Breakthrough

House passes testing compromise bill

Testing bill sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner (left) watches as House takes a standing vote on an amendment.

The House late Monday gave preliminary approval to a compromise testing measure designed to break the assessment stalemate that has dogged the 2015 session.

The vote came after a full evening’s worth of debate, two party caucuses to discuss the bill and some tense moments for sponsors. But in the end sentiment seemed noticeably in favor of the measure.

Two proposed amendments, one to put stronger opt-out language in the bill and another to give districts more flexibility in choice of ninth grade tests, were defeated on recorded votes.

Earlier in the evening the House and Senate education committees each approved the testing compromise. The Senate won’t hold preliminary floor debate on the second bill until Tuesday, the second-to-the-last day of the legislative session.

Here are the key features of the new plan:

  • CMAS/PARCC testing in language arts and math would continue in grades 3-9. (This would require federal sign-off because grade 9 doesn’t meet federal requirements for giving the tests once in high school.)
  • Statewide science tests would continue to be given once at each level – elementary, middle and high school.
  • The proposal includes no requirement for social studies testing.
  • A college-and-career readiness test like ACT Aspire would be given to 10th grade students. (Such exams take a lot less time than the PARCC tests.)
  • The main ACT test would continue to be given in the 11th grade.
  • Districts would be required to give the 10th and 11th grade tests but students wouldn’t have to take them. (Such tests aren’t subject to federal requirements for student participation.)
  • Parents would have to be notified about their rights to opt students out of tests, and districts would be prohibited from punishing or discriminating against students who don’t take tests.
  • Pilot programs under which districts could experiment with different kinds of tests would be created.
  • There would be limits of use of state test data for educator evaluation in 2014-15 and in future years when such data isn’t available for timely evaluations.

The plan retains language from earlier testing bills that would streamline school readiness and READ Act literacy assessments. It also requires the availability of paper tests if districts request them.

Read a draft of the proposal here.

The compromise came together quickly. “It is the result of some serious work between the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats over the weekend,” Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillion told House Education. Hamner, chair of the committee last year, was named Monday morning by House Democratic leadership to carry the compromise bill.

Procedurally, the new plan was amended into two different bills, making them identical. House Education rewrote Senate Bill 15-257 with the new language and passed it 9-2. Senate Education did the same with House Bill 15-1323 and passed the new version 5-4.

The compromise appears to satisfy education leaders from both parties in both houses, as well as Gov. John Hickenlooper. But the plan definitely does not satisfy activist parent groups and the Colorado Education Association, who had pushed for more dramatic changes. And it didn’t satisfy

Education reform groups have questions about the testing pilot program, which likely will be subject to floor amendments.

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”