Welcome to the BVSD Legislative Update, which will be provided throughout the 2017 session of the Colorado General Assembly which convened Jan. 11. 

Friday, Feb. 17, 2017

Testing debate may wrap up sooner than expected

Statehouse observers had thought the testing debate might go deep into the 2017 legislative session. But there was rapid movement on the issue in the last few days, leaving one compromise bill standing when lawmakers went home for a three-day weekend.

That measure is House Bill 17-1181, passed 13-0 by the House Education Committee on Feb. 13, just three days after it was introduced. It has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses.

The bill would keep ninth grade assessments on Colorado’s testing calendar but replace the current CMAS/PARCC language arts and math exams with a college readiness exam. The bill doesn’t specify a test, but it does require high school assessments be aligned. So the new test presumably would be the PSAT 8/9, because the state now requires the PSAT 10 in 10th grade and will start administering the SAT to high school juniors this spring.

Ninth grade assessments have been a focus of debate ever since 2015, when the legislature banned any state tests in the senior year, eliminated CMAS tests in the 11th grade and replaced the 10th-grade CMAS with the college readiness test. But ninth-grade tests, with the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper, remained on the assessment calendar.

Some education groups have fought to maintain the tests because they believe the assessments are integral to the state’s academic growth model and school accountability system.

But others, including many administrators and school boards, the Colorado PTA, the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Executives and a variety of lawmakers from both parties, believe the high school testing burden remains too heavy and that districts can achieve educational goals by giving districts testing flexibility. 

Test participation is part of the debate. Some 61 percent of 10th graders took PARCC tests in 2015, but participation jumped to 88 percent in 2016 after the state switched to PSAT 10. Ninth-grade participation on PARCC tests was 73 percent in 2016.

Supporters of HB 17-1181 believe it threads the needle of reducing testing and being politically doable. Prime sponsor Rep. Brittany Petterson called it “a meaningful piece of legislation that’s going to reduce testing … a piece of legislation that I think we can actually pass.” The PSAT takes several hours less to take than CMAS. Pettersen and others hope ninth-grade participation will rise with a shorter test.

Many people who want more flexibility in ninth-grade testing say they can live with the bill but that it wasn’t their first choice. But the bills they liked better all were killed in committee this week, including:

Senate Bill 17-101 would have allowed school districts to choose from two sets of college readiness tests and administer the first one in either ninth or 10th grade. Killed Feb. 16.

House Bill 17-1117 would have repealed state requirements for ninth-grade language arts and math tests and for social studies tests currently given on a sample schedule. Killed Feb. 13.

House Bill 17-1062 proposed to make ninth- and 10th-grade tests and social studies tests optional for school districts. Killed Feb. 13.

Follow all 2017 K-12 bills in this bill tracker.

Each year, the BVSD Board of Education sets BVSD's legislative priorities for the session. The Superintendent's office directs the lobbying work of BVSD's legislative consulting firm, Policy Matters, LLC. BVSD also works with other PK-12 policy organizations such as the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB), the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE), the Colorado Education Association (CEA), and Great Education Colorado, a nonpartisan organization advocating for the benefit of Colorado's more than 800,000 public school students. Addressing Colorado's chronic shortfall in school funding is always on BVSD's legislative agenda along with other issues that could impact classrooms. If you are not yet on the email list and would like to be, please email BVSD Communications at communications@bvsd.org with your email address and you will be added to the distribution list.