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Testing bill gets panel approval

Budget clouds as grey as the snow clouds outside hung over the meeting of Educational Success Task Force Tuesday as it voted on five proposed bills intended to increase high school and college completion.

A proposal to add the Accuplacer test to the list of exams taken by Colorado high school students passed on a 5-1 vote.

But a proposed bill to help dropouts earn high school credits while attending college died on a 3-3 tally.

The task force, a panel of six lawmakers and 25 educators, was assigned to study ways to improve high school and college completion rates and to “recommend strategies and tools for identifying and remediating students at the significant transition points” in their educational careers.

The four bills approved Tuesday – out of five bills that were proposed – face a long road before becoming law, including a Nov. 8 review by a panel of legislative leaders and then the full legislative process in the House and Senate during the 2012 General Assembly.

Some will face the same question raised during the task force debate Tuesday – how to fund the programs that would be created.

The most significant proposal passed by the task force was a bill by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, that would require school districts to administer the Accuplacer test to all students at least once in high school. Test results would be used to guide additional supports for underperforming students. Under the plan, students would continue to take state CSAP exams in the 9th and 10th grades and the ACT test in the 11th.

The Accuplacer is an online test marketed by the College Board that is designed to assess students’ readiness for various levels of college classes. It’s now used by the Colorado Community College System to place students in classes.

King, a veteran GOP lawmaker and expert on education issues, also is administrator of Colorado Springs Early Colleges, a charter school that specializes in dual high school-college enrollment for its students.

The school uses Accuplacer extensively, and a teacher and three students from Early Colleges testified to the task force about the test’s value.

But the proposal sparked familiar legislative anxieties about cost, mandates on school districts and excessive testing. King’s hope is that money for Accuplacer would be raised by postponing rollout of the state CSAP replacement tests until 2014-15 instead of 2013-14, as currently scheduled. He envisions the state paying for Accuplacer tests.

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, wasn’t sold on King’s plan. “I don’t see the state having the money,” she said. She also said, “I’m very concerned about having another mandate for tests. We already have too many CSAPs.”

Michelle Pearson, a task force member who’s the current Colorado teacher of the year, echoed Hudak, saying, “The funding … is a real concern.”

In the end, Hudak was the only no vote, with King; Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins; Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs; Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora; and Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, voting to advance the measure.

King will introduce the bill in the Senate. Massey, who’s chair of the House Education Committee, agreed to carry it in the House. But, alluding to the steep odds facing the measure and the likelihood of it dying in the Senate, Massey said, “I’ll volunteer, but I won’t see it.”

Cost concerns also dogged a second bill, which proposed to allow some high school dropouts to take developmental classes in college that would count toward their high school diplomas. The idea is being pushed by the community college system.

A key element of the plan would allow school districts to receive state per-pupil funding for such students and colleges to receive state stipends for the same students. School districts also would use part of the per-pupil funding to pay the students’ shares of college tuition.

The bill died on a tie vote, with King, Bacon and Fields voting yes and Holbert, Hudak and Massey against.

After the vote, Geri Anderson, provost of the community college system and a member of the task force, said the system might seek a legislator to introduce the idea as an individual member bill.

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The legislators were unanimous in their support of three other proposed bills, including:

• A measure that would require the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to develop a system for awarding college credit to adult students for such things as military and professional experience.

• A bill that would allow students to earn associate degrees with credits earned at four-year schools. The proposal is aimed at students who transfer from community to four-year colleges before they’ve earned associate degrees, who don’t subsequently earn bachelor’s degrees but who gain enough additional credits to qualify for associate degrees.

• A proposal that originally would have required school districts to assess middle school students and then provide help for students who are lagging behind in achievement. Bacon proposed a successful amendment to change the bill so it merely would require districts to consider such intervention programs for middle-schoolers. Concerns about cost and state mandates also surfaced during discussion of this bill.