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The SPARK - November 2019

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

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Close up head shot of Katy Anthes

Dear Teachers,

Wow! The school year is flying by! Thanksgiving is right around the corner, but if you’re like me, you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything you want to get done before you can take that much-needed break for turkey and time with family and friends.

October is always a busy time for educators, and it was also incredibly busy, and a bit challenging, for me. This month, I’d like to share my reflections on an issue that’s been making me think deeply about school and district accountability. As you have most likely heard, the State Board of Education recently made some changes to future accountability frameworks for elementary and middle schools.

The board grappled with this decision for nearly a year while I and the staff at the department worked diligently to show them the impact of different scenarios. Board members considered the thoughtful, excellent feedback provided by educators, parents, districts and advocates, which resulted in different adjustments from what they initially proposed. In the end, the board decided that the frameworks should be adjusted beginning with the 2021 ratings. The board did this through two decisions for elementary and middle schools:

  1. The cut point between Improvement and Performance on the ratings will be increased by 8 percentage points. The board's rationale for this decision was based on the disconnect board members see with the number of schools rated at Performance, the highest rating, and the achievement levels in some of those schools as well as overall for the state. With 72% of elementary and middle schools receiving the top level of Performance but only 46% of students meeting or exceeding achievement expectations on CMAS English language arts, the board believes our current ratings don't accurately describe the performance of some schools. By making the adjustment to the cut-scores, the board believes it is being more transparent with the public in the description of school performance.
  2. The board also approved the addition of the On-Track Growth measure as required by state law. The On-Track Growth measure will set an expectation that students scoring below “met expectations” on CMAS show enough academic growth to advance one performance level on state assessments within two years. Students who are currently performing at grade level will be expected to show enough growth to maintain grade-level proficiency for three years.

In the end, with higher expectations for earning a Performance rating, some schools and districts may need to increase student performance (growth and/or achievement) in order to maintain or attain a Performance Plan.

I hear the concerns that the change can be discouraging for educators who have been working so hard to increase student performance, and I am worried about this, too. I know how hard our educators are working, and I know many of our students come to school with tremendous non-academic needs that impact their academic needs. I also know we have incredible educators and leaders in our state who we can learn from and who are committed to continuous improvement. I believe that we can meet, and exceed, this bar for our students. If you have ideas for what you need from CDE to help meet this goal, please let me know. While we don’t have a money tree, we do have some resources, expertise and networks that we can leverage.

Please know I am committed to working with educators and their districts to help communicate important context about what Colorado’s school ratings mean, and what they don’t mean. The ratings are based primarily on the only common measure we have of student academic progress in Colorado – our state assessments. I know that so much goes into the quality of a school – primarily the school culture and learning environment that are set by excellent, caring and hard-working teachers. We need to acknowledge that our accountability system doesn’t measure that. These new measures won’t take effect until 2021, and the state board is still determining potential changes to the high school and district frameworks. 

We can and should have some bigger conversations about whether the accountability system could be adjusted to fold in a more holistic view of a school’s success.

The board also agrees that it’s important to discuss the overall accountability system. Board members have been supportive of the work several districts are doing through the Student Centered Accountability Project (S-CAP), and they believe that innovation at the local level is an important part of this discussion.  A Local Accountability Grant application has just been released to support work in designing and implementing local accountability systems that complement the state system.  This will be a way for us all to explore and learn more about what is possible.

I welcome your ideas and feedback, not only on how we provide good context to families about ratings in the current accountability system, but also the areas and measures we could consider in a bigger conversation about school accountability. You can always reach me at

Thanks for reading my reflections on this complex issue. I know there are a lot of strong feelings about this, and I am committed to listening and trying to find a path forward.



Commissioner's Teacher Cabinet

Commissioner Katy Anthes welcomed 12 additional educators to her Teacher Cabinet at its first meeting of the school year on Oct. 18, delving into subjects such as changes to the READ Act and initiatives to alleviate Colorado’s educator shortage.

The cabinet was formed by Commissioner Anthes in 2017 to provide the department with direct feedback and advice from educators on Colorado education policy. Over the past two years, the cabinet has provided valuable teacher perspective into how state education policy affects work in the classroom.

The cabinet meets at least four times a year, and members serve two-year terms on a volunteer basis. To see a full list of new and returning cabinet members, visit the Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet website.

During October’s meeting, the cabinet heard from Dr. Floyd Cobb, executive director of CDE’s Teaching and Learning Unit, about changes to the READ Act, which include a new requirement for all K-3 teachers to receive, or demonstrate that they have already received, training in scientifically based reading instruction.

Mary Bivens, director of educator development, took the cabinet on a deep dive into several different initiatives to help schools attract and retain educators, especially in rural areas. She showed a new interactive tool designed to help policymakers understand the issue better, which uses data collected by CDE from every district in Colorado and serves as a sort of heat map of where the shortages are throughout the state.

Keep reading the SPARK for more information about the teacher cabinet. 

Logo of One Book Colorado A Book for Every Four Year Old

A girl who despite her brothers’ indifference designs, builds and inhabits a cool fort; an inpatient caterpillar who just can’t wait for the whole metamorphosis process to finish; and a boy whose creative mind can turn anything into a grand adventure.

Those are the stories featured in the annual contest to pick 2020’s One Book Colorado that will be made available to every 4-year-old in Colorado.

Teachers, students of all ages, families and anyone else in the community are invited to help choose the book that all Colorado 4-year-olds will receive for free through the One Book Colorado program.

Cast your vote by Tuesday, Nov. 22, for one of the following:

  • The Little Red Fort, Brenda Maier, Sonia Sanchez
  • Very Impatient Caterpillar, Ross Burach
  • The Greatest Adventure, Tony Piedrea

Make voting a class activity by visiting and watching the videos of each story being read in both English and Spanish.

After the winner is announced in April, families will be able to pick up a free book for their 4-year-olds at any Colorado public or military library or in a Denver Preschool Program classroom.

Last spring, 75,000 copies of the winning book, Penguinaut!, were given away. The privately funded program began in 2012, modeled after the successful Preschool One Book, One Denver program. Both programs stem from the idea that providing young children access to books promotes early literacy skills and helps families serve as their children’s first and most important teachers.  

Photo of adult and young child reading

Last month, public libraries across Colorado received posters featuring Colorado Governor Jared Polis and Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes that promote reading. Now you can get in on the action. 

In honor of National Family Literacy Month in November, the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado State Library will launch the #COHearts2READ social media campaign. 

This campaign will highlight Coloradans’ passion for reading by encouraging students, teachers, school and library staff and the general public to share why they love to read on social media by using the hashtag #COHearts2READ during the week of Nov. 11-15, 2019. 

The week-long celebration will kick off by giving everyone a chance to create a READ poster with a Facebook Profile Frame! Check out the activities for each day, including a #bookface challenge, on CDE’s website or follow along on Facebook and Twitter


Photo of FACE Vocal Band

FACE Vocal band, an all-vocal quintet that performs throughout the Front Range, raised $20,000 from concerts and recently donated the funds to the Colorado Department of Education.

The money was mostly raised from its Red Rocks performance this past summer. The money will go to the TIGER (Technology, Instruments, Guest Experiences and Resources) grant that provides smaller grants of between $250 to $2,000 to schools and districts for music programs for things like the purchase of sheet music, risers and other basics necessary for music instruction. The grant application is open through Friday, Nov. 22. For more information, visit the Music Education webpage.

Contact Carla Aguilar, arts consultant in the Standards & Instructional Support Office, at or 303-352-7279 with any questions.


book logo

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Wondering whether you can get your federal student loans forgiven for your service as a teacher?

Follow this link to learn about the U.S. Department of Education’s loan forgiveness program to see whether you qualify.


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