By Candice M. Hamilton
Colorado recently submitted to the US Department of Education its school-accountability plan under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) law to help make sure our schools effectively meet the needs of all learners. As a parent of two young children, I’m especially interested in the impact the plan will have on my children’s educational experience over the next five to 15 years.
Colorado’s ESSA plan seeks to address a variety of components that will ultimately impact teaching and learning. Components such as high quality teachers, assessments as well as supports for underperforming schools are all addressed in this plan. However, what is the plan to ensure that parents with preschool children are getting information to set their most impressionable learners up for success early on?
I’ve talked with other parents with young learners and the issue of access to high-quality early learning opportunities can be of great challenge. Issues such as affordability shouldn’t predict access opportunities for families; however, this is a reality.
Studies show that children who have access to high-quality early learning experiences have greater success in later years, success that will eventually manifest in school performance measures assessing academic growth of every student. Studies also show that the achievement gap exists prior to children entering kindergarten. With this in mind, how will our ESSA plan provide supports for students who lag behind their peers in literacy, math, and social emotional skills?
With access to quality early learning programs being a challenge another concern is one that points to assessments.
I have to admit that I am so grateful that my children have not yet been bombarded with standardized tests. However, eventually, this will be their reality, although Colorado has recently made some sensible testing reductions. Under ESSA legislation will this mean more testing or less in the coming years? What kind of information will be shared? Will report cards that my children receive in kindergarten through 2nd grade provide an indicator of how well they may achieve on these tests later on? Moreover, is the instruction that is provided to them now preparing them to be well rounded learners or merely proficient test takers?
As the current assessment climate creates more opportunities for discussion so does the issue of teacher quality.
As a former classroom teacher, the issue of teacher effectiveness can be one of great debate. Issues around supporting teachers or ushering teachers out of the door can spawn pretty strong opinions for all involved. With that in mind, what will Colorado do to support schools with hiring effective teachers, supporting novice teachers, and reducing high teacher turnover rates. Further, what are the implications for charter schools to ensure quality instruction since having the option of hiring out of field, non- licensed teachers? According to SB 191 all teachers are to be evaluated at least once a year to measure effectiveness in the areas of instruction and general classroom environment. As a parent, it is vital that my children attend a school where effective teachers are retained and ineffective teachers are supported with rigorous interventions and plans for improvement. SB 191 is a step in the right direction to ensure a delivery of quality instruction year to year from effective teachers. With talks of teacher quality and stable learning environments, it is important to keep family and community stakeholders in the know and involved with current aspects of the educational process.
As a busy mom of two boys, career woman, friend, sister, etc. it can be quite the balancing act of family demands and in-depth knowledge about our schools. I am sure there are a host of families who would agree that reading through clause after clause of educational policy sometimes falls low on the priority list. However, legislation and policy are all relevant to how children experience learning in today’s schools. How will Colorado’s ESSA plan address parental engagement and help turn complicated policy and data into understandable information for parents in the coming years? How will school staff support the community with strong partnerships to support learning for all students? How will schools ensure that families are equipped with all of the information they need to effectively advocate for their children?
With the ushering in of education legislation that allows for more flexibility and local control of school performance measures, it is imperative to remain aware and curious of how students will be impacted. Advocating for our children is important now more than ever to ensure that all students are learning in engaging and supportive classrooms.
Candice M. Hamilton works as a Network Support Partner for the Office of Social Emotional Learning, Division of Student Equity and Opportunity for Denver Public Schools. Prior to this role, she was a classroom teacher where she taught grades ECE, 1st and 2nd grades. She has also been teacher coach as well as a Principal Intern and has volunteered her time as a mentor/cooperating teacher for aspiring educators as well as for other non-profits. In her free time, she loves spending time with her two sons, reading and relaxing outdoors.