Monthly Archives: December 2013

Be Informed – How to Track Education News in Colorado

Keeping track of the state’s education news is an easy way to stay on top of and get involved in important issues for you and your family. Here are a few ways to keep track of what’s new in education:

1. Sign up for email updates from Colorado School Grades

2. Like Colorado School Grades on Facebook

3. Looking for more in-depth resources on policy issues? Follow the Colorado Department of Education on Facebook and Twitter or read more online here.

4. Search for #edcolo on Twitter to see updates from a variety of education organizations in Colorado

You can also find education stories from several local media sources:

Chalkbeat Colorado

Denver Post’s Education Page

Colorado Public Radio’s Education Beat

9News’ Education Page


Improve a School: Get Involved with Your School Accountability Committee

All schools in Colorado have parents at the helm of an Accountability Committee, making sure performance, budgeting, and other important school issues are up to snuff.

Want to dig deep into what these Accountability Committees can and should be doing? Click here.

For a quick overview, here are four quick points on what to look for from your school’s Accountability Committee:

1. The School Accountability Committee can be elected or appointed – it’s up to your school board. Regardless, there must be representation by:

  • The school principal or the principal’s designee
  • At least one teacher who provides instruction at the school
  • At least three parents of students enrolled in the school
  • At least one adult member of an organization of parents, teachers, and students recognized by the school, and
  • At least one person from the community.

2. Whether elected or appointed, the makeup of the board should reflect student diversity.

3. A parent should be selected as co-chair or chair of the committee.

4. The committee’s duties include:

  • Meeting at least quarterly
  • Making recommendations about the school’s budget
  • Making recommendations about a school Performance or Improvement Plan
  • Holding public meetings about strategies for the aforementioned plans
  • Assisting the district and school personnel to increase parent engagement with teachers.

Never heard of a School Accountability Committee or want to know more about how to get involved? Contact your local school board or your school’s principal.

And, check out this blog post over at Chalkbeat Colorado with more about the nuances of School Accountability Committees, district-to-district.


Improve a School: Get to Know Your School Board & Other Elected Officials

Your elected officials are a great resource for any parent looking to improve a school. Here are a few ways to connect with those you’ve voted into office.

1. Know your school board members:

Happy Haynes

Denver Public Schools Board Member Happy Haynes at a DPS Forum

These are the people who are elected to serve you! Keep track of their decisions and their stances on education policy, and if you disagree, let them know by sending an email, letter or making a quick phone call.

Not sure what to say? Click here for some ideas on how to reach out.

2. Get to know your state legislators:

These elected officials make decisions about Colorado’s schools. Not sure who your state legislator is? Find out by entering your address in this interactive map.

3. Attend a school board meeting:

A lot of crucial decisions are made at school board meetings that affect the education of your child every day. Make your voice heard! Check your school district’s website to find out a time and place for your next school board meeting. Find a list of many of Colorado’s School Boards and links to their websites here.

Improve a School: Donate Time & Money

Here are a few ways that you can get involved and help improve your child’s school:

1. Volunteer in a classroom:

Teachers can always use more help, and your child may benefit from having you in the classroom. Be sure to talk to the teacher about volunteering expectations. You can find more information about volunteering in Denver Public Schools here.

You can also volunteer in schools through a variety of organizations. Reading Partners is a great example; make sure to check for similar organizations in your district.

2. Donate to a local classroom through DonorsChoose:

Did you know that 91% of teachers spend their own money on school supplies and basic necessities for their students? Ask your teacher how you can help cover for projects at your child’s school, or help another teacher by sponsoring a classroom on the DonorsChoose website.

3. Post a review of your child’s school:

You can do this on Colorado School Grades or If you love your school, share with other parents who are looking for a great school. If you feel that your school needs some improvement, posting some constructive feedback or ideas for improvement online might help motivate school leaders to make changes.

Three Ways to Get Involved in Your Child’s School

Staying involved in your child’s school is one of the best things you can do to improve their education. Here are a few tips for how to get involved:

1. Call your principal. photo credit flickr user amagill

The best way to find out ways to get involved in your school is to ask the leader directly. Not sure what to ask your principal? We have a guide to help you get the conversation started.

2. Check in with your teacher.

Do you have some time to volunteer in the classroom? Want to know exactly what kind of assistance your teacher could really use day to day?

Call them directly – they want to hear from you! Here are some tips for how to talk to your teacher for the first time.

3. Learn when all the open houses, and other school events take place and be sure to attend.

Sign up for any newsletters or email alerts and read them carefully. Schools should usually give plenty of notice for conferences and other school activities. If your school doesn’t send out a newsletter, check your school’s website at least once a week.


Questions to Ask After Your School Visit

You’ve done your research on Colorado School Grades. Now, you’ve visited the school, seen what classrooms look like and how teachers operate. Take a deep breath, and get ready to think through a few post-visit questions to help frame what you saw at the school.

  • Does the school meet your basic needs?
  • Will your child be challenged at this school?
  • How did you feel about the teachers’ interactions with the kids?
  • What did your child, particularly if s/he is older, think of the school?

Don’t make any quick decisions – wait a couple of days for everything to settle in.

Then sit down, sift through your checklist, notes, and prepare to make some choices!




10 Questions to Ask During a School Visit – Part 2

Yesterday we covered 5 questions to ask on a school visit. These next 5 questions will continue to help you determine which school is the best fit for your child. Hopefully this school tour will be an excellent supplement for the research you do on Colorado School Grades! 

6. What grade did your school receive on Colorado School Grades? Could you explain why the school received this grade?

While there is no guarantee that you’ll like the answer you get to this question, it will give school leaders or teachers the opportunity to explain why their test scores are low or why the school only has a 65% graduation rate. Use your best judgment while listening – if it seems like the principal is using excuses to explain away poor academics, maybe this isn’t the best school for you and your student. However, if the principal points out things like transitioning to a new model of teaching or mentions concrete steps that she and the school are taking to improve issues like low test scores or poor attendance, it could be the right place for your student.

7. As a parent, how could I get involved at this school?

Can I volunteer in my child’s classroom? Is there a PTA or a different parent group that I can get involved in? What about the school accountability committee? Getting involved with your child’s school can be a great way to see what is really happening in a school and give you the chance to build authentic relationships with your child’s teachers and school leaders. Maybe the school drama director is looking for set builders or costume designers, or maybe the fourth grade needs chaperones for its upcoming trip to the science and nature museum – just ask what you can do to help!

8. What is your grading policy (letter grades or proficiency levels, etc.)?

There are all sorts of grading policies being adopted in the education world today so be sure to ask about what the school uses. Do they use the classic A-F scale or do they use a 1-4 scale to assess proficiency on certain standards? How are grades communicated to students? What about parents?

9. What sorts of extracurricular activities and/or elective courses are offered?

Particularly as students get older, make sure the school offers plenty of courses and after school activities that interest your child. What sports are offered? Art and music classes or clubs? Are there costs associated with any of these activities? Are the after-school activities different than what is offered during the normal school day, or will your student just do the same thing over and over again?

10. How do you feel when you are in the school (welcomed, safe, etc.)? If you have an older child, how did he/she feel about the school?

Feeling welcome and safe in a school can have a great impact on your child’s learning. Ask about the school’s anti-bullying policies (even better, see if this is a required professional development session for teachers) and look for signs of inclusivity on the walls of the school. Reflect on what happened the moment you walked into the building – were you able to just roam the school without anyone questioning you, or were you immediately greeted by a secretary or security guard who asked for identification and had you sign in at the office?

Be sure to ask for materials like school handbooks, class schedules, parent newsletters, and work samples before you leave!


10 Questions to Ask During a School Visit – Part 1

Visiting a school is a critical piece of the school search process. Now you’ve thought through those critical questions before visiting the school, here are a few ideas for what to ask when you’re touring it.

1. How do you support children with different learning styles?

Every student learns differently, and it is crucial that both teachers and school leaders have the ability to cope with all sorts of learning styles. Ask about what professional development opportunities teachers are offered around learning styles or differentiation and what support staff (such as paraprofessionals, tutors, special education resources, and speech therapists) the school employs that could help your child learn. When talking to teachers and observing classrooms, see if you can determine if teachers assess learning only through pencil and paper tests or if they allow students to show learning through art, music, oral presentations, or other creative means!

2. How are teachers and school leaders held accountable for my child’s learning?

How often are teachers observed by their school leaders? What happens if my child is failing a class or does not perform proficiently on a standardized test? What resources or professional development opportunities are available for teachers who are not high performing?

Colorado recently passed Senate Bill 191, which set clear standards for teacher and principal effectiveness and created more rigorous teacher evaluations. Be aware of these changes and what sorts of behaviors and practices highly effective teachers possess.

3. What expectations do you have for my child (homework, attendance, etc.)?

How much homework should I expect every night (this will vary depending on grade level)? How will my child be made aware of the school’s expectations? Are all teachers clear and consistent about these expectations?

4. What is the student to teacher ratio?

Research has shown that there are significant benefits to having small class sizes in grade K-3; we consider a student teacher ratio over 22 :1 to be large. In fourth grade or higher, a class size of about thirty is pushing the limit on what one teacher can effectively handle. In high school, there might slightly bigger class sizes depending on the class. If you see large classes, ask about teacher aides, tutors, and volunteers that are available to help out.

5. How are behavior and discipline problems handled at the classroom level? At the school level?

Are boys and girls treated equitably in the discipline policies? Is there a school-wide set of policies or do individual teachers set their own expectations for each classroom? Do you agree with the consequences for each misbehavior or are they completely off-the-mark? Particularly if your child is in elementary school, the discipline system and any consequences can drastically shape your child’s attitude towards school, so be sure to do your research!

 Check in tomorrow for 5 more key questions to ask during a school visit. 


Choosing a School: Questions to Ask Before Your Visit

So, you’re looking for a new school. We’re glad you’ve come to to search for your options when it comes to academic performance and other critical measures of whether a school is good for kids!

But this data doesn’t live in a vacuum: to get a full picture of the school, and whether it is a good fit for your child, you need to visit the school itself.

Over the next several days, we’ll give you the tools you need to take a tour, ask the right questions, and get that fuller picture of the school.

Today: A few questions to ask yourself before visiting a school.

When you’re picking a new school for your child, you should start by defining your basic needs. What is most important for you in choosing a school? A few things to consider…

  • How far away is this school from my house?
  • What type of learning style works best for my child?
  • What kinds of activities do I want my child involved in?
  • What teaching philosophy or style do I most agree with as a parent? What type of teaching style works best for my child?
  • Do I want my child in an environment that is highly structured or one that is more flexible?

Start a list of must-have items and bring this with you on your school tour along with some of the other questions and resources we provide on in the Take Action Blog toolkit.


About Us: Welcome to the Colorado School Grades Take Action Blog!

Welcome to the Colorado School Grades Take Action blog. Launched in December 2013, this new feature on will provide materials to help parents in Colorado both choose a school and get involved with a school’s improvement.

Colorado School Grades provides parents with an easy-to-understand grade for every school in the state. We are a coalition of 18 community organizations that believe all children deserve access to a high-performing school. Our mission is to provide you with the school performance information you need to make a good choice about schools for your child.

From this blog, you’ll receive the tools you need to:

  • Set up a school visit,
  • Ask the right questions of your principal and teachers,
  • Engage more deeply in a school or district’s local improvement efforts,
  • And more.

Have an idea for something we should be writing about on the Take Action blog? Reach out via our contact page.

We hope this blog will help you, as a parent and community member, access simple information about your schools, and with it, we hope you will chime in here, start a discussion on the CSG Facebook page, and begin conversations about school choice and improvement in your neighborhood.