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March 2023 - Spark

The Spark. A newsletter filled with information and inspiration for Colorado teachers.

A message to you from Education Commissioner Katy Anthes

Katy Anthes headshot during the Thanksgiving holiday message

Dear Educators,

My heart goes out to all of you who were faced with the recent frightening incidents and threats at our schools. From the shootings in Denver resulting in the death of a high school student to unidentified phone threats that sent a dozen districts into a lockdown or secure mode – it’s all too much. 

We also have a great deal of violence on the streets surrounding the Colorado Department of Education building in Denver. We’ve had several shootings in just the last couple of weeks. The safety of my staff is constantly on my mind, as I know your safety and the safety of your students and colleagues is always on your mind. 

These situations take a toll on all of us and on our loved ones who send us to school and work every day. Even when a threat is determined to be a hoax, we’re left to recover from the fear that made our hearts drop. As we contemplate yet again the culture that allows these tragedies at our schools to continue, we must do our best to support each other and  lend an ear or a shoulder to those in need.

Like you, I wish I could make all of this stop, but ending the violence and supporting all the behavioral health needs of children and community members is a tall task that will take a collective will that this country hasn’t seen in quite some time. 

At the Colorado Department of Education, we have gathered an array of resources over the years that may be helpful to you in dealing with these stressful incidents. Our resources include guidance on talking with children about violence, addressing grief, managing strong emotions, preventing bullying and other topics. In Colorado, the School Safety Resource Center takes the lead on all safety issues in schools. They also have a wealth of resources on their website. 

I am also grateful to the University of Colorado for continuing to operate the Well Being Support Line for educators and expanding this service to include a wide array of online and in-person support services for school staff.  Check out their website to see what they offer, or you can still call or text 303-724-2500 any time for access to professionals who can support you as you grapple with the emotions caused by these events. I’m sure many of you would have liked to have someone to talk with about the events last week. Many of you have supportive networks in your schools and districts, but if you need someone else to talk with, I urge you to call the Well Being Support Line.

Please know I am thinking about all of you and will continue to look for ways to increase resources and support for nurturing caring, positive school communities. I believe that a school culture where adults and students trust each other and feel safe is our best chance for not just keeping each other safe now but also for building the safe and positive culture nationwide that we all crave.

 

Katy
 

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Colorado focuses on accelerating math learning

Math graphic for the Spark

Colorado is stepping up its efforts to help improve math skills in students, many of whom have struggled with the subject after the pandemic.

Colorado leaders, including Gov. Jared Polis and Commissioner Katy Anthes, are urging a renewed focus on helping Colorado students improve their math skills – which clearly took a hit due to the pandemic. Help is coming in the form of grants for more tutoring, afterschool programs and high-quality curriculum.

Last year’s results in the Colorado Measures of Academic Success math exams showed only 35% of students in third through fifth grade met or exceeded expectations and only 27.8% of middle school students met or exceeded expectations in math.

Furthermore, recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, known as NAEP, showed a steep drop in scores from pre-pandemic levels in Colorado. Only 36% of Colorado fourth-graders were proficient in the most recent NAEP math tests compared to 44% in 2019. Eighth grade math proficiency fell to 28% proficiency compared to 37% in 2019.

Here is a rundown of the various initiatives focused on improving math in Colorado:

 

 

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Communications materials available to help discuss spring assessments

Assessment Graphic for Spark

 

CDE created a communications toolkit to help you discuss the coming statewide assessments, including the Colorado Measures of Academic Success tests and the PSAT and SAT. The toolkit contains drop-in letters, fact sheets for parents and students and links to help answer frequently asked questions. 

You can also send parents a link that goes directly to the fact sheets and frequently asked questions made just for them and their students. 

It is important to remember that CMAS and PSAT/SAT are the only common measuring tools for Colorado students. The tests measure real world skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and are aligned to classroom work, so you don’t have to “teach to the test.” Instruction based on the standards is the best preparation. While state assessments are only one measure of student learning, having all Colorado students take this set of assessments gives parents important insights.

Here are testing dates to circle on your calendars:

Colorado's state testing window for all spring 2023 CMAS and alternate assessments is April 10-28. Based on requests made in December, some districts may administer the high school science tests as early as March 27 and English language arts and math CMAS tests as early as March 20. 

Districts may choose April 12, 13 or 14 as their PSAT test date for ninth- and 10th-grade students. The test window for students needing accommodations is April 12-19. The PSAT makeup window is April 25-27. 

Eleventh-grade students will take the SAT on April 12. The test window for students needing accommodations is April 12-14. The SAT makeup date is April 25.

 

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Teacher cabinet members chosen

Graphic for Teacher Cabinet

Commissioner Anthes recently announced 12 new educators will join her Teacher Cabinet, selected from dozens who had applied for the honor.

The cabinet was formed in 2017 to provide CDE with direct feedback and advice from classroom teachers on Colorado education policy.

“I am honored to welcome our new teacher cabinet members,” said Commissioner Anthes. "Colorado is lucky to have such exceptional educators who step up to share their time and expertise with state leaders. Each of these teachers provides us with invaluable perspectives on the challenges facing Colorado’s educators and can help us find ways to continue to elevate the profession of teaching."

New members for the 2023 cohort are:

These teachers will join nine returning members on the advisory group. The cabinet meets three to four times a year, and members serve two-year terms on a volunteer basis.

To keep up with the cabinet’s work and view a full list of members, visit the Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet webpage.

 

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Boulder Valley School District wants a mentor teacher in every school building

Stock photo of teachers for Spark article on BVSD teacher mentoring.

This is the third article in a series about how ESSER grants are helping novice teachers through the Teacher Mentor Grant. This article will talk about work being done to prepare teachers in Boulder Valley School District. 

Boulder Valley School District, one of the grantees that received ESSER funding to help create an effective teacher mentor program, will have a two-day summer institute for beginning teachers and plans to put teacher mentors in every one of its 56 schools.

Boulder is one of 26 Colorado school districts participating in the $9.5 million Teacher Mentor Grant program, which is designed to help ensure that novice teachers receive critical mentorship and coaching support that went missing during the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learning disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic impacted everyone in education but beginning teachers faced an even steeper hill to climb than their more experienced peers. Just as students have learning gaps due to the disruption, beginning teachers also have their own missing pieces. 

Some preservice educators were unable to have adequate clinical residency experiences because of quarantine rules or impacts. New to the profession or “probationary teachers” may have been completing their student teaching experience in the spring of 2020 when it was cut short by the initial COVID closings. Then those same preservice teachers were hired for the first time in the 2020-21 school year and may not have had quality mentorship, instructional modeling, additional professional learning, or feedback and support on their instruction.

The Colorado Department of Education, recognizing this problem, created the Mentor Grant Program from its ESSER III funding that provides grantee districts the money through the 2023-24 school year to develop their own mentor programs.

Boulder Valley School District is using the majority of its $248,918 grant funding to pay the salary for a teacher on special assignment who will build the program plan with much of the rest of the funding being put toward a two-day summer institute with stipends for second-year induction mentors, according to Katie Mills, the district’s director of professional development. Boulder Valley has 88 educators in its induction program this year, with about 70 expected for the next school year.

Mills and the five other members of her professional learning team are looking at an expansion of the district’s existing one-year induction program. 

“When you look at the research, one year is never enough, because at that point we’re really just getting started,” Mills said. “We’re now shifting to a two-year program. We have 56 schools, so our plan is to have an induction teacher leader in every building, who will act like a mentor leader to train teachers in that building, and to welcome new teachers and new student teachers. Then the induction piece is that we’ll train them to be the second-year mentors.”

Mills hopes that even veteran teachers who move to a new building will take advantage of this point person who can help them navigate unfamiliar territory.

Boulder Valley is also working with the University of Colorado Boulder, which is helping the district ground their mentor program decisions through research and assessment tools.

“We want to know: How do we take what we learn the first year into the second year?” Mills said. “We’re looking to CU to help us hone those decisions so that we can improve our retention rate in a meaningful and sustainable way.”

Mills pointed out that the current struggle to find and retain teachers is actually a new one for Boulder Valley.

“We’ve usually had all of these options, but since the pandemic, things are more complex now,” Mills said. “We need as much support as we can get there, and so we really appreciate that this grant bought us two years to try to figure it out.”

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Additional news and resources

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Open Education Week - March 6-10

Open Education is a global movement to promote knowledge sharing by improving educator access to curriculum materials. It often combines with efforts by Creative Commons to encourage copyright holders to share their creations and make copyright licenses clearer for users. Open Education is a practice that has grown in significance in higher education but is expanding more into K-12. Click here to learn more during Open Education Week, March 6-10, or contact Theresa Becker at tbecker@crboces.org.

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