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.

budget season

New budget gives CPS CEO Janice Jackson opportunity to play offense

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced the district's $1 billion capital plan at Lázaro Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village.

Running Chicago’s schools might be the toughest tour of duty in town for a public sector CEO. There have been eight chiefs in a decade – to be fair, two were interims – who have wrangled with mounting debt, aging buildings, and high percentages of students who live in poverty.

Then there’ve been recurring scandals, corruption, and ethics violations. Since she was officially named to the top job in January, CEO Janice Jackson has had to clean up a series of her predecessors’ lapses, from a special education crisis that revealed families were counseled out of services to a sexual abuse investigation that spotlighted a decade of system failures at every level to protect students.

But with budget season underway, the former principal finally gets the chance to go on the offensive. The first operations budget of her tenure is a $5.98 billion plan that contains some good news for a change: 5 percent more money, courtesy of the state revamp of the school funding formula and a bump from local tax revenues. CPS plans to funnel $60 million more to schools than it did last school year, for a total of $3.1 billion. Put another way, it plans to spend $4,397 per student as a base rate — a 2 percent increase from the year prior.

CPS’ total budget comes out to $7.58 billion once you factor in long-term debt and an ambitious $1 billion capital plan that is the focus of a trio of public hearings Thursday night. When it comes to debt, the district owes $8.2 billion as of June 30, or nearly $3,000 per every Chicago resident.

“The district, without a doubt, is on firmer footing than it was 18 months ago, but they’re not out of woods yet,” said Bobby Otter, budget director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. “When you look at the overall picture (the $7.58 budget), they’re still running a deficit. This is now the seventh year in a row they are running a deficit, and the amount of debt the district has, combined with the lack of reserves, leaves them with little flexibility.”

Earlier this week, standing in front of an audience of executives at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, Jackson acknowledged that it had been an “eventful” seven months and said she was ready to focus on strategies for moving the district forward. “I won’t be waiting for next shoe to drop or wasting time and resources waiting for next problem. I want to design a system to educate and protect children.”

“I’m not in crisis mode,” she added.

Here’s what that looks like in her first year when you just consider the numbers. The biggest line items of any operating budget are salaries, benefits and pensions: Taken all together, they consume 66 percent of CPS’ planned spending for the 2018-2019 school year. Rounding out much of the rest are contracts with vendors ($542.6 million, or 9 percent), such as the controversial janitorial deals with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC; charter expenditures ($749 million, or 13 percent); and spending on transportation, textbooks, equipment, and the like (12 percent).

A closer look at how some of those items are allocated offers a window into Jackson’s vision. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the plan July 25.

Investing in choice

Earlier this month, the district announced a nearly $1 billion capital plan, funded by bonds, that would support new schools, technology upgrades, and annexes at some of the district’s most popular campuses. The operating budget, meanwhile, accounts for the people and programs driving those projects. It proposes nearly doubling the staff, from 10 to 17, in the office that manages charters, contract programs, and the creation of new schools. It reestablishes a chief portfolio officer who reports directly to the CEO. And it adds expands access to International Baccalaureate programs and Early College STEM offerings. In a letter at the beginning of the 2019 Budget Book, Jackson said such expansions “move the district closer to our goal of having 50 percent of students earn at least one college or career credential before graduating high school.” 

Advocating for students

The budget seeds at least two new departments: a four-person Office of Equity charged with diversifying the teacher pipeline, among other roles, and a 20-person Title IX office that would investigate student abuse cases, including claims of student-on-student harassment.

Leaning into high schools

Fitting for a budget designed by a former high school principal – Jackson was running a high school before age 30 – the plan leans in to high schools, establishing $2 million to fund four new networks to oversee them. (That brings the total number of networks to 17; networks are mini-administrative departments that track school progress, assist with budgeting, and ensure policy and procedures are followed.) And it earmarks $75 million across three years for new science labs at neighborhood high schools. What’s more, it supports 10 additional career counselors to help campuses wrestle with a graduation mandate – set forth by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – that seniors have a post-secondary plan to graduate starting with the Class of 2020.

Throwing a lifeline to small schools

The budget also sets forth a $10 million “Small Schools Fund” to help schools with low enrollment retain teachers and offer after-school programs. It also earmarks an additional $5 million to help schools facing precipitous changes in enrollment, which can in turn lead to dramatic budget drops.   

Supporting modest staff increases

After a round of layoffs were announced in June, the budget plan adds at least 200 teachers. But the district would not provide a clear accounting of whom to Chalkbeat by publication time. Earlier this week, it announced plans to fund additional school social workers (160) and special education case managers (94).

The district plans to add positions for the upcoming 2018-2019 year.

As Chicago Teachers Union organizer and Cook County Commissioner candidate Brandon Johnson pointed out in an impromptu press conference earlier this week in front of district HQ, the budget is still “woefully short” on school psychologists, nurses, and counselors. And it doesn’t address the calls from parents to restore librarians and instructors in such subjects as art, music, physical education — positions that have experienced dramatic cuts since 2011. “What is proposed today still leaves us short of when (Mayor Emanuel) took office,” Johnson said. “The needs of our students must be met.”

Principal Elias Estrada, who oversees two North Side schools, Alcott Elementary and Alcott High School, said he was still figuring out how the additional staffing would work. He’s getting another social worker – but he oversees two campuses that sit three miles apart, so he figures he’ll have to divide the person’s time between campuses. Estrada asked the board at Monday’s budget hearing to help him understand the criteria it uses to determine which schools get extra staff or additional programs, like IB. “I need a counselor, a clerk, and an assistant principal,” he said; currently those positions also are shared between the elementary and the high school.

After the meeting, he said that schools might have gotten slightly bigger budgets this year, but the increase was consumed by rising salaries and he wasn’t able to add any positions. What’s more, his building needs repairs, but it didn’t get picked for any of the facilities upgrades in the $1 billion capital plan that accompanied the budget.

“What is the process?” he asked. “The need is everywhere.”

At two public hearings on Monday, fewer than a dozen speakers signed up to ask questions of the board, central office administrators, or Jackson.

To see if your school is getting one of the newly announced positions or any funding from the capital plan, type it in the search box below.

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.