DENVER – Colorado lawmakers on Wednesday sent student-testing reform to the governor after months of wrangling that crossed all sides of the political spectrum.
The Legislature narrowed the debate down to one bill on the last day of the session, approving a compromise that would reduce testing by about 35 hours, but stopped short of eliminating ninth-grade exams.
Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, co-sponsor of the legislation, wanted a more sweeping reform bill that gave local districts more control and eliminated additional tests, including ninth-grade exams. But he acknowledged the political realities, noting that the proposals would not have made it through both chambers and received Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature, who has maintained that ninth-grade testing is necessary to the state’s evaluation system.
“I know that it has disappointed some,” Holbert said. “But we are going to reduce the total footprint, the frequency and the amount of hours kids are spending on these assessments every year.”
Republican Senate President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs added, “Something magic happened here.”
HB 1323 passed the House by a 55-8 vote. It passed the Senate by a 30-5 vote.
The handful of opposition lawmakers pointed to an outcry from parents and teachers who have driven much of the debate. They would have liked to challenge the governor to sign a more expansive bill, even though that would have likely meant no progress this year on the subject.
“I was not elected to beg for table scraps from the governor’s office,” said Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, who was asked to sit down by the House Speaker following his fiery remark.
Throughout the process, Holbert has pointed to Mancos High School in Southwest Colorado, where about 93 percent of parents signed a form opting their children out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, exam. Federal standards has driven much of the controversy surrounding the issue.
The deal would eliminate PARCC tests in 11th and 12th grades, replace 10th-grade PARCC exams with a trimmed college-preparatory test and create a pilot program enabling local districts to create alternative tests, which could theoretically replace current PARCC tests.
The bill would, however, require language arts and math testing in third through ninth grades, as well as science tests in each school level, including elementary, middle and high school. The college-readiness ACT exam would still be given in 11th grade.
A gang of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle pushed for amendments that would have further reduced testing and created a stronger opt-out option for parents who don’t want their kids taking certain tests. But those efforts failed.
“It’s weak and it’s inadequate,” said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton. “It’s not what our teachers, what our students and what our parents want and expect from us.”