Douglas County school officials met with parents on Friday to describe an educational landscape choked by tests and shed some light on why its board of directors has decided to attempt an opt out mechanism for state and federal testing mandates.
Officials also hoped to gather input on how the south suburban school district should proceed, but most parents were ambivalent about the current testing systems and were only beginning to process the board’s decision.
Douglas County schools administer some sort of mandated test nearly every day, leaving little time for instruction, said the district’s assessment chief Syna Morgan, who led the parent forum. Her hope is to create a balance of assessments and instruction, with more discretion from teachers in the classroom and less from the state.
“External testing demands have increased,” she said.
That’s because, as she explained to parents, the state’s educational infrastructure and accountability created by a series of laws — including the School Accountablity Act, the Educator Effectiveness Act and the READ Act — rely on the results of standardized tests.
Since 2010, Colorado schools and districts have been evaluated based on students’ proficiency and academic growth as measured by the state’s standardized tests. Soon, 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be calculated by how well their students perform on the same tests.
She called the laws and mandates an interdependent “spiderweb” that, if unwoven, would need to be done so carefully. She said the district was interested in representing all sides of the argument and making sure all parents voices are heard.
But the board’s unanimously passed resolution indicated the historically conservative district is already taking the necessary steps to author and lobby legislation allowing districts to opt out of the mandates.
The board is drafting legislation with an unnamed legislator and reaching out to other lawmakers to co-sponsor the bill, board members said Friday.
State Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, told Chalkbeat Colorado Monday that he’s talked with Dougco board members about such the idea but won’t decide whether to introduce a bill until after further discussions among school districts and state education officials. He also said he hasn’t yet talked to other legislators about a testing bill.
Board member Judy Reynolds, who attended the parent forum Friday, said the board’s position boils down to local control of schools, which is guaranteed in the state’s constitution.
“Our community should be in charge of our kids’ education,” she said.
The resolution, which was passed late in the evening Tuesday, has raised eyebrows from education activists and other metro school districts.
That wasn’t the intent, Reynolds said. “We don’t want to go rogue.”
Echoing Reynolds, board president Kevin Larsen said he believes several districts will join the district in supporting the not-yet-public legislation. And he believes the bill will have bipartisan support.
“This should cross ideology,” he said during an interview with Chalkbeat Colorado. “But politics is not my concern. The D-and-R count doesn’t matter. What matters is do we have enough legislators that will look at the issues the same way we do.”
The board believes, Larsen said, the district can provide its students and teachers with better and faster feedback. Currently, “the kids are tested in April and don’t get their results until August,” Larsen said.
Student performance on standardized tests should also have less to do with a teacher’s evaluation because, Larsen said, teachers have no control on students take or perform on the test.
“There are better ways to measure teacher effectiveness,” he said.
But one parent, who asked not to be identified because of her association with out-of-state education legislation efforts, said the state’s adoption of Common Core standards and the PARCC consortium tests, will provide parents with better context on their children’s aptitude and post-secondary competitiveness.
“To say we’re above this is crazy,” she said. “We need to know how we’re doing compared to the rest of country. We need comparable standards and tests. I need to know how my student does compared to students in Kentucky and Alabama.”
The district is hosting another set of back-to-back parent forums Jan. 31. The district is also building an advisory committee as it moves forward with its legislation.
A spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Education, which implements all legislation and oversees standards and testing, said in an email Friday, “There have been no challenges or changes in CDE’s operational systems.”
– Todd Engdahl contributed to this report.