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School board scraps kindergarten assessment program

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By Deb Hurley Brobst

The Jeffco school board, on a 3-2 vote, has stopped teachers from assessing kindergartners using the Teaching Strategies Gold program because the board said the program collects too much data and because of concerns about privacy issues regarding data storage.

To that end, it told district officials to turn down a $56,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Education that was helping to finance a pilot program.

“TS Gold concerns me greatly,” said board President Ken Witt. “My concerns are less (about the) academic (data collected) and more about the behavioral assessment.”

Witt was joined by John Newkirk and Julie Williams in voting to stop the use of TS Gold. Voting to continue using the program were Leslie Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman.

Witt said the district still had time to see if another kindergarten assessment program is created ahead of the Colorado Department of Education mandate that all kindergartners be assessed in the 2015-16 school year. Currently, TS Gold is the only assessment program that the CDE will allow school districts across the state to use.

Jeffco had asked kindergarten teachers district-wide to assess five students in each class using TS Gold as a way to acclimate the teachers to the program before all kindergartners must be assessed.

“We need the information to guide instruction,” said the district’s director of early childhood education Marcy Hoefner. “In kindergarten, we want data to guide instruction, so we help students be successful.”

While TS Gold assesses a kindergartner’s readiness for school, Jeffco had been focusing on literary, math and the socio-emotional readiness of students, district staff members told the board. They said the data were stored in a secure TS Gold cloud storage that was not publicly accessible.

Williams said she had serious concerns about storing the data and kids’ privacy.

“I think voters spoke loud and clear that they were concerned about privacy,” Williams said, referring to the inBloom data storage program that the school board scrapped in November after several months of heated discussion.

Dahlkemper agreed that student data privacy is a top priority for the district, but said teachers need data to know if they are making a difference in their students’ education.

Gates grant accepted

Despite public comments to the contrary, the board voted unanimously to allow the district to accept a $5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to be used to research innovative ways to provide professional development opportunities for middle school and high school teachers.

An audience member was concerned about the Gates Foundation’s agenda when it offers grants, and she suggested the district turn down the money.

Board members said they understood the political ramifications of accepting the grant but pointed out that the money would be used to improve teacher effectiveness and therefore student learning.

“This will expand opportunities for teachers,” Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said. “This is an exciting, innovative opportunity for us.”

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.