Who Is In Charge

Scores go up, scores go down

The state’s 2010 test scores and growth data once again show the familiar pattern of some improvements and some declines, and the persistence of achievement gaps, according to 2010 test results released by the Colorado Department of Education.

Combined figures for all grades showed 68 percent of Colorado students proficient or advanced in reading in 2010, the same percentage as in the prior two years. In writing, 53 percent were proficient, down two percentage points from last year and the same as 2008. In math, 55 percent were proficient or higher, the same as 2009 and two points higher than in 2008. Those percentages have remained in the same narrow range for a decade.

Colorado Department of Education graphic

“Scores overall were flat,” was how Assistant Education Commission Jo O’Brien summed up the results at a news conference Tuesday. “Some school districts had a banner year, and other didn’t do as well.”

“The expectation was that there’d be more of an uptick … it was not expected to see it flat,” O’Brien added, noting that the results will give educators something to think about. She also said “we were not pleased” with a general decline in writing test scores. Asked to speculate on why those scores dropped, O’Brien said she had a “hunch” that prolonged legislative discussion last spring about eliminating the writing tests may have sent the wrong signal to schools.

The results highlight the challenges Colorado faces in meeting the goals included in its application for federal Race to the Top dollars.

Among other improvements in achievement by state students, Colorado’s application sets goals of 95 percent of students proficient or above in reading and 85 percent in math by 2020, if the state wins R2T.

Without R2T, the state estimates 2020 proficiency levels at 73.8 percent in reading and 61.5 percent in math.

State policy and law, and educational fashion, have shifted toward a greater emphasis on student growth toward proficiency over time.

A key metric contained in the Colorado Growth Model is the percentage of who scored unsatisfactory or partially proficient but whose growth is on track to move into proficient (“catch up”) within three years or by 10th grade, whichever comes first.

Colorado Department of Education graph

That key stat also is flat this year. Of those students, 35 percent are on track to catch up in reading, 24 percent in writing and 13 percent in math. Statewide, there are 143,978 students who scored unsatisfactory or partially proficient in reading, 217,291 in writing and 209,514 in math.

Bill Bonk, who works on growth issues for the Department of Education, said, “We face great challenge in this state” in helping such students catch up.

Of particular concern are the students who score unsatisfactory, the lowest level. This year, there are 47,054 of those in reading, 27,527 in writing and 79,606 in math.

“More than 85 percent of students who need to catch up don’t appear to be doing so,” Bonk said. “The actions taken thus far have not been effective enough.”

Asked what the state should be doing, Bonk said, “Part of the reason for having a growth model is to shine a light” on the problem. “It doesn’t show the path ahead.”

The model also calculates “keep up” and “move up” statuses for students who score proficient or advanced. Keep up statistics measure students whose growth levels are expected to maintain them at proficient or advanced levels. Move up includes students whose growth is expected to move them from proficient to advanced. (See these PDF slides for more details on the Colorado Growth model and 2010 results.)

Here are highlights of the 2010 results for CSAP achivement scores.

Reading (grades 3-10)

The percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced ranged from a high of 70 percent in grade 3 to 66 percent in grades 4 and 10.

Compared to 2009 results, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced grew in grades 4, 7 and 8; declined in grades 3 and 10, and stayed the same in grades 5, 6 and 9.

Over the six years from 2005 to 2010, the percentage of proficient or advanced students improved in grades 6, 7, 8 and 9; declined in grade 3 and remained the same in grades 5 and 10.

Writing (grades 3-10)

Seventh graders had the highest percentage scoring proficient or advanced at 58 percent. The 10th grade was low at 47 percent.

Compared to 2009, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced declined in every grade except 8, which improved by two percentage points. From 2005-2010, the percentage declined in grades 3, 4, 6, 9 and 1o, rose in grades 7 and 8 and remained the same from grade 5.

Math (grades 3-10)

The percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced showed a steady decline as students get older, going from 71 percent in the 3rd grade to 30 percent in the 10th.

The percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced increased compared to 2009 in grades 3, 5, 8 and 9; declined in grades 6 and 7 and stayed the same in grades 4 and 10. Over the period starting in 2005, only grades 4, 6 and 8 showed improvement in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced. Compared to 2009, the 2010 scores show improvement in grade 5 and declines in grades 8 and 10.

Science (grades 5, 8 and 10)

Because of a change in standards, scores from 2008, 2009 and 2010 can’t be compared to those from 2007 and before.

The percentages proficient or advanced were 47 in 5th grade, 48 in 8th grade and 47 in 10th grade.

The Department of Education also compared results by ethnic group, gender, Title I and IEP status, free and reduced lunch eligibility and English language proficiency. Here’s a summary of those findings:


Bill Bonk of CDE discusses growth statistics at Aug. 10 news conference. Assistant Commissioner Jo O'Brien is to his left.

Hispanics and Blacks improved their percentages in the proficient and advanced categories for reading in more grades, six, than all other groups. Their performance declined in only two grades, 3rd and 10th.

In math, Black students improved in the most grades – six (3, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10) with Hispanics and Native Americans both improving in five grades (Hispanics 3, 5, 8, 9, and 10; Native Americans 3, 4, 8, 9, and 10). Whites improved in four grades (3, 5, 8, and 9).

“Regardless of the improvement for minority groups, it should be noted that a significant gap between the performance of white and minority students persists across most tests,” the CDE summary noted.


A higher percentage of girls than boys are proficient or advanced in reading and writing at every grade level. Boys do better in math in all but a few grades, and the percentages decline for both genders as students get older.

Title I students and students with individual education plans

The percentage of Title I students scoring proficient or advanced increased on 17 of the 31 assessments administered.

The percentage of students on individual education plans (IEP) in the proficient and advanced categories decreased on 20 of the 31 tests.

Free and reduced-price lunch students

Students defined as eligible for free-or-reduced price lunch increased their percentages in the proficient and advanced categories on 16 of 27 English language tests administered in 2010.

“Regardless of the improvement for students of poverty, it should be noted that a significant gap between the performance of students on free or reduced price lunch and their non-eligible for free/reduced price lunch peers persists,” the CDE summary also noted.

English language learners

Students defined as Fluent English Proficient (FEP) increased their percentages in proficient and advanced on 21 of 27 English language tests. Students who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) improved on nine of 27 tests, as did students who are not learning English.

ACT results

All Colorado 11th-graders are required to take the ACT tests for data purposes, but scores have no bearing on high school graduations.

Compared to 2009, the 2010 statewide results showed slight decreases in all content areas except English (18.6), which remained the same. Reading (down to 19.6 from 20.1) showed the largest decrease. The average 2010 composite score (19.4) was down compared to the average composite score (19.6) for 2009.

This year’s results are the second-to-the-last under the current CSAP program, which started in 1997 with just two tests. Students will take regular CSAP tests next spring based on the old state Model Content Standards. In 2012 and 2013, students will take CSAPs modified to reflect the combination state standards and Common Core standards for language arts and math, which have been adopted by the State Board of Education.

Brand-new tests are expected to debut in the spring of 2014. It seems increasingly likely those new tests will be one of the multi-state common assessment programs now under development, rather than a Colorado-only set of tests.

But parents will see one key change this year.

The familiar SARs (school accountability reports), distributed every December, have been phased out and are being replaced this December by what are called school and district “performance frameworks.”

Those frameworks consider not only CSAP results but also growth, achievement gaps, ACT scores, graduation rates and dropout rates in rating schools.

All of that information about schools and districts will be available on CDE’s data portal, SchoolView.org, which was launched last year. Printed copies of individual school data also will be available to parents who want it. (The 2010 CSAP and growth data already has been added to SchoolView, so parents and citizens can see that now for individual schools and districts.)

The expanded data set also is the basis for the state’s new six-level system of accrediting school districts and determining levels of state intervention in struggling districts. (See this CDE document for details on performance frameworks, the accreditation system and SchoolView.)

This year’s release was low-key compared to 2009’s announcement, which featured Gov. Bill Ritter, Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, education Commissioner Dwight Jones, other CDE officials and a large number of teachers and education officials from around the state.

On Tuesday, O’Brien, Bonk and communications director Mark Stevens briefed a small group of reporters and others on the results. The lieutenant governor and Jones were in Washington Tuesday presenting Colorado’s R2T bid to U.S. Department of Education reviewers. Ritter’s major public event of the day was announcement of an agreement with energy companies to protect wildlife from the impacts of energy development.

Some 1.6 million CSAP tests (there are 31 different tests) were given to about 465,000 Colorado students this year.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”


Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”