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Ritter touts education achievements

Gov. Bill Ritter used part of his last state of the state speech Thursday to highlight his administration’s education achievements, saying, “On education, we’ve been racing to the top for years,” and “We are now a national leader in education reform.”

The governor’s 30-minute address to a joint session of the House and Senate focused heavily on the economy, the challenges and promises of the state’s future and the need for bipartisan solutions. But he devoted about five minutes to education accomplishments and to proposals for the 2010 legislative session.

“When we took office, we began to change the culture around education reform, and change the future for Colorado’s children. Together, we’ve moved away from the old partisan fights of the past to a more collaborative approach that’s focused on student learning and teacher effectiveness, training and retention.

“We’re doing a better job educating our kids, and next week we will submit a very competitive Race to the Top grant application. Frankly, regardless of whether Colorado receives a Race to the Top grant, we’ve already won. … Our race to the top began in 2007 when I stood here to deliver my very first state of the state address.”

That’s when he laid out the 10-year goals of halving the dropout rate, closing achievement gaps and doubling college degrees. “Ever since, we’ve been implementing reform after reform. Thanks to those efforts, Colorado now has the most current and rigorous set of standards for classroom learning.”

The picture Ritter painted wasn’t completely rosy; he noted that too many students still drop out or aren’t ready for college or work.

“This year, we’re going to keep moving forward, with legislation that will take us closer to the day when we end CSAP testing as we know it,” the governor said. “We’ll still assess our kids, and we’ll assess more rigorously than ever before, because we need to know what they know and what they can do. We will modernize assessments so the tests help our teachers teach, help our students learn, and help our parents engage in their children’s education.”

Earlier, near the beginning of his speech, Ritter said, “CSAPs are going the way of the dinosaurs.”

The governor’s remarks on higher education were briefer, citing use of federal stimulus funds to bolster college budgets and work to better integrate K-12 and postsecondary education.

“You will all be happy to know that my last blue-ribbon panel will spend this year crafting a long-term strategic plan for the future of higher-ed in Colorado.

“The stakes are high, because if there is one single key that unlocks the doors of opportunity, it’s education. If there is one single key to economic recovery, it is education. And if there is one single key to addressing poverty, it is education. The best economic-development strategy and the best anti-poverty strategy is an education strategy.”

Lawmakers quiz educrats about CSAP

An annual ritual of the legislative session is the “oversight” hearing for the Department of Education, when members of both education committees plus State Board of Education members and CDE staffers crowd into a Capitol basement hearing room to talk about, well, education.

The 2010 version of the event was on the docket for Thursday afternoon. Commissioner Dwight Jones ran through what the department has been up to. That’s quite a lot in fact, given Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids implementation, upgrades to the Colorado Growth Model, ramping up the state’s new accountability system and working on the state’s application for Race to the Top cash.

Legislators, for the most part, wanted to talk about CSAP tests, which will be replaced in the next couple of years under provisions of the CAP4K law. (There’s talk of legislation this session to speed up that timetable.)

“How different will the CSAP look?” asked Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs.

(“We’re not going to call it CSAP,” interjected Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, chair of House Ed and no fan of the current tests.)

Jones handed off the question to Assistant Commissioner Jo O’Brien, who said, “We believe that the new assessment system will look very different,” including multiple tests during the school year and quicker results for the main annual test.

“We’re looking also at electronic tests … that gives us the opportunity to get results back more quickly.”

Jones also said, “We’re still going to have to have a high-stakes assessment. … “I would in no way recommend moving away from a high-stakes assessment, but I think we can it better.”

No new education-related bills were introduced Thursday.