Supporters and opponents to a bill that would delay the full implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards lobbed their opening pitches to lawmakers, the State Board of Education and the media Wednesday, the day before the Senate Education Committee may decide the fate of the measure.
Supporters of the bill, which would also delay the rollout of standardized tests aligned to the standards and create a committee to review the standards and their implementation, raised concerns about the standards’ lack of rigor and transparency in how the standards were developed. Several individuals also predicted a botched testing apparatus and student data being sold and manipulated to serve private-business interests. The other predominant theme was local control.
“Ultimately, it is our belief that content standards at a national level will drive conformity, instead of innovation, and mediocrity instead of excellence,” said Wes Jolly, the director of academic services at the the Classical Academy, a public charter school in Colorado Springs. “We, as a state, can do better. Common Core’s implementation and assessment strategy ultimately will prove detrimental to the goals we should be pursuing as a state.”
Opponents of the bill argued that Colorado has gone too far in implementing the standards to turn back now. Student outcomes are already improving, they said.
“The new standards provide students, teachers and parents a clear understanding of what students are expected to learn at every grade level — this serves as a road map for a quality education,” said Shelby Edwards, a senior education fellow at the Colorado Children’s Campaign . “We know, however, there is more to be done. We support the implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards and we ask for your continued support as well. Colorado has been developing these higher standards since 2008. And every school across the state has implemented these standards this school year. It is not time to turn around — it is time to continue our efforts of improving education in Colorado.”
The new standards, developed in Colorado but fused with the controversial Common Core State Standards, were approved by the State Board of Education in 2011. School districts must have either adopted the standards or created their own that meet or exceed the state’s.
The controversy surrounding Common Core has risen to a fever pitch across much of the nation. Since the Common Core’s inception, 45 states have adopted the standards for math and English language arts. But during the last few months, dozens have since either delayed the implementation and several have dropped out of the state consortia developing the accompanying tests.
Since August, a small but consistent group has voiced their frustration with Colorado’s participation with both the standards and the tests, but Wednesday’s gathering was the largest yet. Public comment at the state board’s monthly meetings are usually a pro forma affair, but the back-and-forth on the standards ran for more than two hours.
Most in attendance spoke out against the standards, requesting just a little more time to study issue. Several who want to see the bill passed agreed standards and assessments are needed, but believe the Common Core standards, which were developed by Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, and heavily encouraged by the Obama administration, are a one-sizes-does-not-fit-all approach.
“All we ask for is more time,” said Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins mother who helped author the legislation being heard tomorrow.
But time is something the state may not have. The standards and how well students demonstrate mastery of them on state standardized tests are a linchpin to many of the education reform policies the state has implemented throughout the last five years including district and school accountability frameworks and teacher effectiveness evaluations.
Nearly a dozen school districts are nearing the end of the so-called “accountability clock.” If student performance on standardized tests don’t improve their accreditation will be yanked. And beginning next school year, teachers will be evaluated, in part, by those same student outcomes.
The bill’s sponsor, Fort Collins Republican Vicki Marble, said putting too much emphasis on standardized tests is one of many reasons why she’s sponsoring the bill.
“We’re changing the definition of education to assessment,” she said during a press conference held before the state board meeting.
The State Board of Education has taken a “monitor” position on the bill, meaning it neither supports or opposes the bill.
But the board’s president, Paul Lundeen a Republican from Colorado Springs, said he personally supports the bill and has raised concerns about Common Core before.
“I’ve never been a fan of the Common Core,” Lundeen said. “I think we’re creating a linkage between Common Core and assessments that will ultimately drive what curriculum looks like and I’m very concerned what that looks like for the students of Colorado.”
Board member Jane Goff, a Democrat from Arvada, had mixed feelings after the meeting ended.
“I don’t know if [another year] would be any more telling as far as the standards,” she said.
But Goff was open to a larger discussion on assessments as whole.
“We feel it, the pressure [of assessments],” she said.
Goff, who was a teacher for more than 25 years, said the current debate reminds her of the one in 1993, when Colorado first implemented statewide standards.
“Change is hard,” she said.
Today’s debate is more complex, she said, adding that “this is a complex world.”
The public comment portion of the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting ended a day of mostly poor turnout from both supporters and opponents of the bill on a high note for supporters who hope to pack the Old Supreme Court Chambers at the Capitol tomorrow for the hearing.
Organizers behind the bill, earlier in the day, were disappointed the “bus loads” of supporters didn’t show up for a morning rally, which was eventually pushed to the afternoon. Mostly parents, lacking political prowess, they cited other obligations and a lack of organization.
But a well-orchestrated panel featuring Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and other supporters of Colorado’s standards fared about the same. Only eight lawmakers showed up at 7:30 a.m. to that event.
— Todd Engdahl contributed to this report.