New Colorado Education Head Looks Forward To A Busy Year

Jan 11, 2017

Katy Anthes, commissioner of the Colorado Department of Education
Credit Colorado Department of Education

By the time she was appointed to the job last month, Katy Anthes had been at the helm of the Colorado Department of Education since May 2016 as interim commissioner. She took over the post after then-commissioner Rich Crandall abruptly left the job four months after his appointment.

She begins 2017 mandated to make changes to state standardized tests and uncertain about the federal education policy she may be tasked to implement. And she’s staring down the business end of this year’s legislative session -- a time that often seems to throw curveballs when it comes to education policy.

Ann Marie Awad, KUNC: It looks like 2017 is going to be a busy year for you. You have the start of a legislative session, but you also have the start of a new presidency -- which will probably usher in some changes to federal education policy. I’m wondering -- what is the state of education in Colorado right now?

Katy Anthes: I think the state of education in Colorado is continuously improving and looking forward to new and innovative ways of providing high-quality education to all of our students. I think that we have some big things that we need to tackle as a state, in terms of the development of our federal [Every Student Succeeds Act] plan -- as well as any new legislative policies that come down the pike from our legislators.

Awad: I’m glad that you mentioned the Every Student Succeeds Act. This is the federal law that was passed to replace No Child Left Behind, and for much of last year when you were serving as interim commissioner, CDE has been working on trying to figure out how to implement ESSA at the state level. President-elect Donald Trump has not really given any indication that he’ll stand by that law or back away from it. What does this mean for you and the department in the coming year?

Anthes: You know, at this point we have not had any new indication or any additional information from the new administration, so we look forward to working with them when we do get any information on that. But right now we are continuing our path forward that we have been working on for the past year of writing a high quality plan for Colorado with a lot of stakeholder engagement.

Awad: ESSA aimed to improve upon the strengths of No Child Left Behind and do away with the parts that many districts found too restrictive. So gone are the federal standards school student performance; they’re now replaced by state-driven standards. Gone is the one-size-fits all approach to struggling schools; it’s replaced with state-defined standards and interventions. In working to implement the law here in Colorado, have you found that it offers more freedom for Colorado than No Child Left Behind?

Anthes: Definitely. The ESSA law does provide states more flexibility than the previous No Child Left Behind law. However, Colorado had already received [an] approved waiver from No Child Left Behind. So many of the new flexibilities that ESSA provides, Colorado has already been implementing its own system. So we didn’t have to do -- because we had an adequate plan for our state -- we didn’t have to do any of those provisions that I think sometimes were discussed like adequate yearly progress, and some of those more specific elements. We already have a waiver from that, so we continue to use our state law and our state plan as the backbone for how we’re going to move forward with ESSA.

Awad: Your department is also preparing for some possible changes to standardized testing. Last month, the state board asked CDE to find tests that take students less time to take, with results that are returned sooner. Currently the state has a testing contract with PARCC, the maker of the Common Core-based tests. But that contract expires at the end of this school year. Do these new requirements mean the state plans to move away from Common Core-based testing?

Anthes: I don’t think that it necessarily means that. I think that the board motion was to put in some specifications around what the department would have to include in our forthcoming assessment RFP [request for proposal].

Awad: Can you say firmly one way or another if the state plans to hang onto tests that are based on the Common Core standards or closely aligned to them, or it’s not clear yet?

Anthes: We have the Colorado academic standards -- so we have standards in ten content areas. Two of which are closely aligned to the Common Core. So we base everything in Colorado on those Colorado academic standards. So I can say that our RFP for an assessment system will include [that] they must be aligned to the Colorado academic standards.