Category Archives: CSG Toolkit

TESTING REFLECTS SCHOOL PERFORMANCE, BY LUKE RAGLAND

Luke Ragland is the vice president of policy for Colorado Succeeds, a Colorado School Grades community partner. This op-ed originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

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A recent guest column, “We should reward best teachers in Colorado,” by Sen. Owen Hill and Tyler Lawrence briefly touched on the importance of the website ColoradoSchool Grades.com and why millions of Coloradans – 1.3 million in fact – have used it. As a representative of Colorado School Grades, I’d like to thank Sen. Hill and Mr. Lawrence for highlighting how this tool uses student test scores to help parents make informed decisions about their child’s education. With state testing happening this spring in local schools, I think that a longer explanation for parents is necessary.

Since Colorado Succeeds and 17 community partners launched the Colorado School Grades website in 2010, we’ve provided millions of parents across the state with valuable, easy-to-understand school performance information. This nationally acclaimed platform’s letter-grade ratings are straightforward, comprehensive, and accessible.

This year, changes in Colorado’s state test meant that the data we use to calculate the school grades wasn’t available, and so we weren’t able to update those school grades for 2015, as we explained on our website.

Fortunately, after this spring’s test results come back, the Colorado Department of Education will again have two years’ worth of data, allowing us to update Colorado School Grades ratings for every public school in the state. We are excited to provide parents with the information they need to make school choice decisions for their children.

But for the ratings to be accurate and representative of the state’s schools, and therefore meaningful to the millions of parents who use this tool, we need to make sure students participate in the CMAS/PARCC exams this spring.

To read the entire piece, click here.

Why are there no new grades this year?

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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

 

School Choice by Dominique Gildea

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Dominique and her son Davin

As a former DPS charter school student, a former DPS teacher, and a graduate of the UNC Center for Urban Education, I thought I knew it all. I knew how important my son’s first experiences in school were. I was all too familiar with what he would be doing in a half-day program with very little resources and I was afraid that he would not flourish in the ways I had dreamed for him. But little did I know, the school of choice system had changed significantly.  How had I missed this opportunity for my son’s education? How did I not know that even though we lived in Aurora, the most amazing school of choice was just right down the road?

Dominique & Davin

Dominique and Davin

Thanks to a friend, I found out about Rocky Mountain Prep and imagined a day that my son would get the kind of education they provided there. I was shocked at how easy the school of choice process was and so grateful for all the help I received through the process.  The waiting was the hardest part and yet, just a few days before school started, I got the call that would put me right back into tears. My son would start his education as a kindergarten scholar at Rocky Mountain Prep.

I could not be more proud of my first grade scholar and I could not have asked for a better community for my son. I have to be honest, if the school of choice process had been difficult or if I had not had so many wonderful people helping me navigate it, I probably would have abandoned hope. We are so lucky to live in an area with so many choices to fit our children’s needs.

What Moms Can Do to Protect Kids from Bullying

Heidi Ganahl

This week, Colorado School Grades is partnering with Moms Fight Back to highlight school safety issues. Check out Heidi’s first post about questions to ask when searching for a safe school for your child. 

by Heidi Ganahl

74% of eight to 11-year-olds say teasing and bullying happen at their school according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Bullying in schools is not an unusual problem, it is not bias to age or gender and it occurs in every state across the US. The importance of taking bullying seriously cannot be overstated. Victims of bullying and bullies themselves often struggle in school, experience a low self-esteem, become depressed and turn to violent behavior. Michigan State University School Violence Specialist, Glenn Stutzky, stated, “We have a whole generation of adults in the educational system that still view bullying as ‘just that’s the way it is.’” If we want our children to be safe, enjoy school and grow up to be respectable adults, we cannot accept this as the status quo.

As moms, we must remember that our children may be involved in bullying in a variety of ways: they may be the bully, they may be the victim, or they may be the witness of bullying. All three of these situations require us to guide our children effectively and to do what we can to empower them to behave with respect and kindness toward others.

Mom’s Fight Back has written several posts on bullying including “Cyberbullying 101 + Prevention Tips,” “Schools and Students Take a Stand and Get Creative | Bullying Prevention,” and “Kids Making a Difference: Anti-bullying.”  Today we want to share with you 9 things you can do as a mom to protect your child from bullying at school. These tips have been curated from the National Crime Prevention Council and StopBullying.gov.

keep communication open1. Keep communication open. Ask your children how their day was and listen to what they say about school, social events, and their classmates. Pay attention and provide encouragement / guidance on any concerns or problems they share. Know who their friends are and help them feel comfortable talking to you.

2. Talk to your children about bullying and make sure they understand its consequences. Discuss what bullying is and how they can stand up for themselves and others safely. Explain why bullying is unacceptable and the negative impact it can have on people’s lives. Educate your children on where they can get help at school.

3. If you witness or hear about any bullying, respond right away. Do what you can to stop the bullying – even if your child is the one bullying.

4. Encourage your children to help others who need it and to stand up for those being picked on or teased.

model how to treat others5. Model how to treat others with kindness and respect. Never bully your children or bully others. Children who are bullied at home often react by bullying others. If your kids witness you hit, ridicule or gossip about someone, they will be more likely to do it themselves.

6. Support the bully prevention programs in your local school and community. If a program does not currently exist, reach out to other parents, teachers and concerned adults and start your own.

7. Teach your children how to solve problems without violence or harsh words. Recognize and praise them when they address issues, frustrations, or negativity in a peaceful and positive way.

8. Remember the importance of your kids feeling confident enough to stand up for what they believe in. Don’t hesitate when it comes to giving positive feedback and strive to have a safe and supportive home environment.

encourage your kids9. Encourage your kids to participate in activities they love. Pursuing their interests and hobbies can boost their confidence, help them make new friends and can help protect them from bullying.

By addressing bullying ahead of time, we have a better chance of keeping our kids engaged, happy and confident at school and at home. We will also be playing a part in the effort to decrease school violence and youth suicide. Let’s work together to be proactive and make a positive difference in the lives of our children.

Heidi Ganahl, founder and CEO of Camp Bow Wow and The Bow Wow Buddies Foundation, is also the founder of Moms Fight Back. Moms Fight Back is building a community of Colorado moms to tackle the issues only a mom is brave enough to take on! Our mission is to make moms the most important players in politics and problem solving for a happier, healthier, safer world for our kids! We may not be soldiers on the front lines, but we are soldiers nonetheless, fighting for our children’s lives; fighting to keep our kids healthy, sane, happy, safe. If not us, then who? Take the first step and join the army of moms at Moms Fight Back!


A-School Profile: Traut Core Knowledge

In this Q & A, Traut Core Knowledge’s Principal Mark Wertheimer describes his school, which is among the top 10 elementary schools in Colorado this year.

Describe your school’s mission and illustrate it with an example from the classroom.

Our vision is educational excellence in knowledge, skills and character, with strong parent-teacher-student partnerships.

Our mission is to provide excellence and fairness in education for elementary school children. Excellence in education means raising academic standards and achieving success for all students. Fairness in education means providing equal opportunity to learn for all students. We accomplish this through our five pillars (see below).

country-present-flagTwo projects undertaken by our second grade classrooms can help illustrate this mission in action.  All second grade students memorize, illustrate, and recite the preamble to the Constitution.  They then create a classroom constitution—one which embeds our character qualities within its verbiage.  The students, principal, and classroom teacher all sign this document in a classroom ceremony.

Later in the year, all students research their family backgrounds.  They then select one of their countries of origin and create a presentation on that country (as well as how their family came to the USA) which is performed in front of family and friends in our cafeteria.

What are one or two ways that the team at your school meets students’ academic needs?

We have over 60 staff hours per day allocated toward intervention needs.  These interventions include providing differentiated instruction across ability levels, grade levels, and subject areas.  We are continually fine-tuning these services, providing cross-training for our staff to be nimble enough to accommodate the needs of our population, whether it be for primary or intermediate grades, struggling or advanced students, or for math or language arts assistance.

These interventions, combined with the extensive expertise provided by our veteran classroom teachers, help us continue to our legacy as a school which continually performs at the very topmost levels in the state.

Nevertheless, as our motto states, we “Never Give Up” in our pursuit of the highest levels of academic excellence for all students.

Name one or two characteristics, programs, or other detail about your school that makes it a special place.

Probably the single most unique aspect of Traut Core Knowledge School is our Parent Partnership. Traut’s governance goes beyond traditional promotion of parental involvement, input, and volunteerism, allowing for both staff and parents to have direct say on decisions impacting the school. Parents and staff have an equal vote on the Site Based Management Council, with the principal being only one member on the staff side.

taste-trautbAnother unique aspect of our school is our wide diversity of backgrounds.  One of our character traits is “Appreciation of Individual Strengths and Cultural Backgrounds:  Being considerate of others without compromising your own values.”  This character trait serves us well as we work with over 21 home languages, over 25% non-white students, representation from all the world’s major religions, an ever-increasing free/reduced lunch program, over 11% English Language Learners, and more.

Over 75% of our staff were or are parents.  This by-product of our Parent Partnership means we are “home” to many families—even beyond the time their children actually attend here.  The biggest problem facing education (and society) today is the breakdown of the family.  It takes a family to raise a child, and our “family” atmosphere helps us be part of the village that supports our families.

Aside from the Parent Partnership pillar already mentioned, no description of Traut would be complete without mentioning our other four pillars—all five supporting pillars being built upon the foundation of Choice. These pillars are Core Knowledge: a content-rich curriculum—not an end in itself, but rather a means to achieve an excellent grasp of information and the ability to use that information thoughtfully; Character Education:  we have identified twelve character traits, rooted in respect and responsibility, which are integrated throughout the school day; Student Responsibility:  as key partners at Traut Core Knowledge School, students will succeed as they recognize and accept their responsibility for their own learning; and Mature Literacy:  beginning with systematic phonics instruction accompanied by plentiful opportunities to read meaningful text, which yields mature, competent readers.

What’s the most frequently asked question from parents visiting the school – and how do you respond to it?

Parents want to know that their child is safe.  We are careful to make sure that everyone who enters the building is visually acknowledged by a responsible adult.  We have resources in place to assure adequate supervision is in place for hallways, lunchroom, recesses, and carpools.  We also have a database which assists us in making sure we know where all students are at all times, including when they attending before and after school events and field trips.

tug-warSecondly, parents want to know that their child is “known” and cared for by the staff.  We take special care to make sure all children connect with their teachers, tutors, and other staff.  We foster positive relationships, as these are vital to the success of children.

Last but not least, we provide an incredible richness of academic opportunity for all students, which has been shown to be highly effective in seeing academic achievement across the board, no matter what the measure, every year since we began in 1992.

Where can parents go to learn more?