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Testing study panel faces steep learning curve

That’s how Snowberger, chair of the state’s new Standards and Assessments Task Force, summed up the group’s first meeting Tuesday as the three-and-a-half hour session at the Capitol ended.

The task force, created by a law passed earlier this year, elected Snowberger chair, did some other organizational business and then got a rapid-fire briefing on the ins and outs of the state’s testing system from Joyce Zurkowski, director of assessment for the Colorado Department of Education (see her slideshow here).

Taking in all that information in a short time prompted Snowberger’s comment, along with a similar remark by Nancy Tellez, a Poudre district board member. “We have just taken in a whole lot of information here. I would like a little more time to process it.”

The task force’s assignment is to study the impact of testing on teaching time, the interaction of testing with the state accountability and educator evaluation systems and the feasibility of waiving some assessment requirements, among several other issues. (See the full list of duties below.)

The group is to report findings and recommendations to the legislature by next Jan. 31, giving the 2015 session plenty of time of consider the issue. House Bill 14-1202, the law that created the group, allows the group’s recommendations to include minority reports.

But Snowberger, who’s superintendent of the Durango schools, and some others repeatedly mentioned the desirability of having a single report.

“Ultimately we all share the same goal,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, who kicked off the meeting but isn’t a task force member. Ferrandino said he hopes the panel can reach consensus. “It’s a very heavy lift for you guys. The legislature will take whatever recommendations you have very seriously.”

Members had a scattering of questions for Zurkowski, including one from Tony Lewis, representing the board of the Colorado Charter School Institute. He asked about possible federal penalties if a state cuts back on NCLB testing requirements.

“There is about $326 million that we receive from the feds that could be at risk,” Zurkowski quickly replied.

Flexibility and waivers are expected to be among the tough issues the panel will have to discuss.

The task force’s next meeting is expected to be the week of Aug. 3, after a subcommittee comes up with a proposed schedule of meetings and list of topics to be covered at each session.

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