There is no doubt that COVID-19 has forever impacted the education landscape. Governor Polis recently announced that all schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, while also telling superintendents to start planning for potential fall disruptions. During this past month, a series of waivers from the federal and state government have fundamentally shifted many education policies supported by Colorado Succeeds. An important question to answer is whether these changes are waived for just one year or forever changed.
- Assessments. Both federal and state leaders agreed that spring assessments would not be administered this school year. It’s important to provide schools, students, and families this flexibility right now. However, it will be increasingly important to understand how much learning was lost because of school closures. Some form of diagnostic assessment of student learning will be needed following the return to school. The state will need to think through how current assessments may or may not adequately and appropriately assess student learning given new realities.
- Accountability. Similarly, the federal government has waived accountability requirements for districts and schools, meaning there will be no assigned performance categories (i.e., need improvement) for this school year. This decision essentially holds current accountability ratings in place. While this pause makes sense for this school year, even greater gaps in student achievement are expected due to COVID-19. School districts should continue to demonstrate how they are meeting the learning needs of their students even if schools aren’t able to meet in person. New measures and adaptations to accountability will likely need to be explored and implemented as districts adapt to new ways of learning.
- Educator effectiveness. The state has also made the decision to not require educator evaluations this year because the evaluation relies on classroom observations and student growth data, calculated through the annual assessments that were just waived. We know the power of an effective educator in the classroom and believe meaningful, annual evaluations are critical in helping educators improve classroom instruction.
- Seat Time. A statewide waiver from instructional hours and days requirements was issued for any district that submitted a copy of their alternative learning plan. Once school returns to some form of normal operation, opportunities should be taken to examine whether traditional measures of seat time (meaning a minimum number of required teacher-student contact hours) is the best way to ensure quality instruction is occurring.
- High School Transition. Graduation requirements are locally determined in Colorado. With annual testing cancelled this year, unique opportunities exist for districts to demonstrate that students are ready to graduate by demonstrating competencies rather than just through assessment scores. CDE is urging districts to think about giving added credit for internships, work, or other experiential learning that was completed or could be completed over the summer. Demonstrating knowledge through capstone projects where students must apply their knowledge to a real-world problem is also being emphasized. Districts can leverage the summer months because local graduation requirements can be met anytime before August 31, 2020.
Stay tuned as the Colorado Succeeds team continues to evaluate how changing these policies impact students, educators, and systems over the summer and next school year.