The wide range of hopes and fears about academic standards and coming online tests were more than fully aired Thursday for the Senate Education Committee, which concluded its 6 1/2-hour meeting by voting 4-3 to kill Senate Bill 14-136.
The measure, drafted by concerned parents and sponsored by Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, would have delayed by a year implementation of new online state tests, created a task force to review the Colorado Academic Standards (including the Common Core) and required the Department of Education to study the costs of implementing the standards and tests.
The hearing capped two days of events and lobbying at the Capitol that focused attention on issues that previously haven’t been as high profile in Colorado as in other states.
Defeat of the bill was expected, given that key Democratic legislators, state education officials and both mainline and reform advocacy groups generally have been supportive of Colorado’s program of new standards, tests and other education changes, which was launched in 2008 and still is being implemented.
The discussion, as chair Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, noted, was “very respectful.” That tone continued as members made their final comments before voting. All four Democrats voted to kill the bill.
“I heard a lot of things today that give me lots of things to think about,” said Denver Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston, perhaps the legislature’s leading proponent of the standard education reform agenda. “I don’t think the answer is to pause on this.”
Aurora Democratic Sen. Nancy Todd, a bit choked up, said she sympathized with concerns about over-testing but that “it’s a difficult thing” to put Colorado’s system on hold. “There will be discussions that will continue.”
The hearing, with long lists of witnesses organized by both sides (more than 40 total), spotlighted the variety of fears and criticisms that have been sparked by the Common Core standards and by the prospect of new online tests aligned to those standards. Some witnesses were emotional, and one broke into tears while speaking to the committee.
Bill supporters raise many fears
Marble previewed the arguments of bill supporters, saying, “This bill was not written by me, this bill was written by moms very concerned about the Common Core standards and the implementation of testing.”
Later in the hearing, Marble said that what she hears from parents is that “It’s the camel’s nose under the tent. … This is the first brick in the foundation to help the fed government take over our schools.”
Witnesses testifying for the bill raised worries about everything from too much testing, perceived loss of local control, one-size-fits-all instruction, lack of parent voice in the process, obscene textbooks and made multiple references to the supposedly sinister designs of Bill Gates.
“I’m a mother and a nurse and I’m really angry,” said Anita Stapleton of Pueblo in opening her remarks. Stapleton has been very active in the anti-Common Core movement.
“I truly speak for hundreds of educators and parents who are desperately trying to have their voices heard,’’ said Lis Richards, principal at Monument Charter Academy. “We will not align to those standards. … We’re not going to dip our colors for the Common Core Standards.”
Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins parent active in drafting the bill, said testing “is taking away so much classroom time.”
And Sunny Flynn, a Jefferson County parent, complained about “big business, big government and big data” and added, “It is time for Colorado to decide if the move to centralized education is good for our state.”
Stephanie Pico, who said she works as a computer technician in the Cherry Creek schools, said she feels schools and students in that district aren’t ready for online tests, saying, “It would be wise to press the pause button.”
Bill opponents try to stress the positive
Platte Canyon physical education teacher Elizabeth Miner said the Colorado Academic tandards “reflect real world skills and knowledge [and] were created by the best and brightest teachers.” Miner is 2014 Colorado Teacher of Year.
MiDian Holmes, with Stand for Children Colorado, said, “These standards are the next step in bringing quality education” to all students, including minorities.
Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said, “Our teachers and students are drowning in testing” but said the teachers union still opposes SB 14-136. “We believe these standards are an issue of equity.” Dallman also complained about “the lack of resources in our eductin system right now.”
Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said passing the bill “would halt the progress being made on our robust education system in Colorado. … Every year many kids in our system are falling behind. Students keep waiting for adults to become more comfortable with well-vetted change.”
The debate is expected to continue in a new forum on Monday, when the House Education Committee is scheduled to hear House Bill 14-1202, which would allow individual districts to opt out of state tests.
Roll call: Voting for the bill were Republican Sens. Marble, Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Mark Scheffel of Parker. Voting against were Democrats Johnston, Kerr, Todd and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada. The votes reversed on the motion to postpone the bill indefinitely.