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School board, on split vote, directs Jeffco to seek waiver from state tests

Jeffco Public Schools board member Julie Williams.
Jeffco Public Schools board member Julie Williams.
Nicholas Garcia

GOLDEN — Jeffco Public Schools’ board didn’t wait long to seek a waiver from a portion of the state’s new standardized assessments after the State Board of Education cracked open the door on that option last week.

The suburban school board voted 3-1 Thursday night to direct Superintendent Dan McMinimee to seek a waiver from the Colorado Department of Education, knowing that the waiver might not be legal.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper voted against the resolution, despite agreeing with the conservative majority that the district needs to address over-testing. Board member Jill Fellman abstained from the vote because she believed the resolution violated a board policy and such a request could be illegal.

The Jeffco vote comes a little more than a week after the State Board of Education voted to allow school districts to apply for waivers from a portion of the state’s standardized assessment system in math and English, known as PARCC.

Prior to the state board’s resolution, the Montrose and Colorado Springs District 11 school districts applied for testing waivers. But the Colorado Department of Education rejected those applications, saying the department didn’t have the legal authority to grant them.

Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said last week his department won’t honor any new waiver applications until the Colorado attorney general issues an opinion on the matter. A top deputy from the attorney general’s office told the state Senate Education Committee Thursday that waivers from the English and math tests weren’t legal. But his assertion carried no legal weight.

“This is premature at best,” Dahlkemper said of the waiver request.

The legal ambiguity didn’t seem to bother the board majority. Board attorney Brad Miller assured the board they faced no legal repercussions for seeking a waiver.

“We need to take the step now,” said board chairman Ken Witt. “We don’t need to wait for the attorney general’s office to drag their feet.”

The Jeffco vote has been months in the making. The board has had several conversations about the PARCC exams and the Common Core standards to which the tests are aligned. While board member Julie Williams has pushed this issue for months, debate never turned into action, mostly because Witt recognized the district’s legal obligation to test students.

Most of Thursday’s debate regarding the resolution didn’t center around the merits of the PARCC test, but whether the board followed its own policies.

“Are you or are you not in favor of opting out of PARCC?” board member John Newkirk asked.

“We’re in favor of following board policies,” Dahlkemper replied.

Jeffco’s PARCC waiver resolution

Update: This article has been updated to provide context why board member Jill Fellman abstained from voting on the testing waiver.

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