Category Archives: Improve a School

Kindergarten Readiness — What Does it Mean?

Learning to writeby Meg Freedman

As a parent, you might have heard that “school readiness” is required before your young child can enter kindergarten. But what exactly does that mean and why does it matter?

Research shows that students who are ready to learn in kindergarten—the beginning of a child’s formal education—tend to be more successful throughout school and in life after school. Children with lower levels of school readiness in kindergarten tend to lag behind academically throughout their school years and are more likely to exhibit unfavorable behaviors as adults—such as being unemployed and committing crime.

So at its heart, “readiness” is about getting a solid start in school as a base of success for lifelong learning.

In Colorado, students are monitored for readiness before and during kindergarten to ensure teachers know how to meet each child’s individual needs. The state provides an assessment, known as TS GOLD, to monitor student development.

Want more detail on readiness, the test, and why it all matters? We’ve got you covered:

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Diving deeper into the lingo:

Officially, “readiness” speaks to whether a child is prepared to learn in a formal school setting. In Colorado, the Office of Early Childhood defines school readiness as:

  • Physical well‐being and motor development,
  • Social and emotional development,
  • Language and comprehension development, and
  • Cognition and general knowledge.

In everyday terms, school readiness speaks to how well a child can perform activities such as:

  • Appropriately interacting with people,
  • Speaking and listening,
  • Holding a pencil or climbing a jungle gym,
  • Singing a song or sorting objects,
  • And other similar social, physical, and academic activities.

How readiness is measured

Colorado’s Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4K) requires all Colorado public schools to complete two major activities around school readiness. For every student in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes in Colorado public schools, local schools must:

  1. Assess (measure) school readiness, and then
  2. Create an individualized school readiness plan using information from the assessment.

Most Colorado public schools currently measure school readiness with an assessment system called Teaching Strategies GOLD (often referred to as TS GOLD). [1] This assessment happens in the classroom, during school hours, at multiple points throughout the school year. Teachers observe students and collect work the students produce into a portfolio. The system then compares the collected students’ information to show where students’ skills fall in relation to their peers.

How Do Schools Use TS GOLD Assessment Results?

Schools can use TS GOLD assessment information in several ways, in addition to informing students’ individual school readiness plans:

  • Teachers can use results to help them teach to individual students’ needs, and for talking with students’ caregivers,
  • School administrators can use results to examine class development trends, and train teachers, and
  • School districts can use collective assessment results to make decisions about funding allocation for professional development.

According to the Colorado Office of Early Childhood, schools may not use readiness assessment results to deny students’ progression to kindergarten or first grade.

Where and How Are TS GOLD Results Stored?

Teachers enter students’ TS GOLD assessment results (including images of the portfolio items) in a secure web-based system. Local school districts “own” the information, and they can also choose to store supplementary information about students in the TS GOLD system, such as demographic information and notes about parent-teacher communication. The TS GOLD system does not collect student Social Security numbers, phone numbers, or home addresses.

Where Can I Get More Information About Readiness Assessment in Colorado?


[1] TS Gold is the first assessment tool that the state school board approved. The board is reviewing—and may approve—additional assessment systems in the future. A few Colorado school districts and charter schools have received waivers allowing them to use their own school readiness assessment systems.

 

Meg FreedmanMegan Freedman is a freelance writer and researcher, with a special focus on medical and wellness topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and three children. 

Making Your Child’s School Safer

school pickup mom and kidColorado School Grades partners with Moms Fight Back to highlight school safety issues. This post is excerpted from their Back to School Safety eBook. Check out tips for choosing a safe school here.

If your child’s school doesn’t meet your criteria for safety there are a number of things you can do to get involved and help make a change:

Introduce Be Safe and Sound in School (B3S) to your school community. B3S a seven-step program that provides school administrators, teachers and staff with the tools they need to proactively address school safety. The B3S Guide to Best Practices is a free download you can use to help your school attain higher safety standards.

The three key goals of the program are to raise community awareness of school safety issues, engage parents and students in making schools safer and to create plans to reduce criminal activity in schools. The resources at the link above include all of the materials any school needs to make their B3S initiative successful, including surveys for parents, students, and staff that help identify concerns, school safety, as well as school security assessments.

The National Crime Prevention Council website also offers a wide range of information and tips for improving school safety. Review their School Safety page to learn more.

If you see a real problem at your child’s school, consider joining the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and attending meetings. Talk to other parents about your concerns and try to join together, ensuring a louder voice and more attention to your desires for a truly safe school for your child. The only way through the haze of school violence and fear to peaceful environments that are healthy for our kids is by bringing this information and the potential solutions to the forefront.

 

 

Why are there no new grades this year?

csg 2015

Colorado transitioned to a new test in 2015 – the CMAS/PARCC exam – and since the new tests are different, previous years’ scores can’t be compared to this year’s results. That would be like comparing apples and oranges.

Given the change in the test, the state decided to take a time-out from school accountability this year, meaning it will not put out any new school ratings.

Because Colorado School Grades is based directly on data from the Colorado Department of Education, we too are not posting new ratings this year.

Parents who are searching for a new school for their child should look at last year’s grades as a benchmark and then visit the school, talk to the school’s principal, meet their child’s prospective teachers. Colorado School Grades’ Families Take Action blog provides lots of resources for parents searching for a new school.

This year’s new test results set a baseline for students to grow from. With a baseline, the state will be able to measure growth again in future years – and along with it, Colorado School Grades expects to release new ratings next year.

Want more information on the new tests and your child’s test scores? Here are a few resources:

Climb Higher Colorado, a nonprofit coalition with broad information about the tests and standards

GreatSchools’ Colorado Test Guide for Parents

Colorado Department of Education Resources for Parents

 

After school choice, the real work begins, by Tara Manthey

Tara Manthey and kidsIn our modern school choice system, you can choose your child’s school, but you can’t choose the parents at that school. I’m lucky to have won “the lottery” with both.

Last school year my child joined the founding crew of Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, a Denver Public Schools charter school. Early in the summer I volunteered to join a parent focus group exploring how to start a parent-led effort to support the school, students and families. A year later, I’m the president of the DDES Family Council, an exciting organization that raised more than $30,000, set up afterschool enrichment programs, coordinated community-building events, set up communications channels and organized a network of parents to volunteer in classrooms and throughout the school.

This year of “forming, storming and norming” was one of the most challenging and rewarding projects I’ve experienced outside of becoming a parent. Our first meeting included more than 100 enthusiastic parents ready to get started. Coordinating these groups of strangers, without any established procedures or systems, was a new experience for me. But when everything worked—when we started an afterschool class, made a profit, published a directory, hosted a fun event—it was exhilarating. I learned a lot about navigating personalities, directing enthusiasm and knowing when to say “no” to good intentions in order to keep the group moving forward on the core projects to which we’d committed time and energy.

At the end of the year, we measured our success by the activity bus we bought for the school, the enrichment opportunities we enabled, and the systems we created for communication and organizing. But most importantly, we were successful because we came together amid chaos, confusion and competing priorities to create a community where there wasn’t one.

I think one of the biggest achievements of our first year was our collective recognition that everyone was working with the best of intentions. Mistakes were made, opportunities were missed. But like our students, we shared a “culture of revision” that made it possible to learn from our mistakes and move ahead.

Most importantly, parents at our school believe they are fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of this amazing school. With that blessing comes the obligation to make the most of it, and that is done by being involved in whatever way each of us are able.

We are crew, not passengers.

 

Toolkit: Questions to Ask Your Child’s Teacher at a Parent Teacher Conference – Part III

by Cortney Durista Lockhart

duritsa_headshotToday concludes our series of posts by teacher Cortney Durista Lockhart on questions a parent should ask at that parent-teacher conference. Click here for part one and part two.

Part 3

1. What can I as a parent do to best support you and my child?

Some teachers love having parent volunteers every single day, while others may need your support outside the classroom. Asking what you can do to best support the teacher will let him or her know that you respect his or her role as a professional and establish right away that you are willing to help in whatever way you can. If you’re worried that asking this question means that you’ll have to volunteer every day in your child’s classroom, don’t – donating extra school supplies, translating parent newsletters, or reading with your child every night or morning (to name a few things) are all wonderful ways to support your child and his or her teacher.

2.    How often do you update/communicate grades?

Many schools have very clear expectations around updating grades, but some do not. Asking how often the teacher will be communicating about grades holds both you and the teacher accountable for staying on top of grading. You could also ask about grading scales and late work and extra credit policies during this conversation.

3.    What is your classroom management system like?

This might be a system that is consistent school wide or it might change depending on the classroom, but make sure that you and your child fully understand the expectations and consequences for behavior. A good classroom management will have clear expectations and consequences that are student friendly and reasonable – if a teacher is assigning 300 lines for missing a homework assignment, engage him or her in a conversation about why he or she thinks that this is an appropriate consequence. There might not be a perfect ending to this conversation, but being open about behavior expectations in the classroom early on could help prevent issues later in the year.

4.    Are parents welcome in your classroom as volunteers? As visitors?

We all want to help with our children’s learning, but if you haven’t cracked open an Algebra textbook in twenty years, you might not want to offer your services as a math tutor for your student’s teacher. Instead, ask if the teacher could use help organizing papers or providing resources like pencils, paper, or even snacks for students. Also ask if you can stop by just to see how your child is doing from time to time (and be sure to double check on your school’s visitor policies and procedures).

Cortney Duritsa Lockhart has always been passionate about equitable education and is currently a 7th grade math and civics teacher at West Generation Academy. She has lived all over Colorado and now lives in Denver with her husband and cat. 

 

Toolkit: Questions to Ask Your Child’s Teacher at a Parent Teacher Conference – Part II

by Cortney Durista Lockhart

duritsa_headshot

This week, teacher Cortney Durista Lockhart shares her tips for what questions a parent should ask at that parent-teacher conference. Click here for part one, and stay tuned for more ideas tomorrow!

Part 2

1. What can I do to be supporting my student in his or her growth in your class?

Oftentimes, taking a simple step such as reading every night with your child or asking him or her multiplication and division questions while you’re doing the dishes can build huge growth for your child. Researching colleges or summer programs with your child might be a way that you can help as well. Teachers sometimes don’t know how to ask parents to help with these little things, so take the initiative and ask!

2. What are your goals for my student this year?

Every teacher has goals for his or her students, just as every parent has a long list of goals for his or her child. Ask what your child should be able to do and know by the end of year and then engage in a conversation about what this will look like. Your child’s teacher should be able to clearly explain these goals and the steps along the way, maybe using a syllabus or an organizer to help your child stay on track.

3. How is learning assessed (tests, projects, presentations, etc.)?

There’s no way around it – we live in a test and data driven world. Asking teachers how they assess student learning can open up some important conversations that won’t happen otherwise. What if your child has severe test anxiety? Does his or her teacher take a variety of different factors into consideration when grading, or is everything determined by just one test every unit? Be sure that you know how the teacher measures learning so that you can be supportive for your student.

4. What motivates you to teach?

As a teacher, this is one of the best questions that I have ever been asked by a parent. Though it might catch your child’s teacher off-guard, it is a great way to get to know the teacher more personally. This will give you a chance to see if your values and your child’s learning style will be best served by this teacher. The best teachers are those that push us in our thinking, so be open to new perspectives and ideas!

Cortney Duritsa Lockhart has always been passionate about equitable education and is currently a 7th grade math and civics teacher at West Generation Academy. She has lived all over Colorado and now lives in Denver with her husband and cat. 

 

Toolkit: Questions to Ask Your Child’s Teacher at a Parent Teacher Conference

by Cortney Durista Lockhart

duritsa_headshotA parent-teacher conference is an excellent opportunity to get to know your child’s classroom and their teacher. It’s one way to uncover some simple ways to get more involved in your student’s education and improve their experience at school. This week, over three days, teacher Cortney Durista Lockhart shares her tips for what questions a parent should ask at that parent-teacher conference.

Part 1

1. What are your rules on technology in the classroom?

Some teachers might have to follow school wide policies around technology, such as no cell phones or iPods in any classrooms. However, some teachers may be integrating text message polls and surveys into their everyday instruction  or giving homework on internet-ready computers so that students can use the technology that they so love! Talking to your student’s teacher about his or her technology preferences will help you message to your child how he or she should be using technology while at school.

2. What are your expectations around homework?

Teachers have many different stances on giving homework, and it’s important to know where your child’s teacher stands early in the year. Ask about how much homework to expect weekly, when tests and quizzes will be given, and what your role as a parent is in making sure that the homework is completed. Homework should not be busywork but instead a way for your child to practice or build upon what he or she learned in the classroom that day.

3. What are the strengths and challenges that you have observed in my student’s performance so far?

Sometimes, a teacher will notice things about your child’s learning style that you might not – maybe Alexia works really well in groups but struggles to work alone, or Martin knows his fractions but cannot understand decimals. Asking about strengths and challenges might give you more insight into what to work on at home with your child. Additionally, it lets you as the parent know that your student’s teacher really knows who your child is and how he or she learns best.

4. How do you prefer to communicate with parents? Students?

Teachers and parents are all busy people, so asking about how best to communicate will help both you and your student’s teacher feel supported. Maybe one teacher loves to send text messages or emails, but another prefers phone conversations. Ask if teachers are available to answer homework questions after normal school hours via text or call (as students move into higher level classes like Calculus or Physics, this can be extremely helpful). Be sure to also talk about how often you should expect to be hearing from your student’s teacher.

Cortney Duritsa Lockhart has always been passionate about equitable education and is currently a 7th grade math and civics teacher at West Generation Academy. She has lived all over Colorado and now lives in Denver with her husband and cat. 

 

Guest Post: 9News’ Stuff for Students & 9Teachers Who Care

Colorado School Grades is a coalition of 18 partner groups. Our guest posts feature these organizations and others, who offer tips and advice for parents who want to choose or improve a school.

By Lynne Valencia, Vice President of Community Relations, 9News

Above, a 9News story on January’s 9Teachers Who Care winner.

Television stations have long supported the community since the first signals hit the airwaves. 9News has led this market in community outreach through programming, campaigns, editorial coverage, partnerships and sponsorship. We recognized the influence of our broadcast and digital platforms and we understand the obligation towards improving the community we operate in. We believe that a strong community not only benefits our business, but our employees and others who live here.

12 years ago, a group of us at the station met with representatives from the educational community. We wanted to hear from superintendents, teachers, administrators and parents on how we, as a television station, could support education and students. We heard two things that we could respond to; students often do not have the school supplies required to fully participate in the classroom and teachers need more recognition for the work they do with their students. As a result of this meeting, we created two programs; Stuff for Students and 9Teachers Who Care.

Stuff for Students is a school supply drive held every August. Our goal is to collect and provide supplies to schools for use in the classroom. Teachers and administrators told us that low-income students often arrive at school without the needed supplies. If they get them, they are often left at home, causing a strain in the classroom. It was suggested that the supplies we collect be given to where they were needed most – the classroom. Supplies collected from our viewers, through our partners and online are divided and distributed to schools based on the number of kids on their free or reduced lunch program. We give the supplies to the school districts. Districts pass out supplies to schools and schools decide which classrooms need the supplies most. We support 17 school districts across the Front Range.

Our 9Teachers Who Care recognizes nine teachers a year who are doing unique things in their classrooms that push academic achievement and gets students to think broadly about their community. We seek nominations from students, parents, and anyone who knows an amazing teacher. We have honored elementary, middle and high school teachers who teach music, math, shop, history and a variety of curriculum. They host afterschool clubs, arrange field trips, utilize technology, and show up everyday willing to give 100% of themselves to enriching the lives of their students. They are creative, resourceful and caring. We accept nominations year round. Winner’s stories are broadcast on 9News, KTVD and posted on 9News.com. At the end of the school year, 9Teacher Who Care winners are invited to an award ceremony where their family and friends help them celebrate. We want strong nominations and encourage those who care about education to help us recognize the great teachers in our state. Please nominate a teacher today.  Nominations can be downloaded from our website: http://www.9news.com/life/community/whocare/teachers/default.aspx

In addition to these two programs our editorial coverage of issues impacting education is another way that we are able to inform our community and to encourage engagement. We’ve seen the power of engagement make real change. We are committed to making lives better because we live, work and operate here.

Lynne Valencia joined KUSA-TV, 9NEWS as Director of Community Relations in December 1999. She was promoted to Vice President Community Relations in May, 2007.

 

 

Guest Post: The pros and cons of choosing a diverse school for your child

By Michael Petrilli (@michaelpetrilli)

Executive Vice President at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute

In the middle of the last decade, in urban communities across America, middle- and upper-middle-class parents started sending their children to public schools again—schools that for decades had served overwhelmingly poor and minority populations. From the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., to northwest Denver, to Brooklyn, and beyond, white families in particular have come back to local schools—not in dribs and drabs but in droves. In one D.C. high school, students sarcastically called it “the Caucasian invasion.”

My wife and I lived in one such urban community—an inner-ring suburb outside Washington—with our two small boys, and we loved it.  Still, we weren’t sure we wanted to stay for the long term. Mainly, we were concerned about its schools. They had a mixed reputation and lackluster test scores, largely due to their diverse population of students. (Research has long shown that poor and minority students tend to perform worse on standardized tests than affluent white children.) At our local elementary school, white students were a minority, and one-third of the kids were poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch from the federal government.

We very much liked the idea of our sons becoming friends with kids from other races and backgrounds, and we didn’t think we could afford private school. But we expected that our boys would be entering Kindergarten with the basics—and more—under their belts, and we worried they wouldn’t get the attention and challenge they needed. What if their teachers were focused on helping recent immigrant children learn English or giving low-income kids remedial help? What if the schools were test-prep factories, obsessed only with getting students to basic proficiency in reading and math?

To answer these questions and more, I talked to parents, educators, and experts, dug into all of the relevant research—and wrote a book in the process: The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools. So what did I find?

There were some “pros”:

  • Sending our sons to a diverse school would give them an opportunity to learn how to live in diverse twenty-first-century America.
  • It would provide exciting and enriching multicultural opportunities they wouldn’t experience in a homogeneous school.
  • It would reinforce our commitment to the “common school” ideal. We would be standing up to “separate but equal” and helping our sons’ poorer classmates learn more about the world than they would if segregated into schools with only other poor children.

We’d get to stay in the urban community that we love.

There were also “cons”:

  • We would probably have to give up on finding a school that was progressive or artsy or unstructured. (Low-income and minority parents tend to shun such schools—and for good reason, as they tend to have a bad track record with low-income and minority children.)
  • We would be taking some (small) risks with our kids’ safety and would increase the odds that they’d have one or more disruptive students in class with them, which could slow them down academically.
  • If we chose a school that grouped students by performance—which might be best for our kids—the classrooms themselves would probably be largely segregated by class, if not by race.

For us, and for all parents, this is a tough call, a major life decision. It’s essential for parents to go and visit the schools they are considering.

Probably the most important thing to learn is whether the principal is a strong leader and open to tackling these vexing issues of race and class head-on. After all, it takes an extraordinary person to bring together students, teachers, and parents of diverse cultures and backgrounds and make the mix work effectively. It especially requires a ton of outreach and communication on the leader’s part. Is the principal up to this task? Does he or she even see it as part of the job? If not, that’s a big red flag. And if you are treated like a pushy parent for just trying to find out, go somewhere else, fast.

Second, you want to understand the school’s instructional strategies, particularly when it comes to serving kids who are achieving at vastly different levels. How does it group students, and how are students selected for those groups? Do the groups change much over time? If the school uses mixed grouping, how does it challenge all of its students, especially the highest-achieving ones? Likewise, what is it doing to boost the performance of its struggling students? If the school says it differentiates instruction, what evidence is there that this is for real and that teachers are up to the challenge? Ask to see the different kinds of assignments that teachers give to kids at different levels. If the school can’t provide such examples, that’s another red flag. At the middle- and high-school levels, does the school offer honors tracks or Advanced Placement courses?

Third, you want to learn how integrated the school truly is. Is there a lot of self-segregation at recess and lunch? Are people of color represented at PTA meetings? Are parents chatting with moms and dads of different races? What school-wide events are hosted to make people feel included? Is there an International Night? Are there school fairs?

Finally, trust your gut. But also be willing to admit that your gut can sometimes be wrong.

***

Here’s the good news: Regardless of which schools your children attend, they are very likely to do well. That’s because of what you are already doing as your children’s first teacher: showing an interest in their learning, reading to them, checking their homework, providing a safe and supportive environment at home, enriching their education with trips to museums and libraries and historical sites, and expecting them to go to college.

Keep doing all of that, and any school choice you make will be a good one.

Michael J. Petrilli is executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He blogs at Flypaper.

Guest Post: Teachers Support Transparency and Accountability

Colorado School Grades is a coalition of 18 partner groups. Our guest posts feature these organizations and others, who will offer tips and advice for parents who want to choose or improve a school.

by Tim Farmer, Policy Director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators

tfarmer sm photoSince the launch of ColoradoSchoolGrades.com two years ago, the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE) has been a proud partner in this effort to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public schools. In a state like Colorado, which has abundant school choice policies, PACE recognizes that parents and teachers are looking for an easy-to-understand source for making informed decisions.

By giving every school an easy-to-understand letter-grade ranking, this website has created the simplest and clearest representation of how schools truly are performing – both good and bad. This system allows parents and community members the ability to understand how their local schools are performing. An informed and engaged public will be instrumental in improving schools in the future.

Colorado’s teachers are also faced with the challenge of making decisions about school choice. Teachers can choose to teach at a traditional, public charter, virtual, alternative or many other public choice schools. Teachers must also decide if they want to teach in an urban, rural, turnaround, innovation, or in some other school setting. The information on ColoradoSchoolGrades.com can also be a benefit to teachers as they make important decisions about their career.

In the emerging age of accountability in public schools, teachers are embracing policies that promote transparency and results. According to a national survey conducted by PACE’s national partner the Association of American Educators, 89 percent of teachers surveyed support services such as ColoradoSchoolsGrades.com, and other programs and organizations that allow stakeholders to search and compare schools in their area via letter grades.

Teachers do, in fact, support policies that easily identify schools based on performance. Although improving schools is a complex issue, we must embrace accountability and transparency in our public schools.