State board asks legislature to exit testing group

The State Board of Education voted along party lines Wednesday to ask the Colorado General Assembly to allow the state to design its own standardized assessments instead of participating in a multistate exam.

Board chairman Paul Lundeen asked for the vote on a resolution to with draw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers last month. Before casting his vote today, he said the tests were too expensive, wasted too much instructional time, and  represented federal overreach in education.

Members of the board who support Colorado’s involvement in the PARCC exams, which will test for proficiency in English and math, said Colorado teachers and administrators have provided input on the exams and that it was important for the state to be able to gauge its students’ academic performance with other states.

But those points didn’t detour board members who believed the exams are too far removed from Colorado’s constitutionally protected local control.

“From my perspective, as a long time educator, when we have a federally-funded entity like PARCC, we’ve just legitimized a huge federal influence on what students are taught,” said board member Debora Scheffel. “It’s the wrong the way to influence student achievement.”

The resolution and vote should be seen mostly as symbolic as it’s unlikely the Democratically-controlled General Assembly would take up the issue this late in the session. The legislature must adjourn by May 7.

What’s more, the assessments are closely linked to the Common Core State Standards, which Colorado adopted in 2010. And the full rollout of those standards has been a priority for Democrats in Colorado and around the nation.

The education and political communities in states like Colorado have been embroiled in a debate on the Common Core standards and their aligned tests for months.

Earlier this year, a state Senate education committee spiked a bill that would have withdrawn the state from the Common Core standards and amended a bill that would have allowed districts to opt-out of mandated standardized test en masse to form a study panel on the issue.

The vote came nearly three hours after a panel discussion on the pros and cons of the tests that have yet to be officially given. Those tests are scheduled to be given in the spring of next year.

More than 400 schools gave those assessments a trial run earlier this month. And beginning next week schools will be proctoring Colorado-designed computer-based standardized tests in social studies and science.

Speaking in support of Colorado’s participation of PARCC was Bruce Hoyt, a former Denver Public Schools board member who now sits on the board of the business-interest nonprofit Colorado Succeeds.

“It’s critical we continue on this path to improve the outcome for our students,” he said.

The school choice, innovation, and accountability reforms that DPS has put into place are helping low-income and minority students, he said. And the PARCC tests, which are supposed to have more and quicker data, will help teachers, administrators and lawmakers make better decisions.

But interim-Superintendent for the Lewis Palmer school district said excessive standardized testing, including the PARCC, has stifled creativity in the classroom.

“Let me tell you what really bothers me about PARCC, the amount of time that is taking for student testing,” he said. “It has really interrupted the amount of instructional time. Teachers and parents feel like we’ve lost that creativity and innovation that used to be a landmark of Lewis Palmer 38.”