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Colorado education board hears about how to get out of Common Core testing

February 19, 2015 Updated: February 19, 2015 at 7:20 pm
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DENVER - Members of Colorado's highest education governing body got answers on one of the most debated topics in the field Thursday: How could Colorado withdraw from Common Core State Standards?

Antony Dyl, senior assistant attorney general, outlined two ways in an informal legal opinion he issued at the Colorado State Board of Education's monthly meeting in Denver.

Neither would amount to a quick fix for what some educators, parents and others with a vested interest believe represents a loss of local control over what's being taught and tested in classrooms.

Colorado lawmakers in 2012 voted to require the state to participate in a multi-state consortium to develop standardized tests for English language arts and math. Colorado joined the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

There wasn't much pushback at the time, said board chairwoman Marcia Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction, because "we didn't realize how big and overwhelming it was."

Colorado's State Board of Education, Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond and Gov. John Hickenlooper entered a memorandum of understanding with PARCC that obligates Colorado to use the tests aligned with the state standards for reading, writing and math.

This school year is the first for students to take PARCC tests, which start in upcoming weeks.

State law requires consortium participation "at least until Jan. 1, 2014." But Dyl said the statute does not say who can make the decision to withdraw from PARCC and under what circumstances.

The "clearest" way would be for state legislators to repeal a section of the statute and allow the State Board to adopt different assessments in reading, writing, math and science, he said.

Another way would be to have the governor, education commissioner and chairperson of the State Board agree and sign a withdrawal document. However, Dyl said that route would need legislative action to provide replacement assessments. Because no matter what, Colorado must provide replacement tests that align with state academic standards to be in compliance with state and federal laws.

Colorado could risk losing federal funds under the No Child Left Behind Act if it did not replace the PARCC assessments, Dyl said.

But "There's no federal requirement that any state participate in Common Core. Texas hasn't adopted Common Core and has its own assessments, and they're fine with federal funding," he said.

Colorado lawmakers considered appropriating $26 million in 2012 for the state to develop its own assessments but did not.

Colorado has academic standards in 10 content areas, two of which - math and English language arts - contain Common Core standards. The first major revision of Colorado's standards started in 2008, was introduced in schools beginning in 2010 and was fully implemented in the 2013-2014 school year.

Neal said the standards are not synonymous with PARCC.

"We've seen some great results in the standards in general. My problem came when we adopted PARCC and were required by legislation," she said. "I think there's a real feeling out there we need to get out of PARCC."

State lawmakers are considering several proposed bills that would bring changes, including an extensive Republican-sponsored rollback of several education reforms of the past few years. Actions of House Bill 15-1105 would include repealing existing state academic standards in English language arts, math, science and social studies and require new standards be created. It also would require the state to contract with a vendor to develop new assessments to match the new standards.

Another proposal sponsored in part by Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and former State Board chairman, would require the state to withdraw from PARCC and Common Core State Standards, develop new math and English language arts standards and tests, and reduce standardized assessments for students.

Jill Hawley, associate commissioner of achievement and strategy for the Colorado Department of Education, told the State Board that 11 steps would be taken to develop new standards, such as getting input from committees and focus groups. The process would take about one year and cost $128,000 for one content area or $218,000 for two content areas.

The next revision process for state academic standards is scheduled to begin in 2018, which could change in the event of new legislation.

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