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Rural Merino district first to formally seek testing waiver

The 315-student Merino School District in northeastern Colorado is the first to formally seek a waiver from some state testing, following up on an “offer” made earlier this month by the State Board of Education.

Superintendent Rob Sanders, at the Capitol earlier this week to testify at a hearing, told Chalkbeat Colorado that he’d dropped the paperwork off at the Department of Education. A CDE spokeswoman said Merino’s was the first waiver request received.

“We realize you were told by Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tony Dyl, that you do not have the authority to pass this kind of motion,” read a letter from the Merino school board that accompanied the resolution seeking the waiver. “We also understand the Commissioner of Education is consulting with the Attorney General’s Office to determine the legality of the directive. Yet, the burden of these tests and the negative impact they are having on our ability to set educational standards and priorities to meet the needs of the students and to provide opportunities for innovation and creativity mean we cannot wait any longer.”

On Jan. 8, the State Board voted 4-3 to direct the commissioner of education to grant waivers to districts that want to opt out of the first part of the state’s language arts and math tests that will be given this spring (see story). Unlike past exams, the new tests will be given in two parts, the second near the end of the school year. The State Board resolution offers a waiver from the first part.

The attorney general’s office has advised CDE that such waivers aren’t legally permitted, but a formal opinion is being prepared. Education Commissioner Robert Hammond has said he won’t act on any waiver requests until he has a formal opinion from the attorney general.

A split Jefferson County school board voted on Jan. 15 to seek a waiver (see story). But it hasn’t been filed yet.

After the State Board’s vote, a group called the Rural Alliance drafted a letter supporting the board’s action and prepared a model resolution that school boards could use for submission to the department. The alliance is a coalition of small districts around the state. The Merino board’s resolution follows the language of the model resolution.

The Merino schools are southeast of Sterling. The district also is known as Buffalo. The interchangeable use of the two names is a holdover from a long-ago consolidation.