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Education committees offer different testing visions

Two new testing bills introduced in the legislature late Monday afternoon remix elements of other measures and toss in some new ideas, adding more choices to the stalled Capitol testing debate.

The latest measures seem to set up a face-off between the legislature’s two education committees, with a majority of the House panel supporting the new House bill, and a majority of Senate Education backing the fresh Senate bill.

Nine testing-related bills were introduced earlier in the session, including one that covers only parent opt-out rights. Most of the rest, including measures that propose pulling Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests, are considered not viable for a variety of reasons.

One recent measure, Senate Bill 15-215, has bipartisan sponsorship and the endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper. But it was greeted with faint applause elsewhere in the statehouse and has faded from consideration.

Here’s a look at the two latest bills:

House Bill 15-1323 (read bill)

What’s included: Elimination of state-required tests in 9th, 11th and 12th grades. The ACT test would continue to be given to juniors, and districts could give 9th grade tests. Paper and pencil tests available on request. Streamlining of school readiness and early literacy assessments and valuations.

New twists: Holding districts unharmed from accountability and ratings consequences in 2015-16. (This is related to the opt-out issue.)

What’s not included: Any mention of Common Core or PARCC.

Who’s pushing it: House prime sponsors are Reps. John Buckner, D-Aurora, and Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. Eight additional House Education members, six Democrats and two Republicans, are cosponsors, plus former committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. But there are no Senate sponsors.

Senate Bill 15-257 (read bill)

What’s included: Requires only one set of language arts and math tests in grades 9-12; individual districts can test in two additional grades if they choose. Keeps 11th grade ACT test. Paper and pencil tests available on request. Streamlining of school readiness and early literacy assessments and valuations. Social studies tests appear to be gone.

New twists: Local tests can replace state tests, creation of a pilot program for new assessment and accountability systems, extension for three more years of the current one-year of district flexibility in using student growth for teacher evaluations.

What’s not included: The bill doesn’t mention Common Core or PARCC, but its goal is to ultimately give districts options for using a broader array of tests.

Who’s pushing it: Senate prime sponsors are Republican Owen Hill and Democrat Mike Merrifield, both of Colorado Springs. Five additional Senate Education members, four Republicans and one Democrat, are co-sponsors. The two committee members not signed on are Democrats Mike Johnston of Denver and Andy Kerr of Lakewood. The two House prime sponsors are people not previously involved in testing bills, Reps. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont. No members of House Education are signed on.

Despite widespread criticism of testing by legislators, action on the issue has been stalled by disagreements between the parties and within the parties, and by a reported lack of communication among legislative leaders. (See this story for background.)

Only one testing-related bill, Senate Bill 15-223, has had a committee hearing. That measure, which involves parent rights to opt out and a ban on penalizing districts for low student participation, faces its own challenges (see story).

Even if one of the new bills gains traction – or becomes the vehicle for a compromise plan – lawmakers have little time to deal with the issues. The Senate is focused on the state budget this week, and the House faces that multi-day task the week after Easter.

That will leave only a bit more than three weeks until the required May 6 adjournment date.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

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