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Dougco’s testing waiver bill introduced

A bill that would allow school districts to seek waivers from state standardized tests was introduced Thursday in the House.

The sole sponsor of House Bill 14-1202 is Republican Rep. Ray Scott, a Grand Junction businessman who hasn’t previously been involved in education issues. The bill covers the provisions the Douglas County school board has been talking about (see story). Doug Benevento, vice president of the Dougco board, said Thursday evening that the board had worked with Scott on the bill.

The bill would require the State Board of Education to grant a district a waiver from statewide testing requirements if the district submits its own testing system that meets certain standards. Waivers could be modified if a district failed to statewide academic performance targets for three consecutive years. Among other provisions, students might have to take state tests in subjects where the district hadn’t met state standards. (State tests in language arts and math are given in grades 3-10, and science tests are given each year to one grade in elementary, middle and high schools. The system is being expanded to include social science tests and additional grades.)

Under the bill, parents of students in waiver districts could choose to not participate in testing, and districts, teachers and students couldn’t be penalized for student non-participation. The current state accreditation system requires 95 percent student participation. Read the bill text here.

Although criticism of standardized testing is increasingly common, a bill like Scott’s has little chance of passage. The state’s school and district performance rating systems, the principal and teacher evaluation system and the state’s current waiver from federal NCLB requirements are all based on consistent statewide data about student academic achievement and growth. Waivers for individual districts could threaten the whole data system, many education leaders believe.

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond, speaking with Chalkbeat Colorado before HB 14-1202 was introduced, agreed that “There is a high degree of testing burden,” but he said the data produced by tests is “the only way we know” how schools and districts are performing.

Another recently introduced measure, Senate Bill 14-136, would delay the rollout of new statewide tests and require a study of the state’s academic standards, some of which include the Common Core Standards. (See this story for details.)

That measure has a lot more sponsors and support in both houses. But all 18 sponsors are Republicans, a handicap in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Thursday was a day for solo Republican bills.

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, introduced House Bill 14-1204, the expected rural flexibility bill. It would allow districts with fewer than 1,000 students to submit certain reports to the Department of Education every two years instead of every year. Exemption from one type of report would be based on a district’s performance rating.

The bill also would allow small districts to seek exemption from some READ Act requirements by submitting their own plans for achieving the goals of that early-ligteracy law, and exempted districts would remain eligible for state funding.

The has been developed with the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus. Rural districts have become increasingly restive about the administrative demands of new state standards and tests, the educator evaluation system and the READ Act.

More than 100 of the state’s 178 districts have 1,000 or fewer students.

Wilson on Thursday also introduced House Bill 14-1212, which would increase financial support for districts that offer full-day kindergarten to all families that choose it. Wilson’s bill likely won’t pass, but increased kindergarten funding is expected to be an element of a bill being assembled by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. Johnston is trying to salvage pieces of his Senate Bill 13-213, the massive school finance overhaul that didn’t go into effect because voters rejected Amendment 66, the tax increase needed to pay for Johnston’s plan.

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

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