In the ever-changing world of education, the Windsor-Severance Re-4 School District is trying to remain ahead of the curve.
“Weld Re-4 is like many school districts across Colorado, struggling to implement numerous initiatives and requirements while also making sure that students, parents and district staff have what they need in terms of resources, training and time,” said Amy Heinsma, the Re-4 director of instruction. “It’s an increasingly challenging goal.”
Many new changes in education are rolling into the school district this year regarding new standards, new assessments and new challenges.
“One of the areas having a tremendous influence on education is legislation,” Heinsma said. “Each legislative session brings a new round of changes or priorities and requirements related to education that the State Board of Education and the Colorado Department of Education work to provide rules and guidance for districts in a state that also has local control.”
Heinsma said that since 2008, the pace of new legislation has been rapid and districts are scrambling to keep up.
“One major Colorado piece of legislation influencing change has been Senate Bill 08-212, also known as Colorado’s Achievement Plan for Kids (or CAP4K),” Heinsma said. “This Colorado bill required the revision of standards, as well as alignment of Colorado’s educational system. Additionally, new state assessments to replace CSAP (Colorado State Assessment Program) would be developed.”
Heinsma said as part of the bill, there was also a part that required the creation of a description of school readiness and determining how to measure readiness for entering students as well as creating a plan to address student needs.
“We’ve worked on a few different avenues for supporting teachers in the transition. There really was a big difference between the old and new standards that we wanted to make sure everyone was understanding the emphasis on 21st century skills like collaboration and communication that employers were telling us were skills needed by our students graduating, as well as the complexity in teaching some of the standards,” Heinsma said. “Just as an example, a crosswalk document that highlighted the differences between old and new standards had six changes in the original standards and 25 completely new standards.”
Heinsma said there were lot of new expectations that teachers not only had to decipher but determine the best way to teach students.
“I know it sounds funny to talk about deciphering the standards, but again, as an example, seventh-grade students need to be able to ‘Interpret figures of speech — literary, biblical, and mythological allusions — in context.’ For staff, that means finding resources and discussing what figures of speech make sense in seventh grade. That takes discussion and time.”
Heinsma said: “When you consider elementary teachers who are typically responsible for language arts, math, science and social studies standards and consider that a second-grade teacher has 168 (33 math, 90 reading, writing and communicating, 11 science and 34 social studies) distinct evidence outcomes that students are expected to master, the thought of teaching all of that to a room full of 25 kids or more can be daunting.”
Heinsma said the district is holding informational meetings this spring to get parents and guardians on board with the new standards and online assessments.
“This year, the other piece of CAP4K that will be felt this spring will be the beginning of the transition to online assessments, as well as the first year where the new standards will be assessed across the state of Colorado,” Heinsma said. “The new tests will replace CSAP. For the past two years, the students took the state required test, TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) while new tests were developed. The new assessments, just like the new standards, also embedded 21st century skills, such as communication and collaboration, creative thinking and problem solving, digital citizenship and the productive use of technology.”
Heinsma said this spring, students in third through 10th grade will still take reading, writing and math in books with their No. 2 pencils.
“However, fourth- and seventh-grade students will be taking a social studies test online and fifth- and eighth-grade students will take a science test online,” said Heinsma, who added that those tests will be given between April 14 and May 2. “The following year, students will be taking new online tests in reading, writing and math. It’s a new level of collaboration necessary between the technology department and the department of instruction that oversees assessment.”
Heinsma said that in 2014-2015, 1,239 test sessions to students in third through 11th grades will be administered. The district is already trying to problem solve how to really get that many students on a computer during assessments, she said. Mobile computer labs with chromebooks the district purchased will travel from school to school.
“We’ve discussed taking computers from schools to load them up on a truck and deliver during assessment days in order to really accomplish this,” Heinsma said. “Every district in the state is trying to work out how to effectively meet this new challenge. The level of thinking we will be asking students to show is at a much different level.”
Heinsma said to get ready for this significant change, the district has sent out various communications to staff and opportunities to view practice tests.
“This gave us a tremendous opportunity to not only learn the procedures and processes that needed to change around assessment administration, but it also gave us a chance to work on the technology components,” Heinsma said. “The technology department and the instruction department have had a ton of meetings preparing for this. We’ve known that it’s coming. We’re trying to make sure that we’re as ready as possible and provide as much support and training as possible. The district will be hosting several parent nights where parents and community members can come view a practice test and be able to ask questions about assessments. We will be at Windsor High School from 6-7 p.m. (Tuesday) and March 13. It’s a chance for parents to come and just see what those online tests look like. We have practice tests that anyone can access, and parents should be able to go on and really see what their kids are going to experience. It really is eye opening as a parent to realize what sorts of questions and the high level of thinking that students need to do on these new tests. It really changes quite a bit about what we are going to expect students to do.”