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Next step begins in quest for new tests

The experts have done their work; now it’s up to Colorado’s two education boards to figure out what the replacement for CSAPs should look like.

Members of the State Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education met together Thursday to be briefed on the recommendations of a panel of experts that has been developing a plan to replace the CSAP system.

The 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids called for adoption of new state content standards and selection of a new state testing system. The standards have been developed and adopted, and the two boards were supposed to adopt a new testing system by Dec. 15.

But the 2010 legislature, wrestling with budget cuts and fretful about the possible price tag for new tests, delayed adoption of a CSAP replacement “until fiscally practicable.”

The Colorado Department of Education now estimates that a full set of new annual tests won’t be administered until 2014 at the earliest.

Still, the two boards now are set to move ahead and agree on the “attributes” of a new testing system, descriptions that eventually will be expanded into the specifications that potential test vendors will have to meet.

Jo O’Brien, CDE assistant commissioner, and Cheryl Lovell, chief academic officer of the Department of Higher Education, briefed the two boards on the work of the Assessment Stakeholders Advisory Committee.

O’Brien said the key concepts endorsed by the group are that new tests should demonstrate students’ readiness for college or work (“postsecondary and workforce readiness” in CAP4K jargon), be easy to use, be meaningful to students and return timely results.

Lovell said what’s envisioned is not just an annual test but also “a body of evidence that will be gathered” over many years about student readiness for college or work after high school graduation.

The group envisioned a multi-tiered system of assessments and other features, including:

  • Formative assessments in every grade throughout the year so teachers and students can determine if students are making appropriate progress.
  • Somewhat more formal interim assessments, perhaps quarterly, in every grade.
  • An annual test in grades 3-11, replacing the CSAP, which tests reading, writing, math and science. “This is the one for the record, and it counts,” O’Brien said.
  • Somewhat less formal assessments of students in preschool through 2nd grade.
  • A college admissions test in the 11th grade.
  • Universal use of individual career and academic plans starting in 8th grade.
  • An online “dashboard” of some sort that would allow parents and students to track progress toward postsecondary and workforce readiness through their school careers.

The use of online tests was discussed repeatedly during the stakeholder review, but that subject was touched on only briefly at Thursday’s meeting.

Formative and interim testing is common in most schools now – think “quizzes” – but what’s envisioned is a more formal and standardized system that theoretically will make it easier for teachers to recognize and help students who are falling behind. “The idea is to make things of a higher quality and systematic,” O’Brien said.

Similarly, ICAPs are used in many Colorado schools, and all Colorado 11th graders currently take the ACT test.

Members of the two boards had plenty of questions, ranging from cost to practicality.

SBE member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, wondered which elements of a new testing system that state can mandate for school districts, given Colorado’s local control structure.

CCHE Chair Jim Polsfut questioned how hard it will be to implement the new system’s philosophy of having students demonstrate knowledge, not just choose correct answers on multiple-choice tests. “Can we do this?”

Education Commissioner Dwight Jones noted that the boards will have to consider practical issues – like cost – as they do their work. “I’m not sure we have the resources to actually build that [full] system.”

One issue that wasn’t discussed Thursday was the possibility that Colorado may choose one of the multi-state tests now being developed by two national groups rather than hire a testing company to build Colorado-only assessments. Participating in a multi-state system is seen as a way to reduce the cost of replacing the CSAPs.

The board and the commission meet next on Nov. 29 to discuss the issues further.

Choosing a new testing system is only one task assigned by the landmark CAP4K law. Formal descriptions of both school readiness and postsecondary and workforce readiness already have been adopted, as have the content standards. But still to be done are creation of a system of “endorsed” high school diplomas that reflect different levels of student readiness, alignment of state college admissions requirements to the new K-12 system and overall of teacher training programs.

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