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Is summer just a distant memory? Even though fall has not officially started, I feel like summer was a long time ago because of all the long hours and hard work that goes into the start of every school year!
I know you spend so much of your time planning with colleagues and school leaders for the year ahead. Then there are the get-to-know-you socials for students and the back-to-school nights that are fun, but also exhausting.
Here at the Department of Education, our staff spent many long days, nights and weekends over the summer preparing for the release of state assessment results – which your districts received in June and July – and the preliminary ratings for schools and districts that came out in late August.
You all know that the tests provide insight into students’ mastery of our grade-level standards in math, English language arts, science and social studies. They are the only common measuring tool for all Colorado students; therefore, they provide the most complete look at the equity of outcomes in our public education system. The results provide an unflinching look at the achievement gaps that persist between races and ethnicities, genders, income levels and students with disabilities compared to their nondisabled peers. The results challenge us all – not just the students – to reflect upon where we can improve and what we need to do differently to change these outcomes.
Looking at the statewide results, it was gratifying to see steady improvements in the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations in CMAS English language arts at every grade level. In math, we saw a few bright spots, especially in fifth grade, where the percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations increased by more than five points since the first time the test was administered in 2015.
However, across the state, students from a number of historically underserved backgrounds – specifically those from economically challenged communities, racial minority groups and students with disabilities – continue to fall short of their academic potentials and are missing the skill sets to have a wide range of options available to them when they leave K-12 education. By concentrating on equity as a foundational construct of our work at CDE, we are focused on empowering schools and districts to increase access and opportunity and ultimately reduce the pervasive influence that systemic inequities continue to have on our children.
This work starts with measuring outcomes of every student regardless of race, income level or disability. These results provide us with the necessary information to see how we are doing, what is working well and where we need to work harder. This is our mission. We will continue to strive to ensure equity and opportunity for every student, every step of the way.
Colorado educators looking to submit fingerprints for educator licensing purposes will soon have a new, easier process, allowing third parties to electronically print and submit prints to the state.
This means educators will no longer be required to go to law enforcement agencies to get their fingerprints. The new process resulted from 2017 legislation that allows the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to approve third parties to collect the fingerprints.
Approved vendors will be located throughout the state with locations not to exceed 40 miles from any applicant. The program is expected to roll out in late fall, and CBI will stop accepting fingerprint cards electronically taken by law enforcement 30 days after the roll-out date. Please know that an applicants may still have the option to be fingerprinted by their local law enforcement agency using a paper-based fingerprint card. The applicant can then mail his or her fingerprint card to the third-party vendor in order for it to be processed by CBI.
The program will be supervised by CBI. More specific information on vendors, including locations and how to make appointments will be available soon. In the meantime, questions can be sent to CDELicensingBackgroundUnit@cde.state.co.us.
Teachers know firsthand that too many absences can lead to students falling behind and ultimately dropping out.
In Colorado, the 2017-18 attendance rate was 92.5 percent – a statistic that has worsened over the last two years. More problematic is the state’s chronic absenteeism rate, which is when a student misses 10 percent or more of a school year or approximately 18 days a year. That is equivalent to two days every month. In Colorado, one in five students are chronically absent.
September is National Attendance Awareness Month, a time in which educators are encouraged to identify early signs of chronic absenteeism and act to prevent it.
Christina Suarez, attendance advocate at Boulder Valley School District, knows that a strong student-teacher relationship is key to students attending school regularly.
- Developing those relationships are more difficult for students who have experienced trauma or have unstable home lives. Some reasons students miss school can include ongoing health problems, lack of a safe path to school or problems with bullying. For those situations, Suarez encourages teachers to go out of their way to build strong relationships with students. Strategies to consider include:
- Give students something positive to go home with every day, whether it’s a task they completed or a new milestone they reached. This helps students build their self-esteem and supports a positive learning environment. Students keep coming back to adults who make them feel successful.
- When taking attendance, don’t just call roll. Be more of an investigator. Find out why students are missing and work with school staff like social workers, counselors and nurses to address the root cause.
- Give incentives or consequences tied to attendance. For primary grades, create a “missing less than five days of school” award for the school year. For secondary grades, make sure students know parents will be notified if they miss class and ensure parents, guardians or caregivers are called or alerted.
- Avoid academic penalties for missed school days that create insurmountable barriers to course completion. Falling too far behind in school is linked to dis-engagement and dropping out. Students who chronically miss school need pathways to make up work, mediate lost instruction and engage in their education.
- Teacher home visits can build strong ties with parents, especially those who might not speak English or have students with special needs. One-on-one outreach is valuable in making parents and students feel part of the school community. Visit the Parent Teacher Home Visit website for additional information and resources.
In addition, Suarez encouraged teachers to use the three-tiers of attendance intervention to identify resources and gaps to create an approach that targets prevention and early detention. Teachers can find an interactive online training on how to incorporate attendance in the classroom on the Attendance Works website.
In the past few weeks, scores from last spring’s assessments were released along with preliminary performance ratings for schools and districts. We understand that all of this information can be a bit much when it floods in around the same time as the start of school.
That’s why the Colorado Department of Education over the summer created some communication vehicles to help educators explain the information to parents.
You can find these communications materials in the parent resources webpage posted on CDE’s website. Included are fact sheets, guides and other information that can help parents decipher score reports, understand what school and district ratings mean and use test results to help their students improve.
If you have any questions about the materials, please contact CDE’s communications department at CDE_Communications_Office@cde.state.co.us.