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Issues get aired, but vote delayed on House testing bill

Committee hearing
The House Education Committee took testing testimony in the Capitol's new hearing room, which has plenty of space but challenging sight lines.

The House Education Committee Monday evening delayed voting on a bill that would make modest cuts in the state’s standardized testing system, including elimination of most tests in the 11th and 12th grades.

“I am torn at this point about taking action before we attempt to resolve some of these issues,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, before asking that the bill, House Bill 15-1323, be laid over. That puts off any vote on the measure until at least next week.

That decision came after nearly three hours of testimony and committee member questions. The panel didn’t even start on the bill until after 4:30 p.m., a few afters the meeting kicked off.

A major focus of discussion was whether ninth grade students should continue taking state tests in language arts and math. Such assessments aren’t required by the federal government, and the bill proposes dropping them but allowing individual districts to test ninth graders if they want.

A parade of well-orchestrated witnesses from education reform advocacy and business groups mounted a full-court press to urge that mandatory ninth grade testing be maintained. They argued that the data from those tests is needed to maintain the state’s growth model and track students who need academic help.

On the other side, Colorado Education Association lobbyist Julie Whitacre argued that ninth grade testing isn’t necessary and that social studies tests should be dropped. The CEA also would like language added to the bill to create a three-year time-out in use of student academic growth data for teacher evaluations.

For this school year districts have the option of whether to use growth in evaluations.

Despite more than a year of rising public concern and policymaker debate about the amount of state testing, House Bill 15-1323 is the first testing reduction bill to have a full committee hearing, which was held on the 90th of the 2015 session’s 120 days.

(A more narrowly focused bill related to opting out of state tests has advanced further and won preliminary Senate approval Monday. See story here.)

Although 11 testing-related bills have been introduced this year, statehouse attention currently is focused on two measures, HB 15-1323 and Senate Bill 15-257.

The House bill, sponsored by nine of House Education’s 11 members, is considered the more limited of the two bills and is somewhat more attractive to interest groups that want minimal tinkering with state assessments.

The Senate measure is backed by seven of the nine members of Senate Education and includes provisions that would cut back on state testing but also create ways for districts to ultimately use local tests in place of state assessments. Some school district interests lean toward that bill.

The Senate bill, and a handful of other testing measures, are set for Senate Education consideration on Thursday afternoon.

The bigger question may be not whether Buckner and cosponsor Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, can reach interest-group compromise on HB 15-1323 but whether they can reach agreement with the Senate.

Neither bill would pull Colorado out of the PARCC testing system or the Common Core State Standards. Conservative Republican in both chambers want to do that, but those ideas appear to be dead in the water for this session.

Get more information on the two bills in this story, and see the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this article for links to detailed information about all 2015 testing bills.

Here are the key provisions of HB 15-1323 as it was introduced:

  • State language arts and math tests would be given only in grades three-eight and 10
  • Science and social studies would be given once each in elementary, middle, and high school
  • The state can’t require any tests in 11th and 12th grades, except for the ACT test
  • Local districts can choose to use state tests in those grades, and in ninth grade
  • The state would have seek federal approval to allow non-English tests for up to five years for ELL students
  • Paper tests must be made available at district request
  • If a READ Act early literacy test is given in first 60 days of school, the literacy section of the school readiness test doesn’t have to be given
  • K-3 students reading at grade level don’t have to be tested again in the same year
  • Paper early literacy tests must be available
  • Makes other administrative changes to school readiness tests
  • Repeals existing requirements for postsecondary and workforce readiness assessments

The bill follows many – but not all – of the recommendations of the Standards and Assessments Task Force, which studied testing last fall and made recommendations to the legislature. See this story for details on the task force report.

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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