Colorado Lawmakers OK School Rating Plan

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Colorado schools will be assigned letter grades based on their state test results, under a bill that Gov. Bill Owens is poised to sign into law this week.

The final compromise version of the measure, approved by the Senate 20-14 on March 27, would also give some schools a second letter grade showing how their test scores improved or declined from year to year. The House had previously voted 40-23 in favor of the plan.

If the governor signs the bill, Colorado will join more than 20 states that rate their schools according to student performance on state tests.

The measure passed in spite of protests from Senate Democrats that D and F grades would unfairly stigmatize schools serving students from poor families. Educators also staged several rallies against the plan at the Capitol in the days leading up to the vote.

"All this is going to tell you is the socioeconomic level of the school," said Sen. Pat Pascoe, a Democrat on the Senate education committee. "Assigning a grade based on some kind of average of test scores does not represent the people in the school, or the achievements that go on there."

In addition to establishing report cards for schools, the measure would empower state officials to convert F-graded schools into independent charter schools if they failed to improve their grade after three years. The charters could be awarded to any applicant approved by both the local school board and the state.

Some lawmakers contend that such intervention violates state constitutional protections giving local school boards control over curriculum and management.

Sen. Bill Thiebaut said he hopes to form a coalition to file a lawsuit against the state after the bill is signed. "This is a blatant snubbing of our state constitution," said Mr. Thiebaut, a Democrat.

Proponents of the measure say it is constitutionally sound and will encourage more community involvement in schools.

"This is my proudest moment as governor," Mr. Owens, a Republican, told local reporters following the bill's passage in the Senate. "This bill was about children first, last, and always. Its message is that we're not going to leave any child behind."

Safety Grades Dropped

Still, several of the ideas Mr. Owens included in his original plan did not make the final cut.

Mr. Owens had initially proposed that schools would be assigned a school safety grade based on such factors as the number of classroom fights, assaults, and suspensions they reported. ("Plan for Grading Schools Sharply Debated in Colorado," March 8, 2000.) That provision was knocked out in the House after some members questioned whether it might encourage school officials to stop reporting such incidents for fear of lowering their safety grades. Instead, under the final version, the report cards would simply list disciplinary data for every school, along with such information about a school's environment as whether students wear uniforms.

The governor also lost his bid to make it easier for districts to fire teachers by replacing current job protections with individual contracts for new hires. School groups, most prominently the Colorado Teachers Association, argued that such a move would hurt Colorado in the competition for teachers with other states.

"How teachers are employed, paid, and dismissed never belonged in this bill," said Beverly Ausfal, the president of the National Education Association affiliate. "Wise lawmakers knew this and rejected an attempt to eliminate teacher due process in the face of a major teacher shortage in Colorado."

Even though the job-protection issue was ultimately left out of the bill, the governor promised to revisit it. "He has said that it's not a matter of if teacher tenure will be reformed, but when," said Sean Williams, a spokesman for the governor.

Vol. 19, Issue 30, Page 20

Published in Print: April 5, 2000, as Colorado Lawmakers OK School Rating Plan
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