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Board members at odds on assessment tool for preschoolers

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Decision to seek waiver could cost funding

By Daniel Laverty

The Jeffco school board reversed a decision made in December and approved use of the Teaching Strategies Gold program for Colorado Preschool Program students, but an accompanying request for a waiver on student evaluation could imperil several million dollars in state funding.

The board had voted to end the district’s use of TS Gold at its Dec. 13 meeting because of the behavioral data that are collected. Board President Ken Witt said he was uncomfortable that students were videotaped as part of evaluations.

Superintendent Cindy Stevenson requested an opportunity to revisit TS Gold and explain to board members what was at stake. Stevenson said she originally thought the board’s Dec. 13 vote was against using TS Gold in kindergarten classes only.

“When we re-read the motion, it was a blanket motion (eliminating TS Gold),” Stevenson said. “So we needed to come back to (the board with this issue).”

Stevenson said Jeffco receives more than $5 million from the Colorado Department of Education for students enrolled in the Colorado Preschool Program. The CDE started the program in 1988 to provide free preschool to children who face educational challenges due to family, economic or developmental issues.

The funding for the Preschool Program is contingent on Colorado school districts performing behavioral assessments on eligible students — no assessment means no funding.

“There are two approved assessments: TS Gold and HighScope,” Stevenson said. “The assessments gather the same information. We must use one of the two or risk losing funding in the future.”

Stevenson said the district has used TS Gold for the last three years and that switching to HighScope would cost more than $93,000 to cover vendor costs and to train teachers on the new program.

Parents comment

Parents on both sides addressed the board during public comment.

“(I) recommend the Jeffco school board maintain the use of TS Gold,” said Jennifer Granberry. “One, to fulfill the law. Two, to save the increased financial costs and disruption to our students, teachers and parents. And three, to preserve Jeffco’s $5.4 million in Colorado Preschool Program funding.”

“TS Gold is very much like inBloom,” said Sunny Flynn, a Jeffco parent. “The problem comes with gathering electronic data stored in a cloud, owned by a corporation … in a climate where privacy and security policies have not been defined.”

“Our district should be pressing for a waiver from the state, because using programs like TS Gold without parental consent violates the rights of parents,” another parent said.

The vote

Witt made a motion that the district would continue to use TS Gold for students in the Colorado Preschool Program, but that Jeffco would contact the CDE and request a waiver from the required behavioral assessments.

“If we choose not to assess, we will lose our $5.4 million,” Stevenson said.

“Fair enough. I understand we may not get the waiver,” Witt said.

“We are giving up $5.4 million in Colorado preschool funding,” board member Dahlkemper said.

“The motion that is on the table is to continue using TS Gold for those who participate in the Colorado Preschool Program so that we do not give up any funding while we pursue a waiver,” Witt said. “To be clear, no one has moved that we give up that funding.”

Dahlkemper wasn’t confident in the district receiving a waiver, but

Witt asked for a vote. The motion passed 3-2, with Dahlkemper and board member Jill Fellman voting no.

Witt instructed Stevenson to submit the waiver request to the CDE as soon as possible.

Contact Daniel Laverty at 303-350-1042 or Daniel@evergreenco.com.  Follow Daniel on Twitter @LavertyReports.