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Testing panel would have big job, short time frame

A study of K-12 testing approved unanimously Wednesday by the House Education Committee sets out a daunting assignment for the 15-member Standards and Assessment Task Force — to report on essentially all of the ins and outs of the state’s testing regimen as well as the feasibility of allowing districts and parents to opt out of it.

And the unpaid group would basically have six months to do its work.

The task force would be created by House 14-1202, which started out as a proposal to allow school districts to opt out of state tests – with several conditions. It also would have allowed parents to opt kids out of tests. That idea was backed by the Douglas County and Mesa 51 school boards, but it wasn’t going anywhere in that form, given the current makeup of the legislature.

But many legislators wanted to take some action this year in response to rising anxieties testing burdens and costs, and a study emerged as the compromise choice.

Ultimate legislative approval of the amended HB 14-1202 likely would push possible changes in the testing system off to the 2015 legislative session, after November elections could change the makeup of the General Assembly and just months before new online tests are scheduled to launch.

The growing preference for a study was clear at the committee’s first hearing on the bill Feb. 17, but it took awhile for various education interest groups to come to agreement on the membership of the task force. (See this story about the first committee hearing.)

The bill, of course, still has to make its way through the House and the Senate before the task force is actually created. But here’s how the study would work if the bill passes.

Timeline

Members of the task force would have to be named by July 1 and the first meeting convened by July 15. The group’s report (or reports) would have to be presented to the legislature’s two education committees by Jan. 31, 2015.

Issues to study

The list of issues the task force is charged with examining is long, and includes looking at how tests are given, how test data is used, the impact of state tests on local ones, assessment costs and the amount of classroom and administrative time consumed by testing.

The task force also is to study the interaction of the testing system with educator evaluations and the performance rating system for schools and districts, as well as the ability of districts to implement new tests and related new academic standards.

And the group also is supposed to ponder the feasibility and effects of allowing districts – and parents – to opt out of state tests.

Membership

The task force would be a classic Colorado “Noah’s Ark” kind of panel including carefully calibrated representation from different interest groups and professions. The appointment process also is complicated, given that the chair of the State Board of Education, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House and the minority leaders of each house each would appoint some members.

The panel would include three administrators, two school board members, two teachers, two charter school representatives, two parents, two “business” representatives, one person from an education reform advocacy group and one person in some way affiliated with the PARCC testing consortium, of which Colorado is a member. (Read this bill draft for the in-the-weeds details of which groups have to be represented and who appoints whom.)

The outcome

The proposed bill requires the task force to produce a report and allows submission of a minority report – or more than one.

The task force’s work would be informed by a testing study being done for the Department of Education by WestEd, a California-based, federally funded education research and consulting organization.

CDE was setting up that study before testing fever rose at the Capitol, and WestEd researchers are starting their work next week.

WestEd will use focus groups and surveys of districts, teachers and parents to gauge how the overall testing system is operating. Initial findings will be reported to CDE in April, with a follow up report in early summer, after administration of the state’s first online social studies and science tests in one grade each of elementary and middle school. WestEd’s work is expected to continue in the 2014-15 school year.

The WestEd study will not include a cost-benefit analysis of testing nor any analysis of the Colorado Academics Standards, which include the Common Core.

HB 14-1202 specifies that CDE will provide staff support and data to the task force.

Testing concerns have intensified in recent months with the approach of the science and social studies tests and the planned launch of online PARCC tests in English and math for most grades in the spring of 2015.

School districts are concerned about the cost and logistics of moving to online tests, and parent activist groups have raised complaints about the time taken by testing, about the PARCC tests’ links to the Common Core Standards and about feared loss of local control over instruction and curriculum.

This article was updated on Feb. 27 to correct WestEd’s location.

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