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New bill targets social studies tests

With four weekdays left in the 2014 legislative session, a new bill on a hot topic has been introduced.

Senate Bill 14-221 would reduce the number of times the state’s new social studies tests are given to students in the fourth, seventh and 12th grades. The measure would cancel next fall’s 12th grade tests and put the elementary and middle school tests on a different schedule.

The measure would allow the tests to be given every third year in individual schools. Schools could ask for permission to give the tests more frequently.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger, both Jefferson County Democrats who are up for election this fall.

The new social studies rolled out this spring in elementary and middle schools and were given online. Results of that first round of tests won’t apply to school and district accountability ratings.

The amount of testing Colorado students experience has become a hot issue for some parent and teacher groups, but the legislature has reacted cautiously. A bill that would have delayed the coming PARCC tests was killed earlier. Still alive is House Bill 14-1202, which would commission a task force to study testing and make recommendations to the 2015 legislature. That measure is nearing the finish line and received Senate preliminary approval Wednesday night.

Senate Ed passes ground-breaking higher ed bill

The Senate Education Committee voted 6-1 Wednesday to approve House Bill 14-1319, House Speaker Mark Ferrandino’s performance funding proposal for state colleges and universities. It sent a ripple of apprehension through the higher education community when first introduced and was significantly amended in the House.

Key amendments gave the Colorado Commission on Higher Education a greater role in planning the new system than was proposed in the original bill.

Metro State President Steve Jordan and Mark Superka, chief financial officer of the community college system, testified in favor of the bill. The bill would help faster-growing institutions, as both Metro and the community colleges have been in recent years.

State support of higher education comes from two sources, the resident student stipends provided by the College Opportunity Fund and direct support of institutions known as fees for service. In the past there’s been little differentiation between the two sources, as total funding has fluctuated (mostly down) based on state revenues and has been allocated to colleges based on formulas negotiated by the institutions and the Department of Higher Education.

Ferrandino wants to inject more predictability into the system, so the bill would require 52.5 percent of total funding be devoted to COF stipends. That’s what would drive more funding to growing institutions. Fee for service funding, with the details to be worked out by the Department of Higher Education and CCHE, would be distributed on the basis of institutions’ roles, services to low-income and first-generation students, remediation success and on student retention and graduation. (Those latter two factors are why supporters label the bill as a pay-for-performance measure.)

The bill would kick in for the 2015-16 academic year, and CCHE would have to come up with the details by next Jan.

The measure contains provisions that would moderatel excessive funding swings for institutions as the plan rolls out through 2019-20, and it also provisions for suspending the system if state funding drops. Some higher education interests would like to strengthen that part of the bill, so there may be amendments on the Senate floor. (See this updated bill summary for more details.)

For the record

Here’s a look at other education bills that passed significant milestones Wednesday.

Student data privacy – The Senate gave final 35-0 approval to House Bill 14-1294, the measure that would impose various data security and privacy requirements on the Department of Education. It returns to the House for consideration of amendments.

Minority teachers – Senate Democrats mustered an 18-17 majority for final passage of House Bill 14-1175, which would give CDE the duty of studying and recommending strategies for recruiting and retaining minority teachers. The bill goes to the governor.