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Gazette Premium Content Superintendent wants to end standardized testing in D-11

By Debbie Kelley Updated: August 24, 2014 at 8:46 am

A renegade attempt by the area's largest public school district to pull back from the pack of standardized testing stalled before it got legs.

But one part of the movement will proceed.

At a work session Wednesday night, Colorado Springs School District 11 Superintendent Nicholas Gledich told the school board that he had intended to ask them to petition the Colorado Department of Education for a three-year waiver from "the frequency and administration" of a slate of new assessments that start this school year. But he said he found out last week that's not possible.

In a "Welcome Back" video D-11 employees watched in the past few weeks leading up to Monday's start of school, Gledich said he wants to try new models, such as random testing of students, which he said would provide the same statistical analysis.

He also said he wants time to examine how to best evaluate students, with input from experts in the field, parents, students and teachers and to switch from "assessment accountability" to "instructional accountability."

"Let's test less but test right. Let's make testing meaningful - assessment is a fundamental part of education," he said in the video. "Many times I hear we 'teach to the test.' We need to shift the mental notion to 'we teach to the student.' "

But state law does not allow public school districts to opt out, and federal law requires states to administer the same annual statewide assessments to all students, said Jill Hawley, associate commissioner of achievement and strategy for the CDE.

"The law is very clear that state statute requires that all students enrolled in a public school must take the Colorado statewide assessments, and that is not a waivable statute," Hawley said Thursday.

A 15-member Standards and Assessment Task Force was established by recent legislation, however, to study the implications of the statewide assessment system for districts, schools, educators and students.

The task force started meeting in July and will issue a final report to the education committees of the House and Senate by Jan. 31.

"Any time something new is implemented, there are intended and unintended consequences," Hawley said. "The task force will gather data about the impact of the new system and make recommendations for changes."

In a study the CDE commissioned this year, some districts said they favor shortening the assessments and prefer flexibility as to how often as well as whether, when, where and how students are tested.

But, Hawley said, the law would have to change for changes to be made to the format.

Gledich said he will convey D-11's concerns to the task force.

"We need to allow our craft and trade to define our work, to filter outside pressures and use our own judgment to identify the needs we have and corrective actions we need to put in place," Gledich said in the video.

Moving forward

Gledich will go ahead with another element of his plan to reduce testing.

This year, for the first time, D-11's test that schools administer up to three times each school year to gauge student learning, Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, will be optional, not mandatory. D-11 began introducing MAP in 2006, and it became required districtwide in the 2007-08 school year. In recent years, kindergartners through 10th-graders have been taking it.

Reaction to the decision has been mixed, Gledich said. He expects some schools to not test some grades. For example, he said the test has not been favorably received for kindergartners.

Carole Carlsen, principal of Steele Elementary, one of D-11's top-performing elementary schools, said that at her school, only third-, fourth- and fifth-graders will take MAP near the beginning and the end of this school year, "to provide additional information to drive instruction, monitor progress and personalize learning. The pre/post format will offer a chance to ensure that all students make a year's growth."

Gledich said the bottom line is that "schools need greater flexibility in identifying what their students know and do not know. We bury ourselves in data. We need to concentrate on the whole child. And there's more to a student than a single score."

D-11 board President LuAnn Long said she's "a little tired of high-stakes testing" and "outside forces coming in to determine whether we are or are not learning."

"We've got to stop telling teachers how they need to teach," she said. "It brings back creativity."

Kevin Vick, president of the Colorado Springs Education Association, the D-11 teachers union, said the general feeling among teachers is that they spend too much classroom time on standardized tests.

"The frustration is that it takes away from what really makes a difference for kids, which is the instruction," Vick said.

But the system has become so dependent on the tests that "there is a fair amount of apprehension about what to do if we don't have them."

"It's kind of 'if not this, then what?' "

Standardized testing, Vick said, "has made the nation lose its finest quality - adaptability."

"We have been chasing something that we had 40 years ago," he said. "Our system was built to build the most innovative, most creative and most adaptable human beings, and that's what we lost when we started standardizing."

But "students now have lived with standardization for so long, that when faced with something that is not the norm, they are having a lot of trouble adapting."

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