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Changes in Jeffco, testing defined year for Chalkbeat readers

Jeffco Public Schools students took to the streets for a week in September to protest a proposed curriculum review committee they believed would censor some of their classes.
Jeffco Public Schools students took to the streets for a week in September to protest a proposed curriculum review committee they believed would censor some of their classes.
Nicholas Garcia

As the year comes to a close, Chalkbeat Colorado asked readers to share their most memorable education-related moments of 2014 for our first digital yearbook. We heard from nearly 150 parents, teachers, district leaders, and policy experts.

There’s no question, the changes happening in Jeffco Public Schools — from how teachers are paid to how U.S. history is taught — kept our readers’ interest. We also heard concerns about how new state standards are being rolled out and changes to the testing system.

Here’s a sample of what’s on the minds of some of our readers:

“Jeffco wanting to review AP history,” wrote Stacy Rader, of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, in answer to a question about the most surprising news story of the year. “I think it was blown out of proportion. The board wanting to review the textbooks is one thing. The school walkouts made it seem like the Jeffco board had physically removed the textbooks from the schools and burned them. I think it was an over-reaction and I was surprised how much media attention it received.”

Other folks answered the question this way:

“The student protests,” wrote a reader who identified himself only as Ron. “I wasn’t sure students would protest, but I’m proud of them for doing so. I love the fact they are becoming part of the democratic process.”

“Some teachers had enough nerve to try to fight back,” answered Kathy. “We usually just do what we’re told.”

Teacher Mark Sass said not much surprises him any more, but “the emerging role of students in education policy, be it in Jeffco with APUSH, or with opting out of testing has been surprising.”

While most responses centered on Jefferson County, the backlash against testing and standards caught the attention of some of our readers.

“Increasing opposition to Common Core, PARCC, and standardized tests from all parts of the political spectrum,” wrote a reader who identified himself only as Jim. “Odd to have right wing and left wing agreeing on something.”

Nora Flood, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools said the political fight around the standards has become outsized.

“Colorado has always had academic standards, and the politicization of the adoption of Common Core and PARCC was a real distraction,” she said.

Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign echoed Flood in his response.

“I was most surprised this year by the lack of understanding out there regarding the new standards and assessments in schools,” she wrote. “I heard some really surprising ‘myths’ about who created the standards and what was in the tests, etc. I think when people learn more and see these new tools in action, they will really appreciate how rigorous and relevant they are to our students’ success!”

But the conversation about testing has been a good one, argued Colorado’s education commissioner Robert Hammond.

“It has given us a great opportunity to have a conversation around federal and state minimum testing requirements as well as make sure that we are doing the right amount of testing, with the right tests which will have the greatest positive impact on the students’ education experience,” he said.

Some outliers included Sean VanBerschot’s answer. He was most shocked by the dip in test scores at Denver’s STRIVE charter network. VanBerschot is Teach For America Colorado’s director.

And a few readers, who did not share their names, cited funding and the negative factor, a legislative workaround to both balance the state’s budget and meet the constitutional requirement to fund educations, as a top concern for the year.

You can read more responses to our survey in your very own copy of Chalkbeat Colorado’s 2014 yearbook. The digital download is yours when you donate to Chalkbeat’s end-of-year campaign. And when you do, your contribution will be tripled by some very kind donors.

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