March madness means the sweet 16, right? Not in Colorado! It's the
two-week slot for public school kids to take their annual assessments.
No jump shots, no hook shots, no fadeaways, but lots of scoring.
Colorado's parents can't legally pull their kids out of the tests. The
state legislature, which has passed a series of assessment statutes
since 1993, has cinched kids tight in their classroom seats no matter
what their parents think, want, or say.
Legislature compels kids to take tests
Parent control of what their kids do is gone over two weeks in March.
The state legislature, at various times led by Democrats and
Republicans, has stripped parents of their right of refusal, which the
Colorado Department of Education (CDE) outlines in its letter to
superintendents every year.
Colorado law 22-7-409(1.2)(d)(l)(A) lays out the rules. According to CDE
correspondence, "every student enrolled in a public school is required
to take the state assessments." Some parents have constructed an "opt
out" argument, but, CDE explains in applying the legislature's rules,
prior written consent from parents only applies to "certain types of
sensitive, personal student information." State assessments are not
(CDE's emphasis) among them.
More and more tests, year after year
As Topsy says in Uncle Tom's Cabin, "I s'pect I just growed." The
state's testing system has just grown since 1997, test by test, grade by
grade. No trimming back has ever occurred; the legislature has only
added more. One reason is SB10-191, teacher evaluation legislation that
depends on student testing. According to a past majority of state
legislators, the best assessments of teachers are student assessments
through standardized tests.
Given that premise, the only direction for standardized tests is more,
to include every subject teachers teach. Music, art, PE, and other
electives offer many additional opportunities for state legislators to
grow the program.
The math word problem embedded in the premise is a bit difficult though,
because each test takes time away from instruction. With at least 20
days already consumed by test taking and test prep (the Colorado
Education Association says it's 40 days, CDE says it's 1.5 days), if
every subject has a test, the school year will have to be extended
substantially to accommodate any instruction at all.
No respite for the test weary
So far this legislative addition to testing and subtraction from
instruction hasn't daunted House representatives, as they recently
passed out of the House Education committee HB14-1202 to perform a study
of standardized tests in Colorado. The bill that passed won't "allow"
parents to opt their kids out of tests or institute a testing pause to
figure where the state is headed with the annual assessment ritual.
Apparently Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the renowned lover of
basketball March Madness, remains all-in on testing, no matter how much
rebellion occurs among parents and students in the homeland. Federal
funding may be pulled if testing doesn't charge on.
PARCC takes testing to a more esoteric level
The legislature is about to lurch on to the Common Core PARCC standardized tests in 2014-2015, expensive, unproven, and biased against kids unfamiliar with keyboarding or computer/tablet use.
The CDE has commissioned a study from WestEd, a Gates Foundation funded
group, to perform a hurry-up analysis of the challenges in delivering
the new testing system. It has not yet performed a cost analysis
required in 2012 for January 2014. Nor has CDE ever fully, deeply
analyzed the 16 years of data currently available through the CSAP/TCAP
system, the very tests that kids will take over the next couple of
Schools will invest millions in new tests, to what end?
Meanwhile, schools and districts are already pouring millions of dollars
into the very profitable testing economy that includes digital tablets,
laptops, broadband infrastructure, curriculum, textbooks, workbooks,
etc. But seventh graders at Laredo Middle School in Cherry Creek School
District don't have math textbooks and are expected to "take notes" on
their math lessons. That may be one of the reasons kids' TCAP math
scores plummet in middle school.
Sixteen years of test results show an essentially static system, yet
many of today's legislators insist that standardized tests are the most
important tool to affect student achievement and how teachers and
schools perform. Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing
over and over and expecting a different result. That's our March
Parents and school districts will get a verdict from legislators on the House Education Committee Wednesday on HB14-1202, the bill to allow school districts to get a waiver from state-authorized standardized tests. The "strike below" on the bill authorizes a task force to analyze the performance of the state's education testing system.
No contract in place for 2014-2015 test vendor
The timing for the bill is good. Joyce Zurkowski, Executive Director of Assessment for the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), stated last week, "Right now we do not have a contract with a vendor to administer the PARCC assessment in the spring of 2015. It doesn't exist yet."
With no contract binding the state to any standardized testing vendor in 2014-2015, a testing break after sixteen years of CSAP and TCAP is in order, assert parents asking for an evaluation of the policies, and the tests, driving public education today.
Students take up to 28 standardized tests k-12
Thousands of hours of instruction and millions of dollars have supported an extensive student testing regimen.Tests include annual standardized tests in reading, math, writing, science, and social studies; CELA for English Language Learners; DIBELS for k-3 reading assessment; DRA2 or Development of Reading Assessment 2 as a "quick reading assessment" for k-3; CO ACT for high school; Acuity, assessing reading, writing, and math throughout the school year; and TSGold, for prek-3 reading readiness.
PARCC "Common Core" test puts parents over the top
The parents' primary target is the new set of tests on Common Core standards, PARCC, soon to be named CMAS for the Colorado Measure of Academic Success, developed by Pearson Company from the United Kingdom. Some parents just want the whole system to stop. Some districts, particularly Douglas County, assert that PARCC and Common Core are not rigorous enough for their kids.
Other parents just want some testing policy self-reflection and relief from the relentless, time-sucking testing schedule.
Over 16 years, CSAP and TCAP show no movement
If the state could provide evidence that its testing improved learning outcomes, parents would probably go with the program. But from 2007 to 2013, with policies to improve student learning results from kindergarten through college, all in the name of education "reform," not much has budged.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Tenth graders in 2007 test just about the same in reading, writing, and math as tenth graders in 2013
Results on the low (unsatisfactory) and high (advanced) ends of the scale for tenth graders in 2007 and 2013 show similar outcomes.
Unless math instruction miraculously improves at all grades, the new Common Core standards will probably push more 10th graders into the unsatisfactory level as they will be expected to know some advanced algebra and trigonometry as part of 21st century learning.
If testing data automatically translates into higher student achievement, parents would probably be good to go. But as these numbers illustrate, that's not what happens. The state's testing data tells the same somewhat unhappy story, every year, over and over.
Local control v. state mandates
Colorado is a local control state, except, of course, when it isn't. The current policy environment puts achievement improvement analysis on schools and districts. Schools prepare an annual improvement plan, and districts do the same. The 179 district improvement plans all roll up to the state, in 179 discrete units, on display at the Colorado Department of Education website. That's local government.
The mandates for the improvement plans, standards, and testing, however, come from state policy makers. A gap occurs, and a large one it is, between the policy mandates and district implementation.
Who's responsible for data analysis?
No entity analyzes the large testing data reservoir that describes the results of mandates and implementation. No entity looks for overarching school success factors; school failure factors; curriculum quality; impacts of special programs like GT, IB, Voc/Tech Ed; non-classroom services like public health delivery, counseling, and social services; impact of specials such as music, art, PE, and library on achievement; geographic effects on achievement; access to technology; access to financial resources; educator professional development; administrator leadership, etc.
Change doesn't come easily, and it's especially hard to achieve when so little understanding exists as to where districts and schools can get the most improvement bang for their very limited bucks. No wonder teachers are uneasy about using tests for teacher performance evaluation.That's where HB14-1202 comes in. The bill supports accountability from policy makers. If a good task force does its work well, it will identify successful achievement improvement strategies to get all kids college and career ready. It will set the stage for more effective, meaningful assessment in the future.
In 2007, 37,790 10th graders were not proficient in math. These students are now about 21 years old, ready to enter our workforce. Can the state, and its citizens, honestly, accountably, say that these students got the best we can do?
For thousands of college students in the state, SB14-001, the College Affordability Act, is the most important bill in the 2014 general session. It will affect the finances of every individual attending a publicly funded college or university in the state.
The bill and improved state funding are already having an effect. The University of Colorado’s Board of Regents is in early discussions about a tuition increase from 3.6 to 4.1 percent, according to the Boulder Daily Camera. The CU system will take in $314 million at 3.6 percent and $360 million at 4.1 percent.
CU tuition has taken big upward tilt since 2007, putting students under water
Tuition increases since 2007-2008 have gone as high as 19 percent. SB14-001 will cap tuition increases at 6 percent and give the state’s colleges and universities an additional $100 million for operations and scholarships.
At the first hearing on the bill, Senator Michael Johnston (D-Denver) asked a Colorado College student taking a course in higher education economics about the state’s higher ed funding plans. The student paused. He was probably thinking that the state would do well to plough a lot more money into its 29 campuses.
Four year community college plus CU bill can reach $65,000+
At the same hearing, legislators received poignant testimony from prospective and current college students. A working high schooler from Ames will go to Ames Community College next year. She’ll put herself through school at about $12,000/year, she said.
This student hopes to matriculate to the University of Colorado. Based on today’s tuition, she’ll face roughly $20,860/year in tuition, fees, and campus residency at CU, including the $64 per credit break from the state’s College Opportunity Fund. She’ll have to dig deeper to cover some meals, transportation, and books. The actual tuition rate depends on her major, lower for Arts and Science, higher for Business and Engineering. At today’s prices, she’s looking at a minimum four-year, $65,000 plus bill to cover both Aims CC and CU.
A student at Front Range Community College from a family of four kids doesn’t qualify for federal aid. She needs SB-001 so she can budget for her future. “I have high goals. I don’t want to be held back from them,” she said. “I have to ask myself whether I’ll need a full-time job to save up to get where I want to go.” Many of her friends have either dropped out of college or decided they can’t go because the cost is too high.
Public college tuition in Colorado is high at universities and community colleges
In-state tuition at four-year public universities in states surrounding Colorado ranges from $4404 at the University of Wyoming to $10,402 at the University of Arizona. Moving to the midwest, annual in-state tuition at the University of Michigan is $6474, the University of Indiana is $10,208, the University of Wisconsin is $10,400, and the University of Minnesota is $6030.
More broadly, tuition at the University of Mississippi runs $6660; it rises to $8028 at the University of Georgia. Surprisingly, tuition in the State University of New York system has held steady at $5870.
The University of Colorado is on the high end of in-state, public university tuition at about $11,000, depending on the course of study. Tuition at the University of California, Berkeley has recently jumped to $13,000 after years at about half that rate.
Colorado’s community college tuition is also high. As a comparison, California has held the line on community college expense at $2760 for 60 credits. Even with Colorado’s College Opportunity Fund, the state’s community college tuition hits $8760 for 60 credits.
In 1970, tuition and on-campus residency at the University of Colorado was about $2500/year for in-state residents. Middle class family incomes ran about $25,000. The tuition to salary ratio was about 1:10. Today, in-state tuition and on-campus residency runs about $20,000/year at the University of Colorado, with a solid middle class income at $80,000 for a ratio of 1:4.
A public university graduate in 1970 could start adult life after graduation with about $2000 in National Defense Student Loans at 2%. Today’s seniors graduate with up to $25,000 in student loans at 8+%.
Tuition rates and unemployment rates track closely in most states
The economic value of a state’s higher education system is clearly evident in every state’s most important statistic: its unemployment rate. The recession hit many states hard, but the level of support of resident tuition rates is a clear indicator of how states survived the severe downturn.
Colorado and Arizona, contiguous states, have the highest in-state tuition rates in the region. They also have the highest unemployment rates, with Arizona at 8.2% and Colorado at 6.8% as of October, 2013. Of the other contiguous states, all have lower in-state tuition and lower unemployment rates than Colorado, ranging from $6446 tuition/year and 6.6% unemployment rate in New Mexico to $4404 tuition/year and 4.6% unemployment rate in Utah.
CO students swamped by high tuition and student loan rates
The higher tuition expense in Colorado creates a long-term burden on individual spending power. Four years of tuition at the University of Utah runs about $17,600. Four years of tuition at the University of Colorado runs about $44,000. That $26,400 difference, if funded by a student loan at 8%, means that 22-year-old-in-state-students in Colorado haul that debt at least into their next decade, reducing their spending dollars for other life commitments, such as marriage, a home, raising a family, or further education.
If the student’s first post college job earns $36,000, the entry-level income for a new teacher in metro Denver, the loan to salary ratio is about 3:4. During the recession, many school districts cut teacher incomes, or held them steady at best. As the recession eased, teacher salaries rose in the 1% to 2% range, not enough to put a serious dent in the personal debt. This economic snapshot distils another issue for any state – getting the best and the brightest college graduates into teaching.
Minnesota competes well against Colorado for low tuition and low unemployment
Minnesota and Colorado share many of the same features, except for mountains and weather, lakes and mosquitos. The populations are about the same: 5.3 million for Minnesota and 5.1 million for Colorado. The metro areas have similar features in size, regional culture, and sports, except, of course, for the Broncos.
But Minnesota, with its $6030/year University of Minnesota tuition and 4.8% unemployment rate, has significant advantages. The state with big mosquitos and sub zero temperatures holds the headquarters of some of the largest and most recognizable Fortune 500 companies in the nation, many with a strong presence in Colorado: United Health Group, Xcel, US Bank, Target, Best Buy, 3M, and General Mills. Colorado’s highest Fortune 500 company headquarters is ranked 133, Arrow Electronics in Englewood.
As a competitor of Colorado, Minnesota has done very well. First Bank of Minneapolis, now US Bank, bought up some of Colorado’s most historic financial institutions in the 1990s, including Colorado National Bank and Central Bank. Norwest Bank from Minneapolis, now Wells Fargo, bought Colorado’s other storied financial institution, United Banks of Colorado. Xcel Energy purchased Public Service Company of Colorado.
States educating their own rather than importing college graduates do better on unemployment
Colorado attracts well-educated new-comers who boost the economy. Minnesota builds its educated population within the state, giving its children an easier, less expensive shot at higher education. Minnesota kids are graduating with less debt and more financial flexibility, a huge advantage to growing a robust and sustainable economy in good times and bad.
SB14-001 will help some of Colorado’s kids with $40 million more in financial aid spread across 29 public colleges and universities. But is it enough to keep our best and brightest firmly planted in the state? Is it enough to help students move from kid to an adult living independently? Finally, as our Aims Community College and FrontRange Community College students hope, will it be enough to get them where they want to go?
Howard Beale, the character star in the film Network, cried, famously, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” The State Board of Education and the state Senate Education Committee faced some Network moments last week during sessions on the implementation of the new standardized 3-10 grade PARCC exam. Parents showed up in large numbers, mad as hell.
First parents testified to the state board on the Common Core standards initiative and the new Partnership Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) test, developed by Pearson Company in the UK, that will replace TCAP and CSAP. They then marched over to the capitol’s Old Supreme Court where the Senate Education Committee put down Ft. Collins Senator Vicki Marble’s SB14-136 to delay implementation of Common Core and PARCC on a 3-4 partisan vote.
Rep. Ray Scott's HB14-1202 gives parents hope for testing break
More parents are sure to return on Monday for the hearing on Grand Junction Rep. Ray Scott’s bill to give districts waivers on PARCC testing. The dissenters to the CO Department of Education (CDE) and legislative initiatives come from districts across the metro area, including Cherry Creek, Jeffco, and Douglas County. The people represent both sides of the aisle, so they’re hoping that House legislators will look at Scott’s bill outside of partisanship.
Two groups of dissenters agree on testing issue
Resisting parents divide into two groups: those rejecting Common Core standards and PARCC as federal and state overreach, and those rejecting just PARCC as too much testing too much of the time without noticeable positive results. The PARCC waiver is what’s at stake on Monday.
"The Colorado Growth Model" trends down from 3rd to 10th grade
Here’s the current situation. The state uses “The Colorado Growth Model” as its assessment method. The system works this way: The TCAP scoring scale goes from 150 to 999 for reading and 150-950 for writing and math. TCAP uses cut scores to classify students’ achievement as unsatisfactory, partially proficient, proficient, and advanced. The minimum score for proficiency rises every year.
During a child’s public school career, the tests get harder and cut scores for proficiency go up. Despite all the testing, student learning hasn’t kept up with expectations as average student CSAP/TCAP scale scores have generally trended downward as kids move up grade levels.
As this graph shows, the rate of growth from 2006-07 to 2011-12 declines at the state level, from 27% growth among third graders in math to almost 0% for the same set of kids in ninth-tenth grade. This decline translates into a large decrease between third grade and tenth grade in the percentage of kids proficient in math. Using an example from Jeffco schools, 76% of kids in the third grade 2006-07 cohort tested proficient or advanced in math. By tenth grade, the number was down to 43%.
Also according to Jeffco results, 75% of kids in third grade were proficient or advanced in reading in 2006-07 and remained proficient by 2012-13. But writing declined, with 62% proficient or advanced in 2006-07 down to 53% in tenth grade.
Reviewing year to year on the same grade level, the results show a bouncing ball effect, with scores going up and down by discipline in alternate years.
Apparently, if math goes down one year, schools put a lot of time into math the next year, so the numbers go back up. But that extra effort causes reading and writing scores to drop. Time on task may be the variable here, with not enough time in the school day to keep all subjects moving forward in growth simultaneously.
The results for kids in more specialized cohorts, such as Free and Reduced Lunch, Gifted and Talented, and Special Education, are even more disappointing. In the FRL category in Jeffco, 56% of 2006-2007 third graders tested proficient or advanced in math; by tenth grade, only 20% tested proficient or advanced. For Gifted and Talented kids, 85%started advanced in math in third grade but only 35% tested advanced in 10th grade. For special ed kids, 40% started proficient or advanced in third grade but only 4% are proficient or advanced in 10th grade. This pattern persists across the state across the years.
Accountability switches to state to prove its wagers are sound
Here’s what’s about to happen. In 2010 the legislature took a huge stake in annual teacher evaluation as the critical missing element to shore up student achievement. Those evaluations will begin this year and next. CDE has parlayed its teacher assessment wager with its new bet on the PARCC exam as the measuring tool for student achievement to be used for teacher evaluation.
Districts are now spending millions of dollars and thousands of hours on annual performance evaluations as well as large chunks of money and time for TCAP prep and tests and money and time for the future PARCC exams, just as they’re trying to dig out of bad recession economics. Parents see these money and time wagers, mandated by CDE and state statute, and they’re doing the Howard Beale call, “We’re not going to take it anymore!”
Parents want resources strategically placed to reduce bad bets
Through Rep. Scott’s bill, parents and school districts are asking the state to step back from these parlays or at least call the hands to see what’s on the table.
Tom Coyne, accountability chair for Wheatridge High School (go Farmers!) and data analysis advocate, argues that some schools perform well despite difficult demographics and not much money.
Coyne knows numbers and odds better than a card counter in Vegas. He’d put his first bets on data analysis directed at success replication. Some schools have achieved great success with tough demographics and no more money than any other school.
Others believe that more educator time with kids will also help, either with smaller classes, longer school days or years, or more educators per kid. Certainly children learn at different speeds. If they get behind in a subject without someone to help them along, they’ll never catch up.
The data are complex but the overall picture is compelling. The reforms the state put into place to comply with No Child Left Behind and to win dollars from Race to the Top have not resolved the steady, unrelenting decline in student achievement. Many citizens now doubt that a double down on PARCC will make any difference. They want a study break before the state fully launches the Pearson-developed exams, another unfinanced state mandate requiring massive digital infrastructure, time-consuming test preparation, and the expense of the test itself.
A year’s testing respite for the state and districts to assess the huge body of data already developed to help schools make strategic, proven changes isn’t asking too much. Maybe even two years. Clearly, say parents, the state must change its game plan because right now, the Superbowl score is still 43-8, with Colorado kids on the losing side. PEN,CCW - Check Tom Coyne website for more testing data and analysis
More than one-third of Colorado's low-income families are headed by working mothers, according to a new report, Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Economic Future.
The report, by the Working Poor Families Project of Washington, D.C., has national data as well as state-level data. It shows that Colorado has 160,097 low-income working families, of which 54,534 are headed by women with children. Nationwide, there are 4.1 million families headed by working mothers.
"It is important that Colorado adopt policies to help these families gain economic security," said Rich Jones, director of policy and research at the Bell Policy Center. "We recognize that supporting low-income working women and helping them gain skills and education will move them into more stable lives, and it will provide a stronger economic future for their children."
"The good news," said Jones, "is that Colorado has some forward-looking policies in the pipeline that can help these and other hard-working families."
Here are some facts about Colorado:
* The 54,534 working families headed by women account for 34 percent of low-income working families in the state. The national average is 39 percent.
* 43 percent of the women heading working families in Colorado have no post-secondary education. The national average is 49 percent.
Some of the proposals being discussed in Colorado:
Expand and refocus adult education: Colorado has 430,000 working-age adults who lack a high school diploma or the equivalent, many of whom are working mothers. Even though employers have a hard time filling "middle-skill" jobs, Colorado is the only state in the nation that provides no funding for adult education and literacy programs. The Adult Education and Literacy Act of 2014 (HB14-1085) will authorize $1.2 million for a grant program that will enable adult-education providers to reach more low-literacy, low-skilled Colorado adults. It will also refocus adult education on helping low-skilled adults gain workforce skills and prepare for post-secondary education.
Child care tax credits: Access to affordable child care is a critical component in making it possible for parents to work and for their children to prepare for success in school. However, child care is very expensive. Colorado has the fifth most expensive child care costs in the nation, which means the average single working mom will pay about 40 percent of her income on child care.(1) HB14-1072 will help more low- to moderate-income Coloradans receive an income tax credit for child-care expenses. It fixes a glitch in the way that federal and state tax laws interact so that more Colorado families earning $25,000 or less will receive a tax credit to cover a portion of their child-care expenses. This will help make child care more affordable for average working families and put them on more equal footing with other higher-income Colorado taxpayers who currently claim this tax credit.
Address the cliff-effect in Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP): Almost 18,000 low-income families rely on CCCAP to help pay for child-care costs. Over 88 percent of these families are headed by a single parent, most of whom are working mothers. The cliff effect occurs when a small increase in earnings results in families losing all of their CCCAP benefits. Oftentimes the value of the lost benefits far exceeds the increase in income.
SB14-003 will extend a pilot program enacted in 2012 to address the cliff effect and provide increased incentives for counties to offer pilot programs.
Make higher education more affordable: The College Affordability Act (SB14-001) is an important step forward in ensuring that public post-secondary education is accessible and affordable for all of Colorado's students and families. It would implement a 6 percent cap on in-state tuition increases and make a historic $40 million increased investment in student financial aid - $30 million for need-based grants, $5 million for work-study opportunities and $5 million for merit-based awards. The financial aid is available for all qualifying students, whether they are traditional full-time students or working adults attending college part-time. It would also provide an additional $60 million to public colleges and universities for operations expenses.
"Earning a decent wage can help stabilize a family and help it build for the future," said Jones. "Providing support to make child care more affordable and opening doors to education and skills training are essential and will lead to greater opportunity."
"Too many female-headed working families have no pathway out of poverty," said Deborah Povich, co-manager of the Working Poor Families Project and one of the authors of Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Economic Future. "Public policy can and must play a critical role in increasing opportunities so families can achieve economic security. Addressing the needs of low-income working mothers will benefit their children and future generations."
1.) Parents and the high costs of child care, 2013 report, Child Care Aware of America, November 2013.
The Bell Policy Center