From the Statehouse

Evaluation, accountability “data gap” package nearly done

A key measure intended to give districts flexibility in teacher evaluations next year was passed 53-11 by the House Tuesday, leaving Senate Bill 14-165 just one small step from being sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper for signature.

The bill and another measure, House Bill 14-1182, are needed to help the state and districts avoid disruptions in teacher evaluations and district and school accountability ratings when Colorado moves to the new CMAS testing system in the spring of 2015.

Both the evaluation and accreditation systems are based partly on student achievement data from statewide tests. For technical reasons, results from 2015 CMAS tests (including the multi-state PARCC tests in language arts and math) won’t be available until late 2015 or early 2016, which is too late to be factored into teacher evaluations and accreditation for the 2014-15 school year.

And because the tests will be different from the current TCAP exams, there won’t be student year-to-year growth data that can be used. That will require two years of CMAS results.

Here’s how the two bills propose to get around those problems:

SB 14-165 – Districts would be required to gather student growth data on teachers next year but could choose whether or not to use it in evaluations. (Districts could weight growth data anywhere from 0 to 50 percent of evaluations. For teacher evaluation, growth is tracked by multiple measures, not just statewide tests, so districts will have other data to use.) A low evaluation rating would count toward possible future loss of non-probationary status. In 2015-16 and subsequent years evaluations would be based half on student growth and half on professional practice. The House made minor amendments to the bill that will have to be agreed to by the Senate.

HB 14-1182 – Accreditation ratings that districts and school receive next fall, based on 2013-14 performance, will be in effect for two years because of the 2014-15 data gap. Districts will be free to appeal to the Department of Education if they believe additional data justifies changes in 2014-15 ratings. And the State Board of Education is given additional flexibility in recommending turnaround measures for schools that have reached the end of the five-year accountability clock. Hickenlooper signed this bill on April 4.

The two measures to work around the testing transition are finishing up just as criticism of the PARCC tests is on the rise. Over the weekend delegates at the Colorado Education Association’s annual meeting approved resolution demanding withdrawal from PARCC (see story).

That aligns the liberal union, on this issue at least, with its natural political enemies, Republican elected officials. All but three legislative Republicans recently supported unsuccessful motions to pull state funding from PARCC, and the four-member GOP majority on the State Board of Education supports a pullout (see story).

The testing debate could intensify over the summer and fall if lawmakers approve a measure (House Bill 14-1202) to commission a study of testing (background here).

Other bills cross finish line

The Senate voted 34-0 Tuesday to approve House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards, something that school districts already are able to do. The measure goes to Hickenlooper. The bill is a bipartisan, no-controversy compromise that was introduced after majority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in February killed House Bill 14-1157, which would have allowed school boards to authorize school employees to carry weapons.

After some prolonged partisan bickering over “pet projects” and fiscal responsibility, the House voted 38-26 for the conference committee version of House Bill 14-1336, the 2014-15 state budget. The only Republican to vote yes was Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, a member of the Joint Budget Committee.

The Senate approved the final version of the budget on Monday, with seven Republicans voting yes and eight opposed. (This is the bill that contains the money to pay for PARCC next year.)

Both houses also have re-passed House Bill 14-1342, the construction funding bill that includes a, $120 million wish list of higher education building projects that will be funded only if the state’s 2013-14 surplus is higher than projected. As part of that deal the State Education Fund will receive a surplus infusion of only $20 million.

Halfway home

Four education-related bills received final House approval Tuesday and are headed for the rapidly ballooning calendar the Senate faces with only 16 days left in the 2014 session. All are spending bills and so attracted little or no Republican support.

House Bill 14-1085 – Proposes spending $960,000 for adult education and literacy grants. Passed 37-26.

House Bill 14-1124 – Would grant resident tuition eligibility to Native American students who belong to tribes with historic ties to Colorado, creating a potential loss of up to $5.3 million in tuition revenue. Passed 39-25.

House Bill 14-1156 – Would make students in grades 3-5 who currently are eligible for reduced-price school lunches eligible for free lunches, at a cost of $809,095. Passed 38-26.

House Bill 14-1276 – Creates a grant program for CPR instruction in high schools. $300,000 Passed 40-24.

And the Senate voted 34-1 to pass Senate Bill 14-001, dubbed the College Affordability Act. This is the bill that increases higher education spending by $100 million in 2014-15 and caps tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two school years. The measure is expected to have an easy time in the House.

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

legal opinion

Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

PHOTO: TN.gov
Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

First Person

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.