Colorado schools spared tough sanctions from high testing opt-out rates under new federal waiver

Colorado school districts that failed to meet federal testing participation requirements won’t face the loss of accreditation after the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday it approved the state’s waiver request from the nation’s education laws.

The approval also means federal dollars will continue to flow to Colorado.

The OK from Washington comes a little more than a week after the State Board of Education begrudgingly signed off on the state’s application.

Under the renewed compact, which expires in one year, the state must provide districts and schools that didn’t meet the testing requirement with information about state tests, “including reasons for administering the assessments and how the results are used.”

That information is supposed to be delivered to parents and community members.

Among other requirements, schools will have to develop plans to increase participation.

Federal law requires at least 95 percent participation on language arts and math tests in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

States are required to choose penalties for districts that miss that goal on two or more tests. Previously, Colorado had been a one-step reduction in a district’s state quality rating. However, the state board passed a resolution earlier this year saying low-participation districts shouldn’t be punished.

Tens of thousands of Colorado students missed last spring’s PARCC tests, according to state data released last week. Though participation varied greatly by grade, the total participation rate was 82 percent for the English tests in all grades, and 85 percent for the math tests. More than 65,000 Colorado students in grades 3 through 11 were held out of PARCC tests as a result of parental refusals, according to the state.

Interim Education Commissioner Elliott Asp will provide state superintendents more information about the waiver later Friday, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Education said.