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State board makes progress on one early childhood issue, not on another

The State Board of Education has approved an agreement with testing company Teaching Strategies that’s intended to make the firm’s school readiness tool less time-consuming for teachers.

But the board wasn’t able to pull the trigger Thursday on a related early childhood issue — approval of a state system for reporting whether young children are ready for school.

The evaluation tool, commonly referred to as TS GOLD, is widely used by schools and also in the Colorado Preschool Program to evaluate student academic and social readiness.

While some districts are enthusiastic about the tool’s value, other teachers and administrators complain it is too time-consuming and cumbersome.

Some conservative parent activists also fear it infringes on family privacy with questions asked about a child’s social and emotional development, and have worries about the privacy of that data.

School readiness evaluations of kindergarteners are required by a sweeping 2008 education reform law called the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. Evaluations were supposed to start statewide in the 2013-14 school year, but full rollout was delayed until this year.

The state board has approved waiver applications from some provisions of the law for a large number of charter schools and some small rural districts that felt it was too cumbersome.

The document approved by the board Thursday is a formal agreement with Teaching Strategies that specifies a minimum set of observations teachers have to make and record. Districts can use additional observations if they choose.

The tool evaluates students’ social emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy and math abilities. (The full agreement is at the bottom of this article. Items highlighted in yellow are the required observations.)

The agreement also imposes data security requirements on Teaching Strategies and prohibits teachers from using photos or videos of students without explicit parent permission, beginning in 2016-17.

The board approved the agreement on a 6-1 vote, with Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker the lone dissenter. A persistent TS GOLD critic, she questioned how much teacher time the agreement would save and if the slimmed-down list really was the minimum required by law.

“It’s my understanding this is about a 50 percent reduction,” said board chair Steve Durham, Republican of Colorado Springs. “I think that we’ve done at least a good part of our job” in reducing the burden.

Board delays action on readiness reporting system

The board also was supposed to act Thursday on creation of a system to report on school readiness. That’s also required by the 2008 law.

But action was delayed until January after Scheffel complained she didn’t have enough information about the project. She’s generally skeptical about any kind of student data collection.

Democratic member Angelika Schroeder of Boulder was irritated by the delay.

“What we need to do is get this done. … I’m not sure where the new concerns are coming from,” she said.

Durham said he doesn’t think the issue “should linger forever,” but agreed to the delay and said the board should take testimony on the issue at its January meeting.

Get more information on the department’s readiness reporting proposal in these slides.

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