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Colorado won’t bolt from PARCC just yet, state board chairman says

State Board of Education Chair Angelika Schroeder and Vice Chair Steve Durham at a past meeting.
State Board of Education Chair Angelika Schroeder and Vice Chair Steve Durham at a past meeting.
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

The chairman of the State Board of Education said Wednesday that Colorado is likely to stick with its current math and English tests for at least the next two school years, after earlier suggesting that the state consider moving in another direction immediately.

Republican Steve Durham of Colorado Springs, however, made clear that the board eventually wants to discuss abandoning PARCC, a multi-state testing group that has already lost a majority of its founding members.

“Immediate change is very difficult and probably impractical,” Durham told Chalkbeat after a lengthy board discussion about the state’s future involvement with PARCC. “After 2018, it’s appropriate to look at all of our options.”

Durham said that the conversation could happen earlier, but that it was unlikely.

One month ago, Durham called on the board to begin discussing options to leave the multi-state testing group. At the time he said he believed this fall would be the state board’s last chance for the foreseeable future to leave the PARCC organization.

Colorado’s contract with PARCC ends after the next round of tests in 2017, and the state is no longer required to be a governing member of the multi-state testing group. However, legislation requires the state to “rely upon” the tests created by the group.

Both state education department officials and a representative from the attorney general’s office on Wednesday told the state board it was unclear whether new legislation was needed to allow the board to change the state’s assessment system.

“The cleanest path is always to get some legislative blessing,” said Julie Tolleson, a deputy attorney general.

Colorado’s use of the PARCC assessment — and testing matters in general — has long been a controversial subject for a majority of state board members.

On Wednesday, members re-aired their concerns that included the test’s length, the slow return of results and other issues.

“I’m not convinced PARCC is well-aligned to our standards,” said board member Deb Scheffel, a Republican from Parker.

However, a body of research, including a study by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, has found the PARCC test to be one of the best to gauge students’ critical thinking skills and knowledge of the Common Core State Standards, which Colorado has adopted.

The board’s vice chair, Angelika Schroeder, worried about the unintended consequences of a change in assessments just three years after the state began using PARCC.

“This is a little scary — very scary, actually,” said Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat.

Scheffel countered that the state board’s conversation about the validity of the state’s assessments was appropriate.

“This isn’t scary,” she said. “This is what we’re supposed to do.”

Several students and teachers during public comment encouraged the state board to keep the PARCC tests, at least for now.

“Our system is not broken,” said Kaylene Richardson, a junior at Harrison High School in Colorado Springs. “So please don’t break it by trying to change it.”

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