Hickenlooper stands firm on testing ninth-graders, but which test will they take?

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday reasserted his support for continuing standardized testing in the ninth grade but did not indicate whether he would support dropping the existing tests to better align with those given to other high school students.

In comments to reporters previewing his legislative priorities, Hickenlooper was non-committal on another education issue expected to get attention this session — whether the state’s teacher licensing system needs revamping.

Two years ago, a group of lawmakers from both parties sought to eliminate ninth-grade tests as part of legislation to reform and reduce the state’s standardized testing. Hickenlooper, however, made clear he valued the tests. With a potential veto looming, both chambers passed testing legislation with ninth-grade testing intact — and Hickenlooper signed it into law.

As a result, the state’s ninth graders are still required to take the state’s English and math test, known as PARCC. Students in grades three through eight also take PARCC tests, which have been a target of testing critics.

The testing reforms of 2015 did eliminate PARCC testing for high school sophomores and juniors. Sophomores began taking the PSAT last year, and juniors will take the SAT as their mandatory test for the first time this year.

With eliminating ninth-grade testing altogether no longer being discussed, the discussion has now shifted to potential legislation that would that would bring all the high school tests into alignment. That could result in freshmen also taking a test tied to the SAT, if that testing product continues to be the state’s choice.

While Hickenlooper on Tuesday did not take a position on switching tests, he did underscore that he believes testing in ninth grade provides a crucial datapoint for parents and the public.

“We have a responsibility to be able to talk to our taxpayers and tell them whether they’re getting the best value for their dollar,” said the Democratic governor, whose son is in ninth grade this year. “That requires a certain level of testing … If you take it out, I think we fall behind.”

Lawmakers and political observers also are expecting a series of bills that would reform the way the state license its teachers — an issue Hickenlooper has taken on in the past with little success.

In 2013, Hickenlooper and then-state Sen. Michael Johnston, a Denver Democrat, created a committee to make recommendations on how to change the state’s licensure process. But the committee’s work never led to legislation.

Hickenlooper said Tuesday he thought the conversation should be focused more on teacher preparation than licensing.

“If you go and look at the schools that really do educate a large number of our teachers, they want to educate great teachers,” he said. “So they’re open and willing to modify their curriculum and their teacher profiles to try and create better teachers. And I think they are.”

Hickenlooper, who has two years left in office before term limits end his governorship, is expected to lay out his legislative agenda Thursday when he addresses the General Assembly. Funding for education and transportation are expected to be key debates during this year’s legislative session.