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Long summer and fall ahead for testing task force

Members of the 15-member task force assigned to review Colorado’s school testing system, whose names were released Wednesday, represent a fairly wide spectrum of backgrounds and include a number of familiar figures.

The Standards and Assessments Task Force could play an important role in the growing debate over the role and form of testing.

Creation of the task force was something of a compromise plan for the Democratic majority (and a few Republicans) during 2014 legislative session.

Some conservative Republicans, backed by a variety of citizen groups, pushed bills to delay rollout of the new PARCC tests next year or allow districts to opt out of tests. And some Democrats tried a last-minute rollback of the new social studies tests.

The delay and opt-out proposals had no chance of passage, given potential disruption to the state’s accountability system if such measures were passed. (The social studies gambit also failed.) But Democratic leaders needed to show some response to rising public and teacher criticism of testing, so conversion of the opt-out bill into a task force measure provided a way to do that.

The 15-member panel’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. (Get more information on the task force in this legislative staff memo.)

As is the case with most legislative task forces (and permanent state boards and commissions), members had to reflect a careful balance of interest groups and professional backgrounds. The appointment power also was divided, with members being named by all four political party leaders in the legislature and by the chair of the State Board of Education.

Here are the members, organized by who appointed them:

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver

  • Bill Jaeger, Colorado Children’s Campaign vice president, representing organizations that advocate for low-performing students
  • Donna Lynne, chair of Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, representing business
  • Dan Snowberger, Durango superintendent, representing administrators
  • Ilana Spiegel, leader of the activist parent group SPEAK, representing parents

Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora

  • Adele Bravo, Boulder Valley teacher, representing teachers
  • Lisa Escarcega, Aurora chief accountability officer, representing administrators
  • Nancy Tellez, Poudre board member, representing school boards
  • Susan Van Gundy, associate director of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the group that developed the new tests Colorado is supposed to start using in 2015

Paul Lundeen, Republican chair of State Board of Education

  • John Creighton, St. Vrain board member representing school boards
  • Tony Lewis, executive director Donnell-Kay Foundation and Colorado Charter School Institute board member, representing CSI
  • Syna Morgan, Douglas County chief performance officer, representing administrators

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland

  • Luke Ragland, vice president of Colorado Succeeds, representing business
  • Dane Stickney, Strive Prep Charter School teacher, representing teachers

Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs

  • Jay Cerny, CEO of Cherry Creek Academy, representing charter schools
  • Bethany Drosendahl, author and educator, representing parents

The legislation that created the task force, House Bill 14-1202, also allocated $142,750 to the Department of Education to coordinate the group’s work, commission a testing cost study, pay for a separate review analyzing how different testing schemes would affect the accountability system and obtain legal advice on the implications of letting parents and districts opt out of some testing requirements.

CDE also has an outside consulting group, WestEd, reviewing the administration of online science and social studies tests last spring.

The task force and CDE are to report findings and recommendations to the legislature by next Jan. 31, giving the 2015 session plenty of time of consider the issue.

The November elections could provide a wild card in the process, as the terms of the testing debate could change if Republicans take control of the governor’s office, or of one or both houses of the legislature.

A poll released Tuesday showed Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Bob Beauprez neck and neck. Republicans are pushing hard to flip the Senate, where Democrats only have a one-vote majority, but they face longer odds in trying to take the House.

The task force’s first meeting will be July 15, at a time and place to be determined. (Parts of the Capitol are under renovation this summer, so staff still are trying to find an available meeting room.)

Learn more about Colorado’s testing system, planned changes and about the debate in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.

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