DENVER – Lawmakers are poised to tackle the controversial issue of student testing – an issue that divides officials, parents and communities.
The Legislature has cleared a path for bipartisan legislation that aims to ease testing standards. A measure was filed in the Senate late Thursday and formally introduced Friday afternoon, with sponsorship from Sens. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.
On testing requirements, the measure would reduce the number of language arts and math tests at the high school level, and make sure that the state is not requiring any tests in 11th or 12th grades, other than the ACT, which is taken in 11th grade.
The bill would also streamline kindergarten assessments and the READ Act, a 2012 law that focuses on K-3 literacy and assessments, in order to lessen the number of tests students are taking.
The proposals won’t come as a surprise to many observers, as they are based on recommendations from the Standards and Assessment Task Force, which was created from legislation in 2014.
Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger chaired the task force. He said he is pleased to hear that the testing legislation this year appears to be strongly rooted in the task force’s recommendations.
Snowberger is a believer in strong assessments, but said the state has overwhelmed students with requirements.
“What we have here is really to just provide a solid foundation for tracking student progress and holding schools accountable in the state of Colorado,” Snowberger said of the measure this year, though he had not had a chance to review the introduced bill.
Kerr acknowledged that sponsors have a fight ahead of them, as education issues come with a long list of stakeholders, including teachers, parents, school boards, education-reform groups, unions and school executives, to name a few.
“I feel fairly comfortable that this bill is the best bill to start this conversation at this point of the session,” Kerr said.
The move comes as Colorado recently began implementing PARCC assessments, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The tests, part of national Common Core standards, aim to create uniformity in schools across the nation.
The standards set guidelines for K-12 education, including requirements in math and language arts at each grade level. Colorado adopted Common Core standards in 2010.
But some parents and educators worry about eroding local control. The issue comes with a host of fears, including accusations that the standards represent a federal takeover of education, to worries about burdens placed on teachers and administrators, as well as the anxiety placed on students.
The issue crosses party lines, with citizens from varying political backgrounds coming together to oppose Common Core – from the far left to the far right.
“The PARCC testing is psychosocial profiling our students,” Anita Stapleton, who leads the Stop Common Core Colorado group, said outside the Colorado Department of Education on Wednesday, during a protest led by a group of mothers.
“They’re blatant; they’re arrogant about it ...” Stapleton continued. “There is no way I will support a bill that will keep PARCC in the state.”
At least one state lawmaker has proposed legislation that would repeal Common Core standards. Other measures seek to revise education accountability and testing.
Hearings on those bills have been delayed as the bipartisan group of lawmakers works on the testing-reform measure, which they hope will serve as a compromise.
Snowberger said the Legislature should not erase strong national assessments.
“I’m highly concerned about watering down standards or going back to the drawing board because we finally have standards that are common across many states,” he said. “People underestimate how critical that is.”
Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have expressed optimism that they will be able to secure legislation this year that at least eases student testing.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said he also is worried about lowering standards, but he added that he understands that there may be too much testing taking place.
“I am a believer we can have fewer tests and less testing, but I do not think we should back off on having higher standards,” Hickenlooper said.
Meanwhile, Kerr acknowledged the political pressure that will come with the debate.
“Party politics and chamber politics are all in play here,” Kerr said. “Those are all dynamics that are pushing this.”