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Colorado Lawmakers Mull Test Reduction and Test-Writing Power for Districts

Colorado has made headlines about testing for several months now, but are lawmakers poised to agree on how to change assessment in their state?

A report from the Associated Press indicates that there's a chance lawmakers could agree to cut some tests, but the extent of that reduction is still up in the air. There are different House and Senate bills that deal with these issues. There's talk of allowing tests for 9th graders to be cut eventually if the federal government signs off, for example, and there's a lot of focus on how to reconfigure requirements for and the timing of high school tests. And the Senate bill would eliminate the statewide requirement for social studies testing.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has indicated that he's willing to slim down the state's testing regimen, but not to a large degree. The legislature doesn't have much time to work with, since the session adjourns tomorrow. 

I mentioned the Senate testing bill in my story this week about the testing opt-out movementSuch legislation could serve to satisfy testing skeptics or outright opponents from different political camps, without going so far as to defy federal law regarding testing, which the Colorado school board essentially voted to do at the start of the year. 

And, indeed, Colorado got a clear message about testing's importance from the U.S. Department of Education last month, when federal officials rejected the state's request to hold districts harmless if they had a large share of students opt out of state exams. University of Colorado Professor Dick Carpenter told me for my opt-out story that a few districts in Colorado have been a key part of the pushback to state tests. 

The Denver Post also reports that one sticking point for lawmakers is the best plan for allowing districts to write their own tests—there's language explicitly allowing this in the Senate bill, along with a requirement for the state to pay for such a "battery" of local tests. Allowing districts to write their own tests wouldn't by definition cut down on testing, but the plan might serve to tamp down criticism of state testing in general, and PARCC in particular. It also might get a warmer reception in Washington than Colorado's recent request regarding districts and opt outs.

As my colleague Alyson Klein wrote about in March, the federal department approved New Hampshire's plan to pilot local assessments in a handful of districts based on competency learning for two years. That plan has been in the works for years, however, and New Hampshire has agreed to put these competency-based tests through a serious review. And if the tests don't work out, New Hampshire has agreed to use Smarter Balanced tests for all of its districts. Colorado has also made a pitch for local tests in its No Child Left Behind waiver-renewal application.

Still, Washington officials made it clear in March that New Hampshire has been the national leader on competency-based learning, and that not every state can simply get in line and expect to get the same go-ahead that New Hampshire got.

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