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Testing, Common Core officially on the legislature’s plate

A Republican-sponsored bill to delay rollout of new statewide tests and to require a new study of the state’s academic standards – which include the controversial Common Core Standards – was introduced in the Senate Monday.

That sets the stage for legislative debate on some of the nation’s most contentious education issues, although the odds may be long for passage of the bill.

Prime sponsor Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, told Chalkbeat Colorado last week that she hoped to find Democrats to sign on to the bill, but none were listed as sponsors at introduction. (Neither, interestingly, was Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, and a senior GOP figure on education issues.) So Democratic majorities in both houses are a hurdle for Senate Bill 14-136 — not to mention the commitment of the Hickenlooper administration, the Department of Education and key legislators to the current standards and the plans for new tests.

The bill would delay by one year the rollout of the new statewide assessments in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. (One problem here is that new online science and social studies tests, to be given to one grade each in elementary, middle and high school, are scheduled for this spring.)

The bill also would create a Colorado Academic Standards Task Force to study implementation of the Colorado academic standards, including the Common Core. The task force, including legislators and public members appointed by chair of the State Board of Education, would have to issue recommendations by Dec. 15, 2015, which would be considered by the legislature and the state board. The bill also would require the Department of Education to hire an outside entity to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of implementing the new standards and new tests.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee, but a hearing date hasn’t yet been set.

Marble also said last week that she’s working on a bill to strengthen protections for student data, a proposal that may have a better chance of gaining Democratic support. On the testing front, the Douglas County school board is advocating legislation that would give school districts greater flexibility in deciding which tests to give (see story).

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, told Chalkbeat Monday that he’s talked about the issue with Dougco board members but doesn’t know yet if he’ll introduce a bill.

The testing-and-standards bill was among a flurry of new bills introduced Monday in the Senate, including five related to education. The new measures bring to 36 the number of education-related bills introduced so far this year.

Another measure of interest is Senate Bill 14-114, which would change the role and mission of Colorado State University Global Campus and allow it offer four-year bachelor’s degree programs instead of just junior- and senior-year classes that allow students to complete bachelor’s degrees. The measure is expected to get close scrutiny from other higher education sectors, particularly the community colleges, because of concerns about competition.

Also introduced Monday were:

  • Senate Bill 14-112 – This measure would make annual cash grants from the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program subject to legislative appropriation, meaning lawmakers could set an annual cap on the grants. The Capital Construction Assistance Board currently can spend whatever revenue it has available.
  • Senate Bill 14-124 – The bill would create a school turnaround leaders development program and grants in the Department of Education.
  • Senate Bill 14-139 – The proposal would increase the money available for a state charter school debt reserve fund and also increase the debt limits for another program that guarantees charter school bonds.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bills texts and other information.

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