Luke Ragland is the vice president of policy for Colorado Succeeds, a Colorado School Grades community partner. This op-ed originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette.


A recent guest column, “We should reward best teachers in Colorado,” by Sen. Owen Hill and Tyler Lawrence briefly touched on the importance of the website ColoradoSchool Grades.com and why millions of Coloradans – 1.3 million in fact – have used it. As a representative of Colorado School Grades, I’d like to thank Sen. Hill and Mr. Lawrence for highlighting how this tool uses student test scores to help parents make informed decisions about their child’s education. With state testing happening this spring in local schools, I think that a longer explanation for parents is necessary.

Since Colorado Succeeds and 17 community partners launched the Colorado School Grades website in 2010, we’ve provided millions of parents across the state with valuable, easy-to-understand school performance information. This nationally acclaimed platform’s letter-grade ratings are straightforward, comprehensive, and accessible.

This year, changes in Colorado’s state test meant that the data we use to calculate the school grades wasn’t available, and so we weren’t able to update those school grades for 2015, as we explained on our website.

Fortunately, after this spring’s test results come back, the Colorado Department of Education will again have two years’ worth of data, allowing us to update Colorado School Grades ratings for every public school in the state. We are excited to provide parents with the information they need to make school choice decisions for their children.

But for the ratings to be accurate and representative of the state’s schools, and therefore meaningful to the millions of parents who use this tool, we need to make sure students participate in the CMAS/PARCC exams this spring.

To read the entire piece, click here.

Parent FAQ’s: What’s the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey?

Students taking examby Meg Freedman

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is given to several thousand 6th through 12th graders in Colorado public schools, asking questions related to behaviors that can affect the students’ mental, physical, and emotional health. Schools recently committed to making an extra effort to educate parents about the survey, so we wanted to answer some FAQ’s on it too.

The survey is given every other year on odd years (2011, 2013, 2015, etc.). It’s anonymous, multiple-choice, and voluntary. It includes questions about:

  • Use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs
  • Physical activity
  • Diet and eating habits
  • Violence
  • Bullying
  • Suicide
  • Sexual activity
  • Use of healthcare services (such as dental and medical care)

Why it is Valuable

Several different groups use results from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey in their work for Colorado youth. Survey data help:

  • Inform government policies that affect youth health
  • Inform grant applications for organizations that serve youth (i.e., the survey data show who needs what types of help)
  • Schools understand their students’ health risks and behaviors, and plan programs to improve them
  • Show how Colorado youth health behaviors compare to behaviors in previous years—and how they compare to health behaviors of youth in other states and across the country
  • Inform the general public about the state of youth health in Colorado

Who Runs and Funds the Survey

Co-sponsors of the survey include the Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and the Colorado Department of Human Services. The University of Colorado Denver administers the survey. Funding for the survey comes largely from marijuana taxes, along with smaller contributions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and CDPHE.

How and Where the Survey Is Given

Randomly-selected Colorado public schools give students the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey during class in the fall of odd years. The test takes under 45 minutes. The results are anonymous—students don’t put their names on the survey, and teachers are instructed to protect students during testing. In 2013, 40,000 Colorado students in 224 schools completed the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

The Survey Consent

In early 2015, the Colorado Board of Education explored changing the survey’s consent process. The survey has a “passive opt-out” consent. This means that schools give students surveys unless their parents sign an opt-out form ahead of time. Schools are required to send parents advance notice about the survey a full two weeks before it is administered. In addition, school districts can individually require active consent for the survey if they choose (as did Jefferson County), and many schools have committed to making an extra effort to educate parents about the survey so they’re aware that it is voluntary.

As of this blog’s publish date, schools have administered the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, and the University of Colorado Denver will reveal results and analysis in the fall of 2016.

For More Information

  • About the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey

Reports on past Survey results, and copies of the current Survey

Meg FreedmanMegan Freedman is a freelance writer and researcher, with a special focus on medical and wellness topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and three children. 

Kindergarten Readiness — What Does it Mean?

Learning to writeby Meg Freedman

As a parent, you might have heard that “school readiness” is required before your young child can enter kindergarten. But what exactly does that mean and why does it matter?

Research shows that students who are ready to learn in kindergarten—the beginning of a child’s formal education—tend to be more successful throughout school and in life after school. Children with lower levels of school readiness in kindergarten tend to lag behind academically throughout their school years and are more likely to exhibit unfavorable behaviors as adults—such as being unemployed and committing crime.

So at its heart, “readiness” is about getting a solid start in school as a base of success for lifelong learning.

In Colorado, students are monitored for readiness before and during kindergarten to ensure teachers know how to meet each child’s individual needs. The state provides an assessment, known as TS GOLD, to monitor student development.

Want more detail on readiness, the test, and why it all matters? We’ve got you covered:

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Diving deeper into the lingo:

Officially, “readiness” speaks to whether a child is prepared to learn in a formal school setting. In Colorado, the Office of Early Childhood defines school readiness as:

  • Physical well‐being and motor development,
  • Social and emotional development,
  • Language and comprehension development, and
  • Cognition and general knowledge.

In everyday terms, school readiness speaks to how well a child can perform activities such as:

  • Appropriately interacting with people,
  • Speaking and listening,
  • Holding a pencil or climbing a jungle gym,
  • Singing a song or sorting objects,
  • And other similar social, physical, and academic activities.

How readiness is measured

Colorado’s Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4K) requires all Colorado public schools to complete two major activities around school readiness. For every student in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes in Colorado public schools, local schools must:

  1. Assess (measure) school readiness, and then
  2. Create an individualized school readiness plan using information from the assessment.

Most Colorado public schools currently measure school readiness with an assessment system called Teaching Strategies GOLD (often referred to as TS GOLD). [1] This assessment happens in the classroom, during school hours, at multiple points throughout the school year. Teachers observe students and collect work the students produce into a portfolio. The system then compares the collected students’ information to show where students’ skills fall in relation to their peers.

How Do Schools Use TS GOLD Assessment Results?

Schools can use TS GOLD assessment information in several ways, in addition to informing students’ individual school readiness plans:

  • Teachers can use results to help them teach to individual students’ needs, and for talking with students’ caregivers,
  • School administrators can use results to examine class development trends, and train teachers, and
  • School districts can use collective assessment results to make decisions about funding allocation for professional development.

According to the Colorado Office of Early Childhood, schools may not use readiness assessment results to deny students’ progression to kindergarten or first grade.

Where and How Are TS GOLD Results Stored?

Teachers enter students’ TS GOLD assessment results (including images of the portfolio items) in a secure web-based system. Local school districts “own” the information, and they can also choose to store supplementary information about students in the TS GOLD system, such as demographic information and notes about parent-teacher communication. The TS GOLD system does not collect student Social Security numbers, phone numbers, or home addresses.

Where Can I Get More Information About Readiness Assessment in Colorado?

  • Colorado Office of Early Childhood Kindergarten Readiness
  • Colorado Department of Education School Readiness – Kindergarten
  • Colorado Department of Education School Readiness and Teaching Strategies GOLD Fact Sheet

[1] TS Gold is the first assessment tool that the state school board approved. The board is reviewing—and may approve—additional assessment systems in the future. A few Colorado school districts and charter schools have received waivers allowing them to use their own school readiness assessment systems.


Meg FreedmanMegan Freedman is a freelance writer and researcher, with a special focus on medical and wellness topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and three children. 

Getting To & From School Safely — Teen Drivers

teenager with a car keyColorado School Grades partners with Moms Fight Back to highlight school safety issues. This post is excerpted from their Back to School Safety eBook. Read more on the Moms Fight Back website. 

This week we’re highlighting safe travel to school. We focused on school buses, also walking to school  and biking to school. Today, what if your teenager is ready to drive to school?

More than half of school-aged children in the United States arrive to school by car and a vast number of those are teen drivers driving themselves to school.

According to The National Center for Health, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15-20-year-olds and teen drivers are the most at risk for motor vehicle crashes. Aside from always wearing a seat belt (studies have proven for decades that seat belts do save lives) there are a few tools you can implement to help ensure your teen driver arrives at school safely.

If you have a young driver, Zubie can come in handy, especially if you don’t own a technology-enhanced car. Zubie plugs into a car’s diagnostic port and shares location, speed and GPS data as well as diagnostic data to let you know if there are any problems with the vehicle. Zubie tracks driving behavior based on key metrics and reports instances of speeding and hard braking, among other things. You can get the Zubie device and service for around $100.

Worried about your teen driver texting while behind the wheel? SecuraFone is a one-of-a-kind mobile application that prevents the use of distracting applications such as text messaging and email while the device is in motion. The application also provides parents, caretakers and others with the ability to receive alerts based on specific events or conditions such as speed alerts, inactivity alerts, and the entry into or exit out of virtual boundaries that can be set up with a click of a button. SecuraFone is free to download and requires a monthly service subscription of $8.95. Available for iPhone and Android.

Whether your child is walking, biking, taking the bus, driving, or being driven to school, safety always comes first. Educate your kids to help them make smart decisions about safety on their own.





Getting To & From School Safely — Biking to School

kids biking to schoolColorado School Grades partners with Moms Fight Back to highlight school safety issues. This post is excerpted from their Back to School Safety eBook. Read more on the Moms Fight Back website. 

This week we’re highlighting safe travel to school. We focused on school buses and walking to school. Today, biking to school.

First, teach your child some basic rules-of-the-road for bicyclists:

  • Your child must wear a helmet. Always. Even if it is a short ride. No exceptions.
  • Brightly colored clothing helps drivers to see your child biking.
  • Ride with traffic, on a designated bike path or in a bike lane.
  • Stop and look both ways before entering a street, intersection, driveway, or crossing an alley. Stop at all intersections, whether marked or unmarked.
  • Before turning, use hand signals and look in every direction.

Much like the walking school bus, many school communities and neighborhoods are helping kids get to school safely by bike by setting up a bike train.

What is a bike train?

“A bike train is a group of students and adults who bike to and from school together, making stops along a previously designated route to pick up others as they approach the school. While walking school buses (the walking version of a bike train) are great for shorter distances, bike trains allow children who live farther from the school to participate in active transportation.” (From: the Bike Train Guide created by Fire Up Your Feet.)

Tomorrow: Prepping for your teen to drive to school. 

Getting To & From School Safely — Walking to School

Kids walking to schoolColorado School Grades partners with Moms Fight Back to highlight school safety issues. This post is excerpted from their Back to School Safety eBook. Read more on the Moms Fight Back website.

This week we’re highlighting safe travel to school. Yesterday, we focused on school buses. Today, walking to school.

15% of kids walk or bike to school. Walking to and from school is a great way to create a regular exercise routine for your children and reduces the risk of obesity.

But walking to school still has potential problems such as predators, loose animals, bullies, and unsafe drivers. Make sure your child has a safe, pre-planned, well-travelled route to follow before allowing them to walk to school.

Consider starting up a walking pool in your community to bring students together to walk in groups – there’s safety in numbers!

The online guide at Walking School Bus advises asking the following four questions when creating a walking school bus route:

  • Do you have room to walk?
 Are there sidewalks and paths?
 Is there too much traffic?
  • Is it easy to cross the street?
  • Do drivers behave well?
 Do they yield to walkers?
 Do they speed?
  • Does the environment feel safe?
 Are there loose dogs?
 Is there criminal activity?

For more information on a establishing a walking school bus, read the guide created by The National Center for Safe Routes to School.

Here are some additional safety tips to share with your child if he or she is going to walk to school, alone or in a group:

  • First, see if there are other neighborhood children your child can walk with.
  • Check for routes that require as few intersection crossings as possible.
  • Explain to your child that they may not deviate from the pre-planned route.
  • Discourage the use of iPods, cell phones, screens of any kind, or headphones – kids should not be looking at screens or listening to loud music when walking to school. Awareness equals safety.
  • Make sure your child understands never to accept a ride from a stranger or a friend unless it has been prearranged by you.

One mom who blogs at Kitchen Counter Chronicle, offers this excellent tip for parents with kids who walk to school: As a parent it is important sometimes to get down and look at the world from a child’s point of view… literally. Often times young children cannot see over cars, around corners and beyond obstructions like shrubs and fences. Take a walk with your kids, but stop and get down and check out your child’s perspective. The world might look entirely different.

Tomorrow’s travel highlight: biking to school.

Getting To & From School Safely — School Bus Travel

kids getting on a school busColorado School Grades partners with Moms Fight Back to highlight school safety issues. This post is excerpted from their Back to School Safety eBook. Read more on the Moms Fight Back website.

Ensuring your kids get to school safe and sound is no longer as simple as sending them off to the bus in the morning with a hug. According to Healthychildren.org, 815 students die annually, and 152,250 are injured during regular travel between school and home.

The Colorado Safe Routes to School Program tells us that less than 15% of all trips to school are made by students walking or biking, more than 50% arrive by car, and 25% travel to school by bus. However your child travels to school, we’ve compiled safety tips and thinking points to help ensure safety along your child’s route to school. Today’s highlight: traveling to school by bus.

The National Highway Safety Administration states, “School buses are the safest mode of transportation for getting children back and forth to school.” Reasons for this include the extensive safety, security, and medical training bus drivers receive, and strictly enforced school bus traffic laws. This does not mean that our trusty yellow school buses are free of risks. The very acts of getting on and off the bus account for three times as many school bus-related deaths compared to the ride itself. These serious injuries and fatalities during loading and unloading can occur when children are in a hurry getting on and off the bus, don’t pay attention to surrounding traffic, or move out of the bus driver’s sight.

To avoid these threats, teach your children these common-sense precautions when they ride the bus to school:

  • Never move toward the bus until it has come to a complete stop, the door has opened, and its safety lights are flashing.
  • Always stay within the bus driver’s view, walk in front of the bus only.
  • Never move around on the bus. Stay in your seat. If the bus has seat belts, always wear one.
  • Obey the driver, and speak quietly so the driver can concentrate.
  • Never stick anything out of a bus window.

Tomorrow’s safe routes to school highlight: walking to school.

Making Your Child’s School Safer

school pickup mom and kidColorado School Grades partners with Moms Fight Back to highlight school safety issues. This post is excerpted from their Back to School Safety eBook. Check out tips for choosing a safe school here.

If your child’s school doesn’t meet your criteria for safety there are a number of things you can do to get involved and help make a change:

Introduce Be Safe and Sound in School (B3S) to your school community. B3S a seven-step program that provides school administrators, teachers and staff with the tools they need to proactively address school safety. The B3S Guide to Best Practices is a free download you can use to help your school attain higher safety standards.

The three key goals of the program are to raise community awareness of school safety issues, engage parents and students in making schools safer and to create plans to reduce criminal activity in schools. The resources at the link above include all of the materials any school needs to make their B3S initiative successful, including surveys for parents, students, and staff that help identify concerns, school safety, as well as school security assessments.

The National Crime Prevention Council website also offers a wide range of information and tips for improving school safety. Review their School Safety page to learn more.

If you see a real problem at your child’s school, consider joining the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and attending meetings. Talk to other parents about your concerns and try to join together, ensuring a louder voice and more attention to your desires for a truly safe school for your child. The only way through the haze of school violence and fear to peaceful environments that are healthy for our kids is by bringing this information and the potential solutions to the forefront.



Tips for Choosing a Safe School, by Heidi Ganahl

Heidi GanahlColorado School Grades partners with Moms Fight Back to highlight school safety issues. In this post, the organization’s founder Heidi Ganahl offers an update to her 2013 blog post about how to choose a safe school.

As moms, one of our biggest concerns is keeping our children and families safe – sometimes that means our own watchful eye and sometimes that means trusting our kids to the safe keeping of others. As much as we love our children, we simply can’t be by their side every minute of every day and it falls to our community schools and school officials, as well as our children’s teachers, to maintain the level of safety we expect and that our children need to thrive.

All children deserve safe classrooms where they can learn and grow without fear or stress – but not all schools are created equal. With school choice, we as parents are able to make careful, more deliberate decisions about where to send our kids to school – but finding the right school is much more than simply comparing teachers, curriculum, performance, and extra curricular activities. School safety standards and procedures must be a part of the math we do when weighing one school against another.

So how and where can you learn more about the safety of the school your child attends, or the school you’re considering?

You can talk to school officials, other parents, and directly to your own child – asking your child if they feel safe at school is a great way to begin to gauge safety at school. But it can be difficult to get the full picture on school safety when it comes to issues like bullying, internet safety, social media safety, and mental illness in youth. And it can be even more difficult to get real answers about things like weapons at school and physical violence in the classroom.

Even if you’re already happy with the school your child attends, and especially if you’re doing research in consideration of a move, keep an eye to safety by asking these important questions:

  1. Who at the school is responsible for school safety and are they immediately available and authorized to make decisions if there is an incident?
  2. Are there specific and easy to understand policies and procedures in place and enforced around issues like social media, internet use, bullying, weapons, and physical violence?
  3. What efforts are being made to eliminate safety threats at school?
  4. Is there an anti-bullying program in place at the school and are students and teachers alike made familiar with the program?
  5. Is there an anonymous reporting system available to students who have experienced or witnessed violence or bullying at school?
  6. What is the school’s response to students who are troubled or known to be bullies?
  7. How and when is the parent community notified of violent or threatening incidents at the school?
  8. Is there a plan with local first responders in preparation for an emergency situation?
  9. In the event of a crisis, where can parents call and what are the procedures for retrieving children from school should an emergency arise?

For additional information and questions to ask your child’s school, The National School Safety and Security Services created a list of 10 Practical Things Parents Can Do To Assess School Security and Crisis Preparedness.

Excerpted from the Back to School Safety eBook by Moms Fight Back.


Why are there no new grades this year?

csg 2015

Colorado transitioned to a new test in 2015 – the CMAS/PARCC exam – and since the new tests are different, previous years’ scores can’t be compared to this year’s results. That would be like comparing apples and oranges.

Given the change in the test, the state decided to take a time-out from school accountability this year, meaning it will not put out any new school ratings.

Because Colorado School Grades is based directly on data from the Colorado Department of Education, we too are not posting new ratings this year.

Parents who are searching for a new school for their child should look at last year’s grades as a benchmark and then visit the school, talk to the school’s principal, meet their child’s prospective teachers. Colorado School Grades’ Families Take Action blog provides lots of resources for parents searching for a new school.

This year’s new test results set a baseline for students to grow from. With a baseline, the state will be able to measure growth again in future years – and along with it, Colorado School Grades expects to release new ratings next year.

Want more information on the new tests and your child’s test scores? Here are a few resources:

Climb Higher Colorado, a nonprofit coalition with broad information about the tests and standards

GreatSchools’ Colorado Test Guide for Parents

Colorado Department of Education Resources for Parents