Teachers, schools and districts hoping for some time to adjust to Colorado’s new state testing regimen won’t get long, according to a plan presented at Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting.

ACT test

Results from the host of new tests, which accompany the state’s adoption of the Common Core standards, will factor into district and school rankings within a year of their first administration. New tests are being rolled out in various subjects over the course of the next two years.

As for teachers, their students’ performance on the new tests will factor into their year-end evaluations starting in 2016.

“Some states declared a timeout,” said Elliott Asp, the special assistant to the commissioner and one of the architects behind the state’s plan for testing. “We don’t want to go there.”

In Louisiana and Massachusetts, legislators delayed the inclusion of new Common Core-associated tests in the state accountability measures.

Same rules, lower scores

If the rollout in other states is any indication, Colorado can expect a decline in scores, a prediction affirmed the Colorado Department of Education.

Still, Asp sees it as a change in scores, rather than a decrease.

Yes, he conceded, fewer students were likely to score proficient. But that because “we’re creating a new baseline,” he said. “We setting a higher bar.”

Even so, the tests will be included in state rankings starting this year, although schools and districts will only be scored for student participation, not their performance. Including the scores in rankings would have delayed their release and prevented schools from using them in their state-mandated improvement plans. So for this year, districts get a break and gives them a chance to adjust.

“It allows districts to use them in lower-stakes environment,” said Asp.

New social studies and science tests will be administered spring 2014. Math and language arts tests will follow shortly, in 2015. State rankings for the 2013-14 school school year will include participation on the social studies and science tests but not the scores from those assessments.

But scores from the math and language arts tests will be used in state accountability measures. So schools will see a delay in their ranking for the 2014-2015 school year.

The clock still counts down

The new standards could have a big impact on schools and districts who could face state sanctions soon if their rankings don’t improve significantly.

Schools entering their final years on the state’s “accountability clock” after the tests roll out won’t get a break. They will still be responsible for their students’ scores, starting in 2015.

For the two districts for whom the clock is running out this year, the new tests will have little to no effect. But for those with one or two years left on the clock, the new tests could have big impacts. Eleven districts could potentially face challenges to their accreditation by June 2016, based in part on their scores on the first round of tests this spring. Three others could be held accountable for the full complement of tests.

“It raises some questions we haven’t answered yet,” said Asp.

Part of the state’s solution is divorcing performance on current tests from the new tests. The state is convening a group of experts next summer to establish new expectations for student performance on the tests, based on the first year of results. They will reconvene in 2015 for the second round of tests.

Asp also expects that schools and districts will make use of the state’s appeals process.

This year, the Colorado Department of Education processed 10 applications from schools and districts to adjust their state ranking. At the board meeting, Keith Owen, the state’s deputy commissioner raised concerns about the state’s capacity to handle reconsiderations if the number dramatically increased.

Federal influence

Owen also said that part of the driver for using the tests immediately was meeting federal expectations given Colorado’s No Child Left Behind waiver, prompting some dismay from board members. Paul Lundeen, who chairs the State Board of Education, pointed out that previous changes in assessments came from within the state.

“(Before) it was more of our design and more of our creature,” said Lundeen. “Inertia for this transition has moved out of the state. It’s an elephant (of a task).”

Still, he said, “it’s a routine elephant.” The state is capable of handling the transition, he said.

“We believe we can handle this with integrity,” said Robert Hammond, the state’s commissioner of education.