Colorado Board of Ed Rejects Adoption of Multi-State Testing

The board committed itself to opposing Sen. Johnston’s legislation that would have made Colorado an stake-holder in math and English national testing efforts.

Based on the subsequent vote count, the Colorado Board of Education isn’t enamored of the subject tests used by other states to evaluate student achievement in language arts and mathematics. In a 4-3 vote, the board registered its rejection of the Senator Mike Johnston’s Senate Bill 12-172 that would have made the state a full partner in one of the two national groups developing new mathematics and language arts exams for use by states throughout the nation.

Currently, there are two groups pursuing the project: the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Although there are Colorado representatives in both groups, so far, members of the state’s educational community have declined to take on any governing roles which would give them a bigger say in the drafting of the exams. Johnston’s bill would have required a member of the SBE to join the governing board of one of the consortia.

Although Johnston’s presentation to the board was carefully couched in conciliatory language, the message came through loud and clear. Whatever the objections of the board, if their wish was to continue fielding Colorado-specific exams, that option was no longer on the table. Johnston’s words were backed up by the actions of the state legislature last year when they severely cut back on the SBE’s request for $26 million in funding to design a new battery of subject exams to align the assessment system with the new state curriculum standards. Governor John Hickenlooper went on the record opposing the request, and the legislators followed his lead by allocating $6 million, and earmarking it for new exams in social studies, sciences, Spanish language and special-ed tests only.

If the board wanted their new exams, their options were restricted to those produced by the multi-state bodies, and although both Johnston and the Education Commissioner Robert Hammond favor PARCC, the bill would leave the decision up to the board.

Meanwhile the board is understandably alarmed at what it sees as an incursion by lawmakers onto its territory. Furthermore, they want a so-called “escape clause” built into the bill that would allow the state to withdraw from the national group if the tests as they are being produced don’t meet Colorado’s standards. In the course of his presentation, Johnston expressed willingness to consider such clause.

But for one board member, Bob Schaffer, this move is not about the quality of tests but just another step, along with the controversial Common Core Standards, to backdoor states into the adoption of a national curriculum. Schaffer said that he is concerned that participation in a multi-state testing regime will, like the adoption of CCS, become a required part of obtaining federal educational grants.

Colorado Board of Education isn’t the only body expressing concern of federal intrusion into education decisions traditionally made by states and local communities, and that sees national test-drafting and curriculum-drafting groups being “clearly all about” the eventual adoption of a national curriculum. Such reasons were also given by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley when she called on the state legislators to back off from the wholesale adoption of the CCS in the state which was scheduled to begin in 2013. The Cato Institute also expressed similar misgivings in its paper encouraging states to forgo CC adoption.

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