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Hick: Be careful with testing cuts

Colorado Capitol

In his 2015 state of the state speech Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper urged lawmakers to be cautious about trimming the state testing system.

“Easing the testing demands on 12th graders in social studies and science; and streamlining tests in early years and finding flexibility with approaches to social studies might be among the right answers,” he said.

“There is no doubt, however, that maintaining consistent assessments in English and math through high school is fundamental.”

He led up to those comments by saying, “We need to confront the truth about whether Colorado’s kids are getting the education they need to compete and succeed in the job market.

“But how do we know if we are getting the job done unless we accurately measure individual student growth?”

Parent activist groups and some legislators are pushing for more drastic reductions in high school testing, including elimination of 9th and 11th grade tests and even junking all current high school tests in favor of a single college entrance exam like the ACT.

The governor spoke for about 45 minutes in the House chamber, which was packed with lawmakers, other state officials, legislative staff, and visitors. The governor’s acknowledgements and introductions alone consumed seven minutes; he spoke about education for about eight minutes.

Here are the highlights of what he said on other K-12 issues:

  • While touting a proposed $480 million overall education funding increase, he warned, “As we look beyond this year, the ability of the State General Fund to protect the negative factor from rising even higher is uncertain.”
  • “Colorado must also become the best state in the country to recruit, retain and grow great teachers. Licensure reforms, career ladders and a fair evaluation system are critical.” (Most observers doubt there will be significant legislation on this areas this year.)
  • “Our goal should be to ensure that every Colorado child has equal access to a great education. That means taking a hard look at funding equity, strategies to turn around struggling schools, promoting innovation, and supporting charter schools.”

Turning to higher education, Hickenlooper said:

  • “Chief among our priorities is reducing the cost of higher education for students and their families. Our Colorado Commission on Higher Education has set a goal that 66 percent of 25-34 year olds hold a post-high school credential by 2025. But that’s a long way away, and we should target 55 percent by 2020.”
  • Noting that he has requested a $107 million higher education funding increase, he urged “a cap in the undergraduate tuition growth at no more than 6 percent.” (Such legislation already has been introduced.)
  • And he sounded a gloomy note about future higher education, as he did with K-12: “We are doing what we can as a state to educate and graduate a homegrown workforce. But, we know that its not enough, and our ability to continue funding higher ed at this level may not last much longer. We must continue to identify and develop creative solutions.”

Part of the squeeze on education funding is caused by conflicting constitutional provisions, including the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

The last panel in Allen True Capitol water murals looks to the future, at least as envisioned in 1940.
The last panel in Allen True Capitol water murals looks to the future, at least as envisioned in 1940.

Hickenlooper closed his speech on that issue, calling it a “fiscal thicket.” He noted the seriousness of the problem but offered no suggested solutions other than a more intense public focus on the problem.

“We are facing the mathematical and inevitable conclusion of a system of tax and spending rules that evolved over decades. … If we do nothing, if we pretend the future will take care of itself, and we’re back here in two years facing what was clearly an avoidable crisis, history will show that we failed future generations of Coloradans. … While we will continue to strategically prune, our state budget can only endure so much cutting,” he said.

Citing a recent series of talks and negotiations that led to a draft state water plan, Hickenlooper said, “We should be coming together, dealing with the facts of what we know, and take a hard look at what is the most strategic way to allocate our resources; and ask ourselves: What will be of maximum benefit for all Coloradans?”

A recurring theme in Hickenlooper’s speech was the series of murals in the Capitol rotunda that illustrate Colorado’s development. “We can paint our own panel for the mural, one that will benefit generations of Coloradans to come.”

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