Future of Schools

Republican senator's call for a 2-year delay of ISTEP sanctions goes nowhere

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
On the last day of the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers move ahead with plans to ditch ISTEP.

One Republican lawmaker has a question for her colleagues who are moving quickly toward a one-year “pause” of any teacher or school consequences for low 2015 ISTEP scores: Should the delay instead be for two years?

Authored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, Senate Bill 200 quickly passed committee 10-1 today as part of an effort to have it signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence as early as mid-month. The bill would prevent any school’s A-F grade for 2015 from dropping below the grade it received in 2014.

But Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, argued today that a one-year pause wouldn’t give teachers and students enough time to acclimate to new tests and new standards.

So far, nobody appears to be listening.

Her bill, Senate Bill 139, was assigned to the Senate Rules Committee this morning, not the education committee, which she said basically killed it. The bill would have extended the effort to hold schools and teachers harmless for both 2015 and 2016 scores. Kruse’s bill gives schools a pass just for 2015.

Skip Brown, spokesman for Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the General Assembly’s plan was to stick with Kruse’s bill based on discussions with among Republicans, Democrats and Ritz’s and Pence’s teams.

“All of those stakeholders reached agreement on the approach contained in SB 200 over a variety of other options,” Brown said in an email. “So that is the bill that is moving forward.”

Leising’s view aligns with groups that are pushing to reduce the influence of testing in education such as the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.

Joel Hand, testifying for the coalition, pointed to expert testimony last summer that suggested most states delay longer when changing standards and redesigning state exams.

Test expert Greg Cizek from the University of North Carolina told lawmakers over the summer that many states commonly give a longer pause when the put in place new standards and transition to new tests. Indiana junked Common Core standards for its locally created standards back in 2014. A new ISTEP, created to match the new standards, was given in 2015. But the new test was riddled with scoring and design problems.

“The most defensible practice that most states follow when they do that is a phase-in process,” Cizek said in the summer. “We change standards now, but new tests would not responsible for them until about three years.”

Leising pushed the same logic.

She said she would champion a longer pause to boost teacher morale and because she feared communities she represented might be hurt if business shied away from locating there because they believed the schools were failing, she said.

“We‘ve got to make sure that we are not somehow missing the boat as we push testing,” she said. “I’m not opposed to accountability, but I think we have to use some common sense.”

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has backed Kruse’s bill and wasn’t concrete about whether she’d support a longer delay — but she didn’t rule it out.

Kruse’s bill was just one of the session’s biggest education bills to make it through committee already, and other groups that generally are skeptical of test-based accountability appeared resigned to Kruse’s plan as the most viable option.

“We’re here supporting this one-year pause,” said Gail Zeheralis, a lobbyist for the Indiana State Teachers Association. “But, you know, we’ll see what the future holds.”

A bill similar to Kruse’s also sailed out of the House Education Committee today.

House Bill 1003, authored by committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, would remove the sting of lower ISTEP scores and school A-F grades from teacher’s yearly ratings. It passed the committee unanimously today, 12-0, and next heads to the full House.

Behning’s bill would allow schools and districts to use the higher of 2014 or 2015 scores in determining performance bonuses. In the most recent two-year state budget passed last year, legislators set aside $30 million in 2016 and $40 million in 2017 for teacher performance grants.

enrollment woes

More students applied to Renewal high schools this year, but that won’t necessarily jolt sagging enrollment

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
August Martin High School is part of New York City's Renewal turnaround program.

High schools in New York City’s controversial turnaround program saw 1,100 more applications this year, a jump city officials touted as evidence the long-floundering schools are rising in popularity.

But overall, 3,305 students received an offer to attend a Renewal high school this year — up just 26 students from the previous year.

Education department officials said the 9 percent rise in applications over last year shows that the 20 high schools in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s expensive and controversial Renewal program are successfully turning a corner and attracting new students. The stakes are high for Renewal schools: City officials have closed or merged schools that have struggled with low enrollment.

But the rise in applications doesn’t necessarily mean those schools will have a flood of new students next year.

One reason for the gap between applications and actual offers is that more students are applying to a larger number of schools. Students can list up to 12 schools on their high school applications, and this year the city saw a 4 percentage point increase in the proportion of students who listed all 12 options. That means students are applying to more schools generally, not just ones in the Renewal program.

Another reason more applications might not yield big enrollment jumps is that students could be ranking Renewal schools lower on their list of choices, making it less likely they will receive an offer to attend.

“If someone ranks a Renewal school 11th,” said Teachers College professor Aaron Pallas, “is that really a reflection of the change in demand for that school?”

There are different ways students can receive initial offers. They can be matched with a school on their list of 12 choices. Or, if they don’t receive a match, they can be assigned to their default “zoned” neighborhood school.

About 140 more students received offers as a result of ranking them among their 12 preferred choices this year, which a department spokesman said is evidence of increased interest in Renewal high schools. But fewer students were assigned to Renewal schools after failing to receive an offer based on their list of 12 choices, which is why only 26 additional students overall were matched at Renewal high schools this year. (An official also noted that two Renewal high schools are closing, which also caused fewer offers to be issued.)

The spokesman added that the number of offers by itself is not a perfect predictor of next year’s enrollment, since students who were not matched to any schools during the initial round of applications can now apply again. (It’s also possible that some students who arrive to the city after admissions process ends could be sent to a Renewal school.)

Still, at some Renewal schools, the jump in applications has been significant, which Pallas said could suggest some schools are successfully changing their image. At Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology in the Bronx, for instance, the school received 945 applications this year — a 47 percent increase.

And at Longwood Preparatory Academy, which saw a 16 percent bump in applications, Principal Asya Johnson said the school has worked hard to market itself to families. The school changed its name, launched a new career and technical program in digital media, plastered local bodegas with fliers, and beefed up its social media presence. For the first time this year, school officials invited middle school guidance counselors across the Bronx for brunch and a tour.

“We have been doing a lot of recruitment,” she said. “We are constantly advertising ourselves.”

Below, you can find a list of each Renewal high school and a breakdown of how many applications they received this year compared with last year. (The list also includes “Rise” schools, which are being phased out of the turnaround program.)

Price of entry

Becoming a Colorado teacher could soon require fewer transcripts, more training on English learners

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The rules for becoming a teacher in Colorado are about to change — and officials hope the moves will help attract more math teachers and better prepare educators to work with students learning English.

The changes, which the Colorado Department of Education proposed this week, would also cut down on the paperwork needed to enter the profession and make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to re-enter the classroom after they move to Colorado.

The package of changes also includes a slimmed-down teacher evaluation rubric, the first major revision to the rules under Colorado’s 2010 teacher effectiveness law.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Less paperwork for new teachers. Applicants for a teaching license would no longer have to provide transcripts for every school they attended, only the transcripts for the school that granted them their highest degree. (Many colleges hold transcripts hostage for unpaid debt, even minor ones like unpaid parking tickets.
  • Less paperwork for teachers coming from other states. Experienced, licensed teachers from outside Colorado would no longer need to provide transcripts or prove that their teacher preparation program met Colorado standards.
  • More flexibility about previous teaching experience. Licensed teachers from other states would no longer need to have previously worked under a full-time contract to qualify for a Colorado license.
  • A new credential limited to middle-school math. Right now, Colorado only has a secondary math endorsement, which requires competency in trigonometry and calculus. That’s a barrier for teachers moving from other states with a math endorsement limited to middle school, and some see it as a roadblock for those who feel comfortable with algebra but not higher-level math.
  • Additional pathways for counselors and nurses to get licensed to work in schools.

Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session would remove another barrier for out-of-state teachers. To qualify for a Colorado license today, teachers must have had three years of continuous teaching experience. If those bills are signed into law, applicants would only need three years of experience in the previous seven years.

Together, the proposals indicate how Colorado officials are working to make it a little easier to become a teacher in the state, which is facing a shortage in math teachers, counselors, and school nurses, among other specialties, as well as a shortage in many rural districts.

Colleen O’Neil, executive director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education, said many of the proposed changes came out of listening sessions focused on the state’s teacher shortage held around the state.  

The changes still don’t mean that if you’re a teacher anywhere in the country, you can easily become a teacher in Colorado. Just six states have full reciprocity, meaning anyone with a license from another state can teach with no additional requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States. Teachers whose licenses and endorsements don’t have a direct equivalent in Colorado would still need to apply for an interim license and then work to meet the standards of the appropriate Colorado license or endorsement.

The rule changes also add some requirements. Among those changes:

  • Prospective teachers will need more training on how to work with students learning English. Most significantly, all educator preparation programs would have to include six semester hours or 90 clock hours of training.
  • So will teachers renewing their licenses. They will need 45 clock hours, though the requirement wouldn’t kick in until the first full five-year cycle after the teacher’s most recent renewal. A teacher who just got her license renewed this year would have nine years to complete that additional training, as the requirement wouldn’t apply until the next renewal cycle. Superintendents in districts where less than 2 percent of the students are English language learners could apply for a waiver.

Colorado’s educator preparation rules already call for specialized training for teaching English language learners, but the rule change makes the requirements more explicit.

“We’re the sixth-largest state for English language learners,” O’Neil said. “We want to make sure our educators are equipped to teach all our learners.”

The rule changes would also “streamline,” in O’Neil’s words, the teacher evaluation process. Here’s what would change:

  • The five teacher quality standards would become four. “Reflection” and “leadership” are combined into “professionalism.”
  • The underlying elements of those standards would be reduced, too. Twenty-seven elements would become 17.

Fifty school districts and one charter collaborative have been testing the new evaluation system this year in a pilot program. O’Neil said most of the feedback has been positive, and the rest of the feedback has been to urge officials to winnow down the standards even further. That’s not a change she would support, O’Neil said.

“The reality is that teaching actually is rocket science,” she said. “There are a lot of practices and elements that go into good teaching.”

The state is accepting additional public comment on the rules until April 20, and a public hearing will be held in May. The new rules are expected to be adopted this summer.

Submit written feedback online or send an email to the State Board of Education at state.board@cde.state.co.us.