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Pair of testing reduction bills pop up in Senate

Testing task force chair Dan Snowberger (left) briefs legislators on the group's work.

The first testing bills of 2015 have been introduced in the Senate, one that would make extensive trims to the current assessment system and the second of which would cut back social studies testing.

Senate Bill 15-073, sponsored by Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, would require the state to cut testing to the so-called federal minimums and to ask federal authorities for a waiver that would allow use of the ACT test as the only assessment in high school. While such a request was pending, the ACT test would temporarily be eliminated.

Senate Bill 15-056 is a repeat of Sen. Andy Kerr’s unsuccessful attempt to trim social studies from the closing days of the 2014 session.

The two were among a flurry of education bills introduced this week, including an extensive “parent’s bill of rights” proposed by Republicans, a Democratic bill to cap student loan interest rates, a proposal to change admissions policies at Metropolitan State University, and a plan to boost compensation of community college faculty.

The Merrifield and Kerr bills are the first of what are expected to be several proposed measures on assessments. Republicans are likely to weigh in on the issue and also propose pulling Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards. It’s widely assumed the legislature will take some action on testing but most likely through a compromise, bipartisan bill.

Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs / File photo
Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs / File photo

The Merrifield proposal to reduce testing to federal minimum requirements likely would eliminate science and social studies testing in the 12th grade, although the federal government does require a science test sometime during high school. It also would eliminate language arts and math tests in the 9th and 12th grades, tests Colorado gives now but that aren’t required under federal law.

Social studies tests, including those in lower grades, also are a Colorado-only policy. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for background on the implications of such testing cuts.)

The bill suggests temporarily eliminating the ACT test, now given to all 11th graders, but also would require the state to ask the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver that would allow the ACT to be the only test given to Colorado high school students. (The state currently gives language arts and math tests in 10th grade.)

Merrifield’s bill would retain the school readiness and READ Act assessments and evaluations used in grades K-3 but reduce the frequency in some cases.

“It’s a work in progress,” Merrifield said of his bill. “I’m willing to listen to other ideas, [but] I think the bill as drafted now is a huge step.” He added he’s “optimistic” the legislature will be able “to make some advances” on testing.

Senate Bill 15-056, the social studies measure introduced by Kerr, a Lakewood Democrat, would allow the state to give the new social studies tests only once every three years in every school. Only “a representative sample” of schools would administer the tests in any given year. Currently the tests are given to all 4th, 7th and 12th graders. Rollout of the tests last fall sparked boycotts by high school seniors in some districts.

The last-minute 2014 bill on social studies was killed in the House Education Committee. Kerr commented recently that passing the bill then would have saved some disruption last fall. The high school scores haven’t been compiled, but the 4th and 7th grade scores from tests last spring showed room for improvement (see story).

Lawmakers awaiting testing recommendations

Republican Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, chair of the Senate Education Committee, has promised that he won’t hold hearings on testing bills until after the advisory Standards and Assessments Task Force presents its recommendations to lawmakers on Jan. 28.

Durango Superintendent Dan Snowberger, who chaired the task force, briefed the House and Senate education committees on the group’s work Wednesday but, by pre-arrangement with Hill, didn’t discuss recommendations. (The group’s direction, based on its last meeting Monday, is fairly clear. See this story.)

Snowberger did say the diverse group generally agreed that “It does seem like we’ve reached the point where it feels like we’re over-assessing.”

Two Republican lawmakers used the occasion to ask about SchoolVault, an electronic tool developed by the Durango district to help teachers track student progress on locally designed classroom tests. Some testing critics have intimated that Snowberger somehow has a conflict of interest because of his involvement with School Vault and chairing the task force.

When Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, tried to press the issue, Hill cut him off, saying, “Save that for a personal conversation afterwards.”

Fresh bills cover wide range of issues

Other new education bills introduced as of Wednesday include:

Get texts, bill details in the Education Bill Tracker

Senate Bill 15-068 -Caps the annual interest rate that a private lender may charge for a student loan to 2 percentage points above the rate charged by the federal government. The bill also makes student loan payments deductible on state income taxes. The measure has been assigned to Senate State Affairs, usually considered the kill committee. Prime sponsors: Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville; Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City.

Senate Bill 15-070 – Would eliminate state licensing of childcare centers that serve fewer then 10 children. The current cutoff is five children, although centers with five-10 children can apply for an exemption. Prime sponsors: Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud; Rep. Janek Joshi, R-Colorado Springs.

Senate Bill 15-072 – Reclassifies Metro State as a “moderately selective” institution. Metro currently is classified as “modified open admission,” which means students aged 20 or older only need a high school diploma or GED for admission. Metro officials didn’t request the change and say they are studying the bill. Prime sponsors: Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs’ Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument.

Senate Bill 15-077 – Creates a comprehensive “parent’s bill of rights” covering disclosure and parent consent on such matters as school records, health care decisions, making audio or video recordings of children, curriculum, sex education and other matters. It contains various opt-out provisions but doesn’t appear to include a testing opt-out. Other bill provisions cover medical issues. The bill was assigned to Senate Education. Prime sponsors: Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton; Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock. (The two new legislators are father and son, respectively, and are among the legislature’s more conservative members.)

Senate Bill 15-080 – Expands participation in the defined contribution pension program offered by the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, most of whose members are in the defined benefit plan. Prime sponsor: Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.

Senate Bill 15-094 – Represents this year’s attempt to improve pay and benefits for part-time community college faculty. Prior efforts have failed because of the considerable cost involved. Assigned to State Affairs. Prime sponsors: Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Kefalas; Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.

awarding leaders

Meet the nine finalists for Tennessee Principal of the Year

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: Docia Generette-Walker receives Tennessee's 2016 principal of the year honor from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Generette-Walker leads Middle College High School in Memphis. This year's winner will be announced in October.

Nine school leaders are up for an annual statewide award, including one principal from Memphis.

Tracie Thomas, a principal at White Station Elementary School, represents schools in Shelby County on the state’s list of finalists. Last year, Principal Docia Generette-Walker of Middle College High School in Memphis received the honor.

Building better principals has been a recent focus for Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen as roles of the school leaders change under school improvement efforts.

“Successful schools begin with great leaders, and these nine finalists represent some of the best in our state,” McQueen said. “The Principal of the Year finalists have each proven what is possible when school leaders hold students and educators to high expectations.”

The winner will be announced at the state department’s annual banquet in October, where the winner of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year will also be announced.

The finalists are:

West Tennessee

  • Tracie Thomas, White Station Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Stephanie Coffman, South Haven Elementary, Henderson County School District
  • Linda DeBerry, Dyersburg City Primary School, Dyersburg City Schools

Middle Tennessee

  • Kenneth “Cam” MacLean, Portland West Middle School, Sumner County Schools
  • John Bush, Marshall County High School, Marshall County Schools
  • Donnie Holman, Rickman Elementary School, Overton County Schools

East Tennessee

  • Robin Copp, Ooltewah High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Jeff Harshbarger, Norris Middle School, Anderson County Schools
  • Carol McGill, Fairmont Elementary School, Johnson City Schools

you better work

Hickenlooper, on national TV, calls for bipartisanship on job training for high school graduates

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

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday said Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids, or we want to make sure they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming or beginning to appear,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appeared on the Sunday public affairs program alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to discuss their work on healthcare.

The Colorado governor brought up workforce training after moderator John Dickerson asked what issues besides healthcare both parties should be addressing.

“Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Hickenlooper has long supported a variety of education reform policies including charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. Last fall he backed a new program that is expected to this year connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training.

Watch Hickenlooper and Kasich here. Hickenlooper’s remarks on job training begin right before the 11- minute mark.