Colorado Board Gives School Districts Leeway on Testing


Massive protests from students against standardized testing in Colorado have spurred the Colorado State Board of Education to allow districts to opt out of a portion of new testing this coming spring. The Board, made up of a 15 member advisory panel, has been warned that its decision lacked the proper authority and could negate the tests.

Through a split vote of 4-3, new Republican board member Steve Durham gave permission to districts to request waivers that would allow them to discontinue the initial section of new computer-based tests in English language arts, literacy, and mathematics. The new set of assessments is hand-graded and set to begin in March, aiming to enhance students’ critical thinking and reasoning. A more straightforward machine-graded test with short answers would be given by the end of the year.

The panel was composed of representatives of teachers, parents, school districts, charter schools, and the business community, writes Eric Gorski of The Denver Post.

The board found it a difficult task to find ways to ease the testing burden outside of the high school level, showcasing the state’s rigid federal necessities and disparate outlook over the importance of assessments. The panel still has to finalize the report and release it to the legislature before the end of January. It aims to eliminate all standardized tests for high school seniors and reduce the number of tests taken by juniors.

The board continues to debate whether or not ninth graders need to be tested in math and English, and also if social studies tests should be discarded from the curriculum.

Math and reading tests continue to be mandatory from third to eighth grade, as per federal law, and students are required to be assessed in science at least once each in elementary, middle, and high school.

Commissioner Robert Hammond stated that it was unlikely that the board’s wishes would be carried out and claims that the motion could threaten federal funding by restricting Colorado from satisfying state and federal demands to test students.

“I certainly understand their frustration. Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I respect the motion, but I have to do what I have to do.”

However, Former Republican lobbyist Durham, stated that the two tests seemed repetitive.

“We are trying to relieve some of the burden on local districts. I think it’s quite clear the majority of people in the state are now opposed to this level of testing.”

The motion was approved by the majority of the board, including new Denver-based Democrat member Val Flores and Republican Pam Mazanec of Larkspur; writes Debbie Kelley of The Gazette.

Parents and students began protesting last fall, when over 5,000 Colorado 12th graders refused to accept the new state passed compulsory science and social studies tests last November. Walkouts were staged at schools in Boulder, Castle Rock, and Cherry Creek.

School districts have branded the new federal law as an onslaught of testing that occupies too much classroom time and one that fails to provide an accurate idea of academic performance.

Spokeswoman for Colorado Springs School District 11, Devra Ashby, has promised to “keep a close eye on this developing situation” until there is unified consent on the state level and the process is better defined.

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