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Legislative Update from the Superintendent and Board of Education

May 8, 2015

Wednesday, May 13 marked the end of the legislative session. As you know, we have been working hard on overhauling the Colorado state-mandated assessment system for almost two years. Last year, we led with House Bill (HB) 14-1202 and earned a committee tasked with studying the matter. This year, we worked with Senators Chris Holbert and Mark Scheffel on Senate Bill (SB) 15-257 and thank them for their time and dedication to our students and staff. We also worked with a broad-based coalition of stakeholders including Boulder Valley School District and many others. This coalition may not have everything in common, but we all wholeheartedly agree that months of testing is not the answer for Colorado’s students, teachers, schools, or districts, and that months of low quality testing is even worse for our communities. Here is an update on our progress.

DCSD and many others worked very hard to empower parents in our state with a right to refuse bill. Both California and Utah have bills that empower parents to say no to too many and/or poor quality tests for their children without penalty. The Colorado bill was supported and defended by Senators Holbert and Nancy Todd, and it passed the Senate 28-7. Unfortunately, as it entered the House with strong support from parents, teachers, and leaders, it became clear that Governor Hickenlooper planned to veto the bill if it passed in the House. We also observed the committee hearing date being moved much later in the session so that a veto override would not be possible even if it did pass. In the end, parents and students did get a “hold harmless” provision in the assessment bill that will be delivered to the governor. Unfortunately, teachers, schools, and districts did not. This does not make sense to us and we are committed to continuing to work for something better for our staff and schools.

The House and Senate worked together to create an assessment compromise bill (HB 15-1323). The bill passed 30-5 in the Senate and 55-8 in the House and will now be delivered to the governor. We again thank our state lawmakers for voting for this bill, including Senators Holbert and Scheffel, as well as Representatives Polly Lawrence and Kevin Van Winkle. The bill has several improvements for our students and staff. However, it fell short in a few areas that we will continue to work to improve. The bill contains the following:

  • A reading test is still required in the first 60 days of kindergarten and can replace the early readiness test (literacy component only), and students in grades K-3 will no longer be forced to retest if they test as proficient on their first test. Reading and early readiness plans can be combined too:  There are several important improvements to the READ Act here. Students previously had to be tested three times a year for four years, even if they were proficient. This changes it to once per year for proficient students and restores instructional time, instead of time and money wasted testing proficient students over and over again.
  • Keeps PARCC for grades 3-9: This is above the federal minimum requirements because it includes 9th grade. We understand that the governor did not intend to sign anything without 9th grade, so that stance made it necessary to include it. We will continue to work to change this.
  • Moves 10th grade to ACT Aspire and makes the writing portion of the test optional: This will be of value to some students who would benefit from an ACT prep test paid for by the state. Others who may be more interested in the PSAT for National Merit purposes will be double tested if they do not opt out.
  • ACT remains at 11th grade and is paid for by the state.
  • No tests at 12th grade:  This is a win!
  • Science tests (currently CMAS) will be administered once in elementary, once in middle, and once in high school – but not 12th grade: This is no change.
  • Social studies will be tested every three years by random sample because of SB 15-056. The new assessment bills – HB 15-1323 and SB 15-257 – do not require social studies testing. We need to work on this one more, as it is not part of federal minimums and because social studies courses are not taken in the same sequence by all students.
  • English Language Learners may now take state-mandated tests in their native language with a waiver: This is an improvement.
  • English Language Learners who have been in the U.S. less than 12 months are not required to take the state-mandated tests.
  • English Language Learners who have been in the U.S. for fewer than 24 months will not “count” in the state accountability system.
  • Students and parents will not be penalized for opting out of the state-mandated tests: This is a significant improvement. We had hoped for more because this puts teachers and building leaders in a difficult situation where they will be held accountable for something that they cannot and should not control. We are committed to continuing our work in this area by exercising local control to ensure that we put as little weight as possible on state-mandated assessments that have no bearing on student outcome, while remaining compliant.
  • Districts and schools are required to create an assessment calendar and communicate to parents the tests, their purpose, the amount of time dedicated to them, and more: This is great! It makes the amount of time and resources spent on state assessments transparent to all parents.
  • Local districts are empowered to pilot a better assessment system and are not going to be forced to double test their students with federal agreement: We, and several other districts, are very interested in this option. We believe there are better options for our students and staff than PARCC and CMAS. We believe that we can create something that measures the right outcomes with higher quality assessments than the state-mandated assessments.
  • Districts have been granted flexibility to use local assessments for student growth for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years.
  • All state-mandated tests must be also available via paper and pencil going forward.
  • The accountability clock has been stopped for districts and schools for the 2015-2016 school year: This includes no use of PARCC in teacher or leader evaluations! This is an important item.
  • The Colorado Department of Education will report to the joint education committee the status of PARCC and CMAS going forward.

As you can see, two years of hard work have yielded some improvements. Our state lawmakers have released our seniors from the illogical burden of state-mandated tests. They have empowered parents and students to make the best decision for them. They have freed our sophomores from PARCC and instead offered ACT Aspire in preparation for their 11th grade ACT test. They have freed our youngest students (K-3) from three state-mandated tests per year when they are clearly at grade-level or proficient readers. They freed our English Language Learners from an unreasonable expectation that they test in English during their first years in the United States. They created an opportunity for districts to come together and produce a better system for our students and staff with the new pilot. They freed teachers and schools from PARCC being part of their evaluations.

While this is not all we had hoped to gain, it is significant progress, and we are thankful to the state leaders who heard our voices and fought to represent our district, students, and staff well. We will continue to work for something even better on behalf of our entire DCSD community.

Liz Fagen
DCSD Superintendent
Kevin Larsen
DCSD Board of Education President