Who Is In Charge

State Board unconvinced on new tests

Sen. Mike Johnston made a conciliatory pitch, but the State Board of Education still voted 4-3 to oppose his Senate Bill 12-172, which essentially would commit Colorado to use future multi-state tests for language arts and math.

State Board of Education meeting
Education Commissioner Robert Hammond (left) and State Board of Education members Bob Schaffer and Angelika Schroeder listen to Sen. Mike Johnston (lower right).

Johnston and cosponsor Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, met face-to-face with the board Friday, a little more than a week after introduction of the bill rekindled a smoldering legislative-board disagreement over the future of state testing. Also attending was Republican Sen. Keith King of Colorado Springs, who leans more towards the board’s views.

The smooth-talking Johnston, a Denver Democrat, did his best to be conciliatory. “This was not in any way an attempt to usurp the control of the state board,” he said, calling the bill “in fitting with the historical role of the legislature [on education] and deferential to you. … We’re highly optimistic we can find a way to work together.”

But Johnston also drew a line in the sand, saying Colorado-only English and math tests are “not the direction we’re heading.”

The board last year 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 opposed the request, and the legislature finally decided to provide some $6 million for development only of new social studies and science tests, plus Spanish language and special education tests.

National English and math tests are being developed by two national consortia, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Colorado is participating in both 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. The bill would require SBE to join one or the other governing board.

Johnston and the Hickenlooper administration favor the second group, known as PARCC. Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said he also leans toward PARCC if Colorado ultimately uses multi-state tests.

Several board members were concerned about whether Colorado could back out of a consortium if state leaders don’t like the tests that are ultimately developed. Board member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, said, “If this is what the legislature wants us to do I think there should be some sort of escape clause.”

Johnston said he’d be open to adding an escape clause to his bill.

There also was extensive discussion about quality of the national tests, potential cost savings and state flexibility in setting passing scores and using customized questions.

Johnston, as he has done in several other presentations, used an automotive analogy, calling the consortium tests a “Ferrari” and Colorado-only tests a “Ford Pinto.”

Paul Lundeen
State Board of Education member Paul Lundeen / File photo

Board member Paul Lundeen, R-5th District, said, “We don’t really need to build a Ferrari. What we need is a really good serviceable four-by- four because we’re in Colorado.”

“I’m not persuaded in the quality,” said board chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District.

But for some board members, there’s a bigger issue than all the others.

Schaffer said he fully expects consortium membership will become a condition for future federal grants, just has happened with adoption of the Common Core Standards.

And Schaffer said a future national curriculum “is what this is clearly all about.”

Lundeen said federal control of education is the “overriding issue.”

After the lawmakers left, board member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, made a pitch for Johnston’s bill, saying, “They clearly want to work with us; they’re willing to build into the bill maximum flexibility.”

Elaine Gantz Berman
State Board of Education member Elaine Gantz-Berman / File photo

She added, “If we don’t support this … then we’re treading water.” Before leaving Johnston had warned, “I don’t think we are going to have a different result next year” if the board again asks for full funding to develop Colorado-only English and math tests.

But in the end, the board voted 4-3 to oppose the bill, with fellow Republicans Debora Scheffel of the 6th District and Marcia Neal of the 3rd voting with Schaffer and Lundeen. Berman, Schroeder and Jane Goff, D-7th District, voted no.

While Johnston probably can get the bill through the Senate, passing it may be tougher in the Republican-controlled House, where Schaffer, a former lawmaker and congressman, may have some lobbying sway. Johnston also doesn’t yet have a House sponsor, and the legislative session has to adjourn by May 9, making it possible for House leaders to let the bill “die on the calendar” without coming up for debate.

Regardless of what happens at the Capitol, Schaffer noted, “We’ve got to come rather quickly to some conclusion as to where we think the state should go with assessments.” The board could choose to join a consortium without legislative action.

Colorado currently is using transitional tests but needs new permanent tests to both fully assess students on new state content standards and to implement the educator evaluation law.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: