing the new standards and new tests.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee, but a hearing date hasn’t yet been set.

Marble also said last week that she’s working on a bill to strengthen protections for student data, a proposal that may have a better chance of gaining Democratic support. On the testing front, the Douglas County school board is advocating legislation that would give school districts greater flexibility in deciding which tests to give (see story).

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, told Chalkbeat Monday that he’s talked about the issue with Dougco board members but doesn’t know yet if he’ll introduce a bill.

The testing-and-standards bill was among a flurry of new bills introduced Monday in the Senate, including five related to education. The new measures bring to 36 the number of education-related bills introduced so far this year.

Another measure of interest is Senate Bill 14-114, which would change the role and mission of Colorado State University Global Campus and allow it offer four-year bachelor’s degree programs instead of just junior- and senior-year classes that allow students to complete bachelor’s degrees. The measure is expected to get close scrutiny from other higher education sectors, particularly the community colleges, because of concerns about competition.

Also introduced Monday were:

  • Senate Bill 14-112 – This measure would make annual cash grants from the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program subject to legislative appropriation, meaning lawmakers could set an annual cap on the grants. The Capital Construction Assistance Board currently can spend whatever revenue it has available.
  • Senate Bill 14-124 – The bill would create a school turnaround leaders development program and grants in the Department of Education.
  • Senate Bill 14-139 – The proposal would increase the money available for a state charter school debt reserve fund and also increase the debt limits for another program that guarantees charter school bonds.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bills texts and other information.

testing talk

‘Virtually meaningless’ or ‘steady progress’? New York City reacts to this year’s state test scores

PHOTO: Grace Tatter

English and math exam pass rates inched up in New York City this year compared to last year — more than they did in the state as a whole, city officials announced Tuesday.

The annual release of test scores created a wave of reactions from education stakeholders across the state. Charter school advocates claimed victory, the state teachers union called them “meaningless” and Mayor Bill de Blasio said they represent the “painstaking work” of schools across New York City.

Here is a sample of reactions:

The mayor touted his own education agenda.

“These improvements over the past four years represent painstaking work – student by student, classroom by classroom, and school by school. It’s steady progress towards a stronger and fairer system for all. We are focused on building on these gains and others – such as the highest-ever high school graduation rate – to deliver equity and excellence for every public school student across the city, no matter their zip code.” — Mayor Bill de Blasio

Charter advocates said it shows the strength of their approach.

“New York City charter public schools are continuing to show us poverty is not destiny in the greatest city in the world. Charter public schools offer the promise of closing the achievement gap and today’s results show they are delivering on that promise. It’s been almost 20 years since New York passed its charter law and these public schools are now out of the experimentation phase: not only should their lessons have more reach, but so should they.” — StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis

Success Academy highlighted its push for more school space.

“These results should inspire the de Blasio administration to immediately support Success Academy and other high-performing charters to serve more students in public space.” — Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy founder and CEO

The state’s teachers union called the test scores “virtually meaningless.”

“They don’t count for students or teachers — and they shouldn’t count. They are derived from a broken testing system; are rooted in standards that are no longer being taught; and — for now — are the foundation of a totally discredited teacher evaluation system. The test-and-punish era damaged the trust and confidence of parents in our public education system, as evidenced by the continuing strength of the opt-out movement, and we believe dramatic changes are needed to win them back.” — NYSUT President Andy Pallotta

The city’s teachers union said they represented “progress.”

“Thanks to the efforts of teachers and other staff members across the city, our students are making solid, sustainable progress and the nation’s largest school system is moving in the right direction.” — UFT President Michael Mulgrew

Other groups took the chance to criticize opt-out.

“The results show the right thing to do is to keep moving forward, not tear down high standards and end annual assessments like opponents call for. The continued rise in proficiency scores is a clear sign that high standards are preparing students for future challenges, and parents are increasingly rejecting misguided calls to ‘opt out’ of the state’s annual check-ups. Both of these are good trends for every student in New York, no matter where they are growing up.” — High Achievement New York Executive Director Stephen Sigmund

And some pushed for more dramatic change.

“While we are pleased to see the test scores move in the right direction for New York City students overall, we are concerned about the persistent gaps that exist for students with disabilities and English Language Learners. Teaching students to read is one of the most fundamental tasks of schools.  With only 5.6% of English Language Learners and 10.7% of students with disabilities scoring proficiently in reading, the city must do more to support these students and ensure that they receive high-quality, evidence-based instruction that targets their individual needs.”— Advocates for Children Executive Director Kim Sweet

Testing Time

New York’s state test scores are coming out today. Here’s what we’ll be watching for.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

At long last, New York state English and math test scores are being released today, according to state officials.

Though the tests have been criticized as providing only a snapshot of what students have learned, they are still one of the main tools used to judge the progress of schools, students, and major education initiatives.

Because the tests themselves held steady between 2016 and 2017, the test scores will provide a brief glimpse into whether students are making progress. That could also mean smaller changes than last year, when English scores shot up nearly eight percentage points.

But stable comparisons will only make a temporary appearance in New York education. Next year, the state has announced it will shorten testing by two days, which will no doubt call yearly comparisons into question again.

Here are a few storylines we’ll be watching as the state prepares to release test results:

Is the city’s approach to education policy working? What about signature programs like “Renewal”?

When test results jumped almost eight points in English and roughly one point in math last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio was quick to say they showed “pure hard evidence” his policies were working.

The state’s top education policymakers, however, cautioned that due to changes in the test, an “apples-to-apples” comparison to the year before was impossible. The changes included offering students unlimited time and shortening the exams slightly. This year, state tests were kept consistent in order to make those comparisons possible.

That raises an important question: Without changes to tests, will the results still be good news for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña? It is particularly important for high-profile efforts like the city’s “Renewal” turnaround program, which is entering the year in which the mayor said it should show results.

The only other year under de Blasio’s tenure when the state had fairly consistent testing compared to the prior year was 2015. In that year, test scores inched up one point in math and two points in English.

It may be a good thing if there are only small increases again, said Jennifer Jennings, an associate professor at NYU who has studied testing.

“We hope that they’re gradually inching upwards,” Jennings said. “Very large swings are often evidence that something is off.”

What will happen to opt-out?

For the last two years, about one in five students across New York state have boycotted state tests in protest. That number is significantly lower in New York City — though it has been growing. In 2016, 2.4 percent of city students sat out of the English exams and 2.8 opted out of math in New York City.

The opt-out rate acts as a litmus test of the public’s reaction to state education policy. The movement started in response to a series of state reforms, including adoption of the Common Core and test-based teacher evaluations.

Despite changes the state made last year to appease families upset about the tests, opt-out rates remained relatively consistent. (In fact, they ticked up a bit.) This year, the state has embarked on a process to reshape learning standards and submit a new plan to evaluate schools under the new federal education law.

Will that be enough to defuse some of the tension? Early results indicated opt-out rates may have decreased statewide, but the final tally will likely be released today with state test scores, as it has in past years.

What about equity, which is at the heart of the city’s agenda?

Each year, test results show a disheartening fact: Certain subgroups, such as black and Hispanic students, fare worse than their peers on tests. English learners and students with disabilities also historically score below average.

City and state officials have placed equity at the heart of their agenda. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Equity and Excellence” initiatives and his approach to turning around struggling schools are predicated on the idea that schools — particularly those in low-income communities — need resources in order to be successful. State officials have put equity at the center of their plan to reshape education policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

De Blasio’s critics, however, have argued the best way to address equity issues is tackling segregation in New York City schools. (The mayor released a preliminary diversity plan, but has been fairly slow to endorse integration as a strategy for school improvement.)

So, are the extra resources helping to close the gap between students of color and their white and Asian peers? This year’s test scores will help sort out that question, though many of the mayor’s major initiatives could take years to come to fruition.