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State Board decides to watch testing flexibility bill

State Board of Education members Wednesday took a collegial approach to a bill that would allow school districts to opt out of state tests, a marked contrast to their vigorous disagreement over a previous standards-and-testing measure.

During their regular monthly meeting, board members had their first discussion of House Bill 14-1202, a measure that would allow school districts to opt out of state testing if they meet certain standards for their own assessments.

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 the district failed to statewide academic performance targets for three consecutive years. Parents of students in waiver districts could choose to not participate in testing, and districts, teachers and students couldn’t be penalized for non-participation.

The measure has its origins with the Douglas County school board.

It was clear that individual board members disagreed about the bill, but in the end they voted 7-0 to “monitor” it, meaning the board neither endorses nor opposes the measure at this time.

Two weeks ago the board came to the same conclusion on Senate Bill 14-136, a measure that proposes a moratorium on implementation of state content standards and new state tests. But that vote wasn’t taken until after a lively debate that highlighted some of the board’s philosophical differences. (See this story on that meeting.)

Associate Commissioner Jill Hawley told the board Wednesday that allowing districts to opt out of state tests probably would violate the federal NCLB law.

Board member Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver said she opposed the bill, arguing, “It completely undermines the accountability system we’ve been working on for years.”

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond told the board that the Department of Education is working with WestEd, a research organization, to assess the impact of the new tests rolling out in Colorado this year and next.

Because of that, the bill “is premature,” said Berman. “We should wait for the results of the study.”

But she also noted “there’s major pushback on assessments. … I think we need to get a handle on that.”

On the other side of the fence, member Deb Scheffel of Parker noted, “There’s a lot of support for this from people I talk to. … I really like the idea of giving districts flexibility.” She also said she was happy CDE is doing a study.

Board chair Paul Lundeen of Monument said, “I would instinctively support this [the bill],” but added the state must not “completely give up on accountability efforts.”

After the vote to monitor, Berman said testing is “one of the most serious issues we are going to be grappling with over the next year.”