As parents of children who struggle with learning and attention issues, we are grateful that we found schools for our children where they are supported and where their teachers have worked with our families to ensure that our children make progress. These schools held our children to high standards, and worked to make sure they were learning and growing. But we know that not all schools in Colorado hold all students to high standards, which is a crucial piece in making sure that kids work towards grade-level proficiency. And the U.S. Department of Education agrees with us.
In May, Colorado submitted its state plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to the federal government for review and approval. In August, the U.S. Department of Education responded, requesting that Colorado do more to move students towards grade-level proficiency.
In its plan, Colorado explained that it will set goals for students based on something called a scale score — a test result which would appear as a number, without an explanation as to whether students were performing near, at, or above grade level. While the state says this approach will help them show overall school improvements, it can mask or hide the meaning of that growth, by not relating it to grade-level standards and proficiency. Parents, like ourselves, wouldn’t be able to tell if our children are performing on grade level or if their schools are good at helping most students get to those levels.
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ESSA requires that the Colorado Department of Education and school districts in Colorado engage with parents to make sure the state and local plans meet their needs. This requirement, combined with the U.S. Department of Education’s rejection of Colorado’s approach to measuring student achievement, creates a fantastic opportunity for parents like us to make our voices heard.
As parents, we need to get involved and urge our districts and schools to do more to support students, and that starts by being transparent about what students know and are able to do. Schools, educators and parents need to know how a student’s performance compares to where their grade level dictates they should be. Send a letter to the Colorado Department of Education urging them to be transparent about goals for student achievement and how they relate to grade-level proficiency. Getting involved helped us make sure our children were successful, and weighing in on ESSA and student achievement is our opportunity to make sure our schools support all kids with learning and attention issues. For more ideas on how to get involved, you can review understood.org’s toolkit on ESSA advocacy.
This op-ed was co-written by Nicola Frost, regional field manager for understood.org, which falls under the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and Debbie Campbell, understood.org's parent fellow.
Westword occasionally publishes op-ed pieces about local issues. Have an opinion you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.