Wednesday, May 13 marked the end of the legislative session. As you know, we have been working hard on overhauling the Colorado state-mandated assessment system for almost two years. Last year, we led with House Bill (HB) 14-1202 and earned a committee tasked with studying the matter. This year, we worked with Senators Chris Holbert and Mark Scheffel on Senate Bill (SB) 15-257 and thank them for their time and dedication to our students and staff. We also worked with a broad-based coalition of stakeholders including Boulder Valley School District and many others. This coalition may not have everything in common, but we all wholeheartedly agree that months of testing is not the answer for Colorado’s students, teachers, schools, or districts, and that months of low quality testing is even worse for our communities. Here is an update on our progress.
DCSD and many others worked very hard to empower parents in our state with a right to refuse bill. Both California and Utah have bills that empower parents to say no to too many and/or poor quality tests for their children without penalty. The Colorado bill was supported and defended by Senators Holbert and Nancy Todd, and it passed the Senate 28-7. Unfortunately, as it entered the House with strong support from parents, teachers, and leaders, it became clear that Governor Hickenlooper planned to veto the bill if it passed in the House. We also observed the committee hearing date being moved much later in the session so that a veto override would not be possible even if it did pass. In the end, parents and students did get a “hold harmless” provision in the assessment bill that will be delivered to the governor. Unfortunately, teachers, schools, and districts did not. This does not make sense to us and we are committed to continuing to work for something better for our staff and schools.
The House and Senate worked together to create an assessment compromise bill (HB 15-1323). The bill passed 30-5 in the Senate and 55-8 in the House and will now be delivered to the governor. We again thank our state lawmakers for voting for this bill, including Senators Holbert and Scheffel, as well as Representatives Polly Lawrence and Kevin Van Winkle. The bill has several improvements for our students and staff. However, it fell short in a few areas that we will continue to work to improve. The bill contains the following:
- A reading test is still required in the first 60 days of kindergarten and can replace the early readiness test (literacy component only), and students in grades K-3 will no longer be forced to retest if they test as proficient on their first test. Reading and early readiness plans can be combined too: There are several important improvements to the READ Act here. Students previously had to be tested three times a year for four years, even if they were proficient. This changes it to once per year for proficient students and restores instructional time, instead of time and money wasted testing proficient students over and over again.
- Keeps PARCC for grades 3-9: This is above the federal minimum requirements because it includes 9th grade. We understand that the governor did not intend to sign anything without 9th grade, so that stance made it necessary to include it. We will continue to work to change this.
- Moves 10th grade to ACT Aspire and makes the writing portion of the test optional: This will be of value to some students who would benefit from an ACT prep test paid for by the state. Others who may be more interested in the PSAT for National Merit purposes will be double tested if they do not opt out.
- ACT remains at 11th grade and is paid for by the state.
- No tests at 12th grade: This is a win!
- Science tests (currently CMAS) will be administered once in elementary, once in middle, and once in high school – but not 12th grade: This is no change.
- Social studies will be tested every three years by random sample because of SB 15-056. The new assessment bills – HB 15-1323 and SB 15-257 – do not require social studies testing. We need to work on this one more, as it is not part of federal minimums and because social studies courses are not taken in the same sequence by all students.
- English Language Learners may now take state-mandated tests in their native language with a waiver: This is an improvement.
- English Language Learners who have been in the U.S. less than 12 months are not required to take the state-mandated tests.
- English Language Learners who have been in the U.S. for fewer than 24 months will not “count” in the state accountability system.
- Students and parents will not be penalized for opting out of the state-mandated tests: This is a significant improvement. We had hoped for more because this puts teachers and building leaders in a difficult situation where they will be held accountable for something that they cannot and should not control. We are committed to continuing our work in this area by exercising local control to ensure that we put as little weight as possible on state-mandated assessments that have no bearing on student outcome, while remaining compliant.
- Districts and schools are required to create an assessment calendar and communicate to parents the tests, their purpose, the amount of time dedicated to them, and more: This is great! It makes the amount of time and resources spent on state assessments transparent to all parents.
- Local districts are empowered to pilot a better assessment system and are not going to be forced to double test their students with federal agreement: We, and several other districts, are very interested in this option. We believe there are better options for our students and staff than PARCC and CMAS. We believe that we can create something that measures the right outcomes with higher quality assessments than the state-mandated assessments.
- Districts have been granted flexibility to use local assessments for student growth for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years.
- All state-mandated tests must be also available via paper and pencil going forward.
- The accountability clock has been stopped for districts and schools for the 2015-2016 school year: This includes no use of PARCC in teacher or leader evaluations! This is an important item.
- The Colorado Department of Education will report to the joint education committee the status of PARCC and CMAS going forward.
As you can see, two years of hard work have yielded some improvements. Our state lawmakers have released our seniors from the illogical burden of state-mandated tests. They have empowered parents and students to make the best decision for them. They have freed our sophomores from PARCC and instead offered ACT Aspire in preparation for their 11th grade ACT test. They have freed our youngest students (K-3) from three state-mandated tests per year when they are clearly at grade-level or proficient readers. They freed our English Language Learners from an unreasonable expectation that they test in English during their first years in the United States. They created an opportunity for districts to come together and produce a better system for our students and staff with the new pilot. They freed teachers and schools from PARCC being part of their evaluations.
While this is not all we had hoped to gain, it is significant progress, and we are thankful to the state leaders who heard our voices and fought to represent our district, students, and staff well. We will continue to work for something even better on behalf of our entire DCSD community.
DCSD Board of Education President
September 5, 2014
Dear DCSD Parent:
Welcome back to another great school-year! The weather is extraordinary, and is really starting to feel like fall. By now, I hope your students are looking forward to what I believe will be our best year ever in the Douglas County School District (DCSD).
In DCSD we have long said that safety is our number one priority. We have demonstrated our commitment by engaging in continuous development and implementation of some of the most innovative school safety strategies in American education. We know that if our students and staff are not both physically and psychologically safe, nothing else matters.
As many of you know, the Monday following the unspeakable events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on Friday, December 14 of 2012, we immediately convened a meeting with District leaders and our law enforcement partners to review our safety measures and develop new ones based on what we learned from brave educators and first responders placed in the most unimaginable and tragic circumstances. Since that meeting, we have implemented a number of new safety programs and protocols. Some of the most notable additions include the DCSD Safety Committee, composed of experts that continually review and improve our school safety, a nationally recognized School Marshal Program, officers in our parking lots using district Wi-Fi to do their necessary reports, and Lunch for Officers in our schools program. We are very proud of our partnership with law enforcement.
In DCSD, safety is now defined in the broadest sense – it includes physical safety, psychological safety, and online safety for all DCSD staff and students. I’m proud to share that in our recently-launched 2014-2017 Strategic Plan, we have transparently demonstrated that Safety is our number one priority in the Douglas County School District, and as such, we are currently focusing on the following goals:
- Ensure physically safe learning environments for all students and staff
- Collaborate with all schools to create a system-wide culture that prioritizes and values psychological safety and wellness for all students and staff
- Build a foundation of prevention, intervention, mental health, security and crisis preparedness
This week, Dr. Jason Germain (Chief Student Advocacy Officer) and his team launched our psychological safety goal. In fact, yesterday, Dr. Scott Poland, an internationally recognized expert on youth suicide, crisis prevention and intervention, spent the day in the District working with counselors, mental health teams, District partners, members of the District Crisis Team, and principals – sharing his insights and expertise. You may have joined him Wednesday night during our District telephone townhall.
If you were unable to connect with Dr. Poland via the telephone town hall, he was also a guest on “Let’s Talk Education,” our weekly talk show. You can watch this episode next week on DougTV (Comcast Channel 54) or on the DCSD website. Dr. Poland shared some great insights and valuable information regarding steps we can take to support our students.
One thing that has been solidified for me this week with Dr. Poland is the fact that you and I (and my team) are partners in ensuring the physical, psychological, and online safety of our children. To that end, I want to encourage you to always contact us with any questions or concerns you may have about your own child or another child. This information is, of course, confidential, and we want to work together with you to make sure all DCSD students have the support they need.
More specifically, please call and email teachers, counselors, and building leaders with any questions or concerns; and if you feel that you did not find a resolution that leaves you comfortable, please always contact me or members of my team. I have shared their contact information below.
September is National Emergency Preparedness Month, and in the coming weeks we will continue to focus on safety in all of our district communications. We want to make sure that our students, parents, and staff are connected with the many safety resources available in our community. Please visit the safety information on the District website to learn more.
Finally, if you have a chance to look at our new plan, you will also notice that we have stayed the course with our priorities of Choice (empowering and partnering with parents to select the best learning environments and opportunities for their children), System Performance (measuring what matters most to our students and measuring it the right way), and World Class Education (preparing all DCSD students to compete on a world stage for any college or career of their choice). We are committed to reinventing American education through teacher and building leadership. This is best for our students.
I hope you and your family have an amazing school year. We are off to an excellent start, and I believe that this will be our best year ever in DCSD.
Assistant Superintendent Elementary
Assistant Superintendent Secondary
Chief Academic Officer
Chief Financial Officer
Chief Human Resources Officer
Chief Operating Officer
Chief Student Advocacy Officer
Chief System Performance Officer (Assessment)
Chief Technology Officer
Community Relations Officer
Innovation and Development Officer
Internal Communications Officer
Parent Liaison and Advocate
May 6, 2014
I’m so proud and impressed with the talent throughout this school district.
Douglas County School District has always been a leader. Today, however, our teachers, support staff and principals are going further; reinventing American Education.
They have thought differently to meet the needs of their students. Despite numerous hurdles, including the recession and the onerous impact of federal and state mandates, our teachers are pioneering the way; reinventing their classrooms.
They are leaders, not just in this district but in this country.
Staff Appreciation Week is a small token of our thanks. I am so proud to be part of this District, because of the dedicated staff members who make it great.
April 15, 2014
Dear DCSD Parent,
We hope you are having a great spring. We would like to take a minute to update you on some legislative happenings that may impact our school district, as well as a conversation we are starting to have regarding our district’s capital needs. We apologize in advance for the length and appreciate your partnership in the education of your children.
We are not sure if you are aware, but DCSD’s funding, like all school districts across Colorado, was dramatically reduced over the past five years during the “great recession.” On an annual and recurring basis, we are short approximately $74 million. Statewide, Colorado K-12 education is currently short about $1 billion. You might remember the ballot question from last fall, Amendment 66, that asked Colorado taxpayers to add $1 billion to K-12 education but attached many “strings” to the money. That tax increase was soundly defeated in the fall. It turns out that as we sit here today, the Colorado State Education Fund has approximately $1.3 billion. Due to the extraordinary efforts of Representative Chris Holbert, Senator Mark Scheffel, Senator Nancy Todd, and Representative Polly Lawrence, there is currently a bill to restore $110 million of the $1 billion owed to Colorado school districts.
You may also know that 172 of 178 Colorado superintendents joined together in asking the governor and the legislature to make a concerted effort to begin restoring the dollars we are short by giving Colorado school districts at least $275 million of the $1.3 billion from the state education fund. We appreciate the work of the great state leaders mentioned above in getting us to $110 million, but we remain hopeful that our state leaders will raise that amount so we, like many other districts across Colorado, can add dollars to schools to reduce class sizes, fund specials/electives, pay for additional safety and mental health support in our district, provide employee raises, and more.
We would like to encourage you to thank the state leaders listed above who have been fighting for the 67,000 students in Douglas County by advocating for additional per pupil dollars with no strings attached, as well as additional capital funding for charter schools.
Some lawmakers want to provide additional dollars, but also want to attach “strings” like those in Amendment 66. The problem with this approach is that when districts across Colorado were cut, there was no guidance – no statewide requirement to raise class sizes, change computer rotations, or reduce specials/electives, for example – as it should be. And therefore, each school district approached the reductions in a way that was right for their community and their students. The restoration of funds should be no different. This allows those of us who raised class sizes to meet our budget obligations to now restore them to lower levels. That will not be possible if we are forced to use the money as the state sees fit. This is also a violation of local control that has served Colorado well.
As you know, our budget is determined by the state and as we get more information regarding the school finance act, student success act, and others impacting our funding, we will send you updates. Again, we encourage you to get involved in these important conversations. We need our dollars back in Douglas County and our locally elected school board should determine where to put those dollars, not the state.
State Mandated Testing
Testing madness and the Common Core have also been a hot topic at the state capitol this year. We need a dramatic reduction of state testing, or at the very least, flexibility for districts like Douglas County that want the freedom to exceed the state standards by building fewer and better performance assessments that measure the things that our kids really need to know for their futures. We need the opportunity to evaluate our teachers fairly – against the most important things they do, and they need freedom from, in some cases, thirty days of mandated testing. In addition to their work on the budget, we also owe a great deal of thanks to Representative Holbert and Senator Scheffel for their efforts to relieve the burden of state mandated tests. Please know that members of the State Board of Education – Deb Scheffel, Pam Mazanec, and Paul Lundeen – also deserve our thanks, as they are working to provide freedom and flexibility regarding state tests.
We are being pulled backwards by this statewide model that penalizes high performing districts. Our students are being over-tested and underfunded. We need to push back against those responsible and thank those who are collaboratively advocating for something better.
Exploratory Bond Committee
Finally, as you know, Douglas County School District is a growing school district. In fact, it is predicted that by 2040, DCSD will have 18 high schools – double the number of feeders that we have today. After some exploration, we believe we have developed an alternative to the “boom and bust” cycle that the district has historically used to manage growth. Alternatively, we have worked with our partners to develop a strategy whereby we could manage to the current tax rate for the foreseeable future and still meet our maintenance and growth obligations.
Over the next month or so, a bond exploratory committee will be talking with people throughout the community in an effort to receive feedback on this strategy. Ultimately, this exploratory committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Education regarding the pursuit of a bond that will fund growth and maintenance of the district by managing to the current tax rate. There will also be community education forums in the coming months where you can get additional information. We encourage you to attend and share your questions and feedback.
Please let me know if there is something we can do to support you and your family better.
Board Vice President
February 13, 2014
As you know, the safety of our students and staff is our top priority. You may also know, over the past few weeks, we have lost three Douglas County School District students and one former student to suicide. First, I want to say that these are unspeakable tragedies, and our thoughts are with the families and friends of these students. Next, I want to share as much information with you as is appropriate and also ask for your help.
DCSD and local law enforcement have been working closely with our most impacted schools and their communities to provide our students and staff with support, information, security, and counseling. It is important for you to know that no matter the incident, our first priority is to support the schools most directly impacted. We work together with many community partners to provide the highest level of support to our schools and their communities, and when we have accurate and appropriate information to share, we send it out to the community. We understand this is not always as quickly as some would like to see it.
It is our understanding that there is no link link other than geographic proximity between these four tragic deaths. However, as a community we need to be aware that anytime there are multiple deaths in a short time period, there is an increased risk for imitation. Therefore, we are urging our community to be vigilant in monitoring the behavior of family members and friends. We are asking for your help with this. As I am sure you understand, protecting our students requires a strong collaboration between parents, schools and community partners. As Sheriff Weaver often says, “If you see something, say something.”
Below are some of the warning signs of suicidal behavior:
- Plans are made or attempts to secure the means for suicide
- Talking about suicide plans
- Scratching, cutting or marking the body
- Increased risk-taking behaviors (running away, driving recklessly, etc.)
- Alcohol or drug use
- Neglect of appearance
- Marked personality or behavior change
- Persistent boredom, inability to concentrate
- Decline of quality of school work
- Verbal hints, “I won’t be here much longer”
- Giving away possessions
- Becoming suddenly very cheerful after a period of prolonged depression
- Feeling like they do not belong or having a perception that they are a burden to others.
For more information visit these resources:
It is especially important to keep a watchful eye during periods when students might have more time alone. This includes time after school, on weekends, and breaks. Given these recent tragedies and the pending four-day weekend, it is important that we keep an eye on anyone exhibiting any of the above behaviors or any other behaviors you find concerning. We are asking for your help this weekend and beyond.
If you are concerned about a student’s behavior or a specific incident:
- Stay with the child until you are sure they are safe.
- Report the situation to your school, teacher, counselor, principal or local law enforcement.
- Contact the National Crisis line at 1-800-273-8255.
- If there is an immediate threat to your child or other students, call 911.
Over the past few weeks, we have also experienced an increase in rumors about threats in our schools. Please know we take all reports very seriously and thoroughly investigate each and every one. Rumors, even those with no facts behind them, spread very quickly and cause unnecessary fear and even panic.
Instead of repeating a threat, if you or your student hear of a threat, we encourage you to immediately contact a teacher, counselor, administrator, or law enforcement. DCSD has invested in mental health personnel across our system including, but not limited to psychologists, social workers, and nurses. They too are available to help. If you prefer to remain anonymous, use Safe2Tell 877-542-SAFE (7233) or Text-A-Tip. These have been proven to be excellent, anonymous communications strategies for students and parents. They have saved lives.
If you have concerns related to physical security of our schools, please use our Security Feedback form.
Unfortunately, as you may know, suicide is a national issue. Tragically, there have been a number of other student suicides in the metro area over the past few months. The growing concern regarding this issue has prompted state lawmakers to introduce Senate Bill 88, which would create a Suicide Prevention Task Force.
Finally, DCSD has proactively established a wellness framework that offers a continuum of services from prevention to recovery for our students. The District is also in the process of expanding professional development opportunities for staff and learning opportunities for students designed to increase awareness, build skills, and create further understanding of psychological safety and wellness.
Suicide is a public health issue. However, there is hope. With a strong community, we can be prevent it. We appreciate your partnership in keeping our students safe.
December 18, 2013
Dear DCSD Families:
Our hearts go out to the students, teachers, and staff at Arapahoe High School and our colleagues in Littleton Public Schools. The tragic events of Friday have, once again, reminded us why safety is our number one priority in Douglas County School District. Immediately following the tragedy, we reached out to Littleton Public Schools to offer our condolences and our support. As a result, we deployed DCSD staff to Littleton Public Schools.
It is hard to believe that only one year ago, I sent all DCSD families a similar letter after the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. In each of these instances, we have taken the opportunity to review our own security measures and continually improve our practices for our staff and students. As you know, over the past twelve months, we have significantly increased police presence at all of our campuses, strengthened our safety protocols, implemented a new safety committee, enhanced buildings, and implemented a layered approach to safety throughout the district.
I am very proud that DCSD has an extremely close working relationship with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, Castle Rock Police Department, City of Lone Tree Police Department, and Parker Police Department. We meet regularly to review our procedures and continually develop plans to strengthen DCSD school safety through our partnerships with law enforcement. I would like to review some of the safety processes and practices we currently have in place:
All DCSD school doors are locked and/or have safety personnel at the door to greet each visitor.
- All middle and high schools have school security at their entrances.
- All DCSD high schools have uniformed School Resource Officers and marked cars in addition to safety personnel at the open door.
- We practice many drills regularly including Lock Out and Lock Down drills.
- We do “tabletop exercises” with emergency scenarios in collaboration with law enforcement annually.
- We provide district, high-speed internet access to our law enforcement partners so they can do reports, etc. in our parking lots and/or in our schools. We appreciate the extra police presence and our internet access is much faster than the cellular alternative.
- We partner with law enforcement to offer Y.E.S.S. and many other proactive safety programs, including Text-a-Tip.
- We have a standard response protocol (SRP) in place in all district buildings.
- Each summer we (DCSD + law enforcement) do active shooter trainings in our schools.
- Our schools provide free school lunches to all police officers who stop by during the lunch period.
- This year we implemented the School Marshal Program in all of our elementary and middle schools. Police officers make unscheduled, unannounced visits to schools throughout each day.
- We continually review our safety procedures through our Safety Committee, which includes district leaders, law enforcement, and emergency services.
We want to thank you for your patience as the situation unfolded in Centennial. As always, our first priority was working with our law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of our staff and students. While there was no apparent threat to the safety of our students or staff, as a precautionary measure, our schools were placed in a Lock Out or Secure Perimeter within minutes of being advised of the situation by the Douglas County Sheriff. That means that our staff is on increased alert, all school doors are locked and that all visitors to the school must show identification at the main entrance. Normal school activities continued indoor as planned.
We also worked closely with our local law enforcement partners. Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Castle Rock, Lone Tree, and Parker Police Departments increased patrols at our schools.
Finally, DCSD is also committed to providing parents with accurate and timely information during emergency situations once the security of each of our schools is achieved. We did post information about the Lock Out on many of our communication avenues Friday on schedule. This included our website, mobile app, social media and Infinite Campus. Still, we understand that some parents received parts of the messaging much later than we feel is acceptable. We are currently looking into what caused this delay and are taking immediate action to ensure that all parents are notified in a very timely fashion in the future.
The communication delay we experienced Friday is never acceptable to us, and we are grateful that in this instance, the Lock Out or Secure Perimeter was a precautionary measure that has allowed us to test our systems and make immediate improvements. Yesterday, we made significant improvements to our communication pathways with the implementation of a new robo-call strategy.
We are dedicated to continual improvement and welcome any feedback about the security of our buildings at:
Thank you again for your partnership in keeping our schools safe, and if I do not see you before, please have a safe and wonderful holiday season.
October 2, 2013
Dear DCSD Parent:
I hope you are enjoying the school year.
Over the last several weeks, I have received questions on a number of topics and wanted to provide you with resources and accurate information.
I believe that this is a great school district. We have an excellent history of being an innovative leader. As such, we have traditions of innovation, excellence, and efficiency. Safety is our #1 priority. Our goal is to have our students be the best prepared in the world. Therefore, we are building new safety structures as well as new curriculum (or outcomes) for the future, building assessments that authentically measure those important outcomes, modernizing our teaching strategies for digital natives, and compensating our great employees like professionals. We know that great teachers are the single most important factor in student success and leaders are second.
In March of 2011, DCSD embarked on the most rigorous transformation plan in American public education. All great plans for change have a solid foundation in the most current research and literature. They also value expert implementation assistance as well as expert, third-party review/feedback. As part of our implementation process, we have brought many experts into the district to work with our staff, talk with our stakeholders, and inform our work.
Again, over the last year, international education experts from around the country have been part of this process. These experts include Dr. Tony Wagner, Dr. Yong Zhao, Dr. Rick Hess, EdLeader 21 CEO Ken Kay, former U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Bill Bennett, and many others. They have reviewed our work, interviewed teachers, parents, and community members and have provided district leaders with important suggestions and feedback about our work. Follow this link to download a presentation with more information.
This type of third-party review, feedback, and validation is critical to our goal of world-class, continuous improvement. It also is another way our stakeholders can learn more about DCSD.
Please understand that in some cases (like Dr. Bennett and Dr. Hess), private funders paid for their time/work in our district to provide an expert, third-party review. In other cases where there was a heavy focus on proactive strategic planning and/or implementation through professional development, community outreach, and collaboration, the district paid for the support for our staff. As you might imagine, we are lucky to have these international education experts in our district, and it is customary to pay experts for their work/expertise.
We have always been a leader in education, and we still are today. There is no place I would rather have my children educated than right here. This is true today, and given the innovations I am seeing from our excellent teachers, it is going to be even “more true” tomorrow.
As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Read more about:
As you may know, new teacher evaluations are not unique to DCSD. In fact, Senate Bill 191 mandates them for all Colorado school districts next year. That said, DCSD started the process of changing its evaluation instrument in January of 2009, well before SB 191, and district leaders presented information on recommended changes to the board in May of 2010 – before my arrival. Pay for performance started in DCSD in 1993.
For many years in education, we have had what is basically a pass-fail evaluation instrument for our teachers. In our new criterion-referenced evaluation instrument, someone who was “excellent” on the old evaluation instrument, may be what we call “partially effective” on the new one. That might sound scary to a parent, “a partially effective teacher.” The reality is we’ve completely reset the bar. Imagine taking a goal post and moving it fifty yards down a field. Now, how good is your kicker? It’s not that the kicker got worse. The goal post has been moved. What used to be deemed or rated “excellent” is now partially effective, and highly effective means that a teacher is literally one of the best in the world.
Keep in mind that this new instrument is very specific. It tells teachers exactly what it means to be partially effective, effective, and highly effective. It puts the rating in their hands. We realize it is very rigorous and it will take some teachers a bit of time to hit those targets, and we are here to support them in that process with a complete makeover of our professional development offerings, a new automated system for teachers launching this July, and much more.
We worked together with our teachers to build twenty differentiated teacher evaluation instruments. We did this so nurses, counselors, librarians and physical education teachers have their own instruments that make perfect sense for what they do every day for our students. At the same time, core teachers have an instrument that makes sense for what they do for our students. It’s only been one year since the new instrument was enacted. Imagine the very first year of anything that big and different. It’s a challenge, there’s no question about that. Again, it is required by SB 191 and must cross-walk to all state teacher standards.
Our teachers are talented — some of the most talented in the world. I have no doubt that those teachers will absolutely achieve these higher levels and be able to kick that ball right through that goal post, fifty yards down the field very shortly, if they’re not doing it already. We want to continually innovate and improve in our school district. We want the best teachers in the world. We believe our students deserve that.
TOPIC: Teacher Leaders
We value our teacher leaders and their work in developing this system. Here are just a few stories about teacher leaders developing the evaluation tool, CITE, etc.
DCSD Celebrates Employees During National Teacher Appreciation Week
(Teacher Leaders summary near the end of the story)
Teachers Talk about World Class Education Target Work
TOPIC: Market-Based Pay
In the Douglas County School District, we have a long history of leading the way in education and today is no different. Our market-based pay bands for new employees are based on supply and demand of position and they will move with the market. For example, when we advertise for calculus teachers, we often get only a handful of quality applicants. On the other hand, when we advertise for physical education teachers, we receive hundreds of quality applicants. Even though this has been the case for quite some time, we used to pay them roughly the same to come to our district. When this didn’t work, districts (including ours) employed an ambiguous category (“hard to fill”) as an option to pay more. There was little process or transparency related to the “hard to fill” option. Some teachers were offered more years of service while others were given longevity when they didn’t actually have it. We believe a more transparent, consistent process for all teachers is where we must be.
In addition, keep in mind that when someone comes to our district, we have never seen them teach, so we want to pay them based on their market value as they come in the door, and then put increases in their compensation completely in their hands. We have done this through our new pay for performance system, and no one has or will have a salary reduction as a result of our new compensation system.
This system will use a body of evidence collected from our new evaluation instruments (standards 1-5) and our balanced assessment system (standard 6) to demonstrate if a teacher is highly effective, effective, partially effective, or ineffective. Currently, and next year also, only standards 1-5 are used to determine compensation. Standard 6 will be added at some point in the future when we feel it is ready – likely the 2014-2015 school year.
In DCSD, highly effective teachers (that are most effective with our students) earn the largest raises. Smaller raises are available for effective and partially effective teachers. Ineffective teachers will earn no increase in compensation. (This was also the case with unsatisfactory teachers in the past.) We want the best teachers in Colorado and beyond to call Douglas County School District home, and then we want to treat them as professionals by putting their compensation and their professional discretion in their hands. Those who are great with our students will earn the most. It never made sense to me when I was a high school science teacher that everyone got the same pay and the same raise regardless of performance. Many teachers have shared that they feel the same way.
More than 71 percent of DCSD teachers participated in the 2013 TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Colorado Survey, registering the highest response rate in the metro area — 17 points higher than the 2013 state average and 22 points higher than the district’s 2011 numbers. The results of this survey are very positive.
In 97 percent of the questions, DCSD teachers’ responses were the same or improved by 3 percent or more, when compared to 2011 (67 percent of the questions improved 3 percent or more and 30 percentof the questions remained the same). A high percentage of teachers reported that they are seen as teacher leaders in their building, that there is trust, and that they feel safe — three things we value and are very committed to in our district.
We are pleased that DCSD teachers feel empowered as leaders, are recognized as educational experts, and an atmosphere of trust and collaboration exists in our schools. These represent our commitments to staff and ultimately benefit our students.
TOPIC: Student Achievement
Our students are amazing and their achievement has never been better. DCSD is consistently ranked among the top districts in the state. Our college remediation rate is the lowest it has been in three years and one of the lowest in the state. The DCSD graduation rate is one of the highest in the state (87.4%). Our ACT composite score is the highest it has ever been at 21.8, and a growing number of students are taking Advanced Placements exams and earning college credit. Concurrent enrollment courses successfully completed by DCSD students last year saved our parents approximately $1.8 M in college tuition.
I’m proud of our students and the teachers and all of their accomplishments.
Visit the DCSD Newsroom for more stories about our outstanding students.
TOPIC: Instructional Time
There has been a lot of conversation about high school scheduling lately. I was a high school teacher and a high school principal. There is quite a body of research on changing different things like bell schedules, minutes in the day, and adding more money to school budgets. The convergence of the research is clear. The number one thing that matters regarding student success is the quality of the teacher. It’s not the number of minutes in a class period or the size of the building. It’s not the amount of money, although eventually that does come into play. It’s about the quality of the teacher – and, from there, the quality of the leader. Great teachers want to work for great leaders.
Lately, it seems like some people have wanted to create correlations and causations inappropriately. They have taken one piece of data like test scores and another piece of data like a random bell schedule and they say that one impacts another when, statistically speaking, there’s no evidence that this is true. In fact, if you look at the research and literature base, there’s very little, if any, correlation between minutes and educational success. The success of our students is because we have phenomenal teachers. It’s not about having three more minutes in the period, or three fewer minutes in the period. Great teachers make the best of absolutely everything that they have. They maximize every minute with students and they go beyond that. They make sure that learning goes beyond the walls of the classroom. Students know this and they’ll tell you very quickly that it’s not about the number of minutes, but it’s about the quality of the minutes, and that’s what we’re focusing on in our school district.
Communication, teacher leadership, empowerment, collaboration, and opportunities for employees are some of the keys to improving morale, trust, and pride. While it is difficult to be perfect, we work hard to provide all of these. In terms of openness, The Sunshine Review recently rated DCSD among the highest districts in Colorado with an A- rating.
DCSD posts all financial and budget information on-line, posts audio recordings of Board of Education meetings, and provides multiple communication forums to discuss district initiatives and news.
The Board of Education does meet in executive session to negotiate real estate deals, discuss personnel issues, prepare for negotiations with ATU, and seek legal advice. Topics for these sessions are recognized by Colorado law as appropriate for executive sessions and are posted for the public in advance. The Board of Education and DCSD is committed to transparency. The board is also committed to being actively engaged in their responsibilities, and being an engaged board means that they must spend time understanding issues in these categories, deliberating, and providing input.
I am very frustrated as a superintendent and as a parent with the amount of testing being done to our children. First, let me say that I absolutely believe in accountability for student growth and achievement. There is no question that students, parents, teachers, and leaders should understand the growth and achievement of each and every student on the most important outcomes we teach. Great teachers believe this too. They value data that informs their instruction – that helps them teach students differently depending on their abilities. They also value data that shows whether students are learning what we believe we are teaching. Our great teachers care very deeply about the progress of our students.
However, great teachers, leaders, and I agree that accountability gone wrong is bad for our students. In fact, I would argue that bad accountability is worse than no accountability. What is accountability gone wrong? It is over-testing students with assessments that do not authentically measure the most important outcomes we teach. Here is why this is bad.
- Overuse of assessments that measure low-level skills instead of higher-order thinking skills/information are not in the best interests of our students. It sends a signal to our teachers and our students that these low level items are the most important things they need to learn. Teachers react focusing on the skills that are tested instead of the higher-level skills (because they are not measured). These low-level knowledge/skills can become the default curriculum in our classrooms, and this is bad for our kids!
- Not all students learn or test the same way. Tests that overuse multiple choice and rely more on memorization than reasoning and problem-solving produce limited data about the full picture of a student’s performance. This data can end up being used inappropriately to judge and sort the students. Whether we realize it or not, our children understand very well when they have been sorted into the bad spelling group or the low vocabulary group, and this can become part of their self-image. When it does, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever heard your child say, I’m one of the dumb kids? If you have, that is a problem. If you hear this, always take a minute to tell your children that one test on one day does not define who they are or that at which they are good. As you know, believing you can is a very important component of success.
- Overuse of tests that measure in one way can send teachers and parents down the wrong path. Imagine a bad medical test that sends your doctor down the wrong course of treatment. This is no different. Great teachers want all children to be successful and they use whatever resources they have available to help them make the right decisions regarding a child’s academic experience. Sometimes assessments given to young children, in particular, are wrong. They are wrong because the real issue might have been the child’s inability to use a computer mouse correctly rather than the child’s skill and knowledge about the learning. Vocabulary tests measure words you don’t know, not the words you do know. Writing tests have chronically had scoring issues. Math tests often depend on the sequence of course your child has taken and where he/she happens to be in that sequence.
I would recommend Alfie Kohn’s book, The Case against Standardized Testing, Raising the Bar and Ruining the Schools if you would like to read more about the consequences of “bad” tests.
I would also recommend Tony Wagner’s, Creating Innovators and Yong Zhao’s, World Class Learners. I think both of these help parents and educators alike understand the education their students need to be successful in the 21st century.
You’re probably wondering why we don’t just use assessments that measure high level skills. Well, that is our goal! However, recent legislation like READ Act, SB191, SB212, and SB163 and their associated rules set by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) require us to overuse assessments focused on low level skills because, in some cases, they are the only ones on the “approved” lists. This is particularly true with the newly approved (last year) version of the READ act. Then, we have our own GOOD assessments that we believe measure the most important things we teach and they measure them the right way. So here are our choices:
A) Give only the state required tests that if used in the best interest of students are mostly useless.
B) Give the state required tests AND the assessments that measure the most important learning, but that means we are spending way too much time on testing in our schools.
We believe there should be an option C — to give only good tests that not only meet the spirit of these laws, but to exceed them by giving and using quality, performance assessments that don’t feel like tests to our students — tests that are developmentally appropriate for our students. Our teachers need the flexibility to create and use quality assessments aligned to our high-level outcomes that are appropriate for their students instead of being forced to give these other assessments.
Right now, most schools are choosing option B because it is the least of the two evils, but we are not satisfied with that option. We are prepared to demonstrate how our balanced assessment system using quality formative, interim, and summative performance assessments (created/selected by teachers and schools who know their students best), should be the accountability 2.0 system for Douglas County School District. Please let us know if you would like to help.