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Former governors support Hickenlooper's plan to maintain testing

By: MEGAN SCHRADER megan.schrader@gazette.com
April 23, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2015 at 4:10 am
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photo - Bill Owens, left, and Roy Romer.
Bill Owens, left, and Roy Romer. 

Gov. John Hickenlooper received backup Wednesday from his gubernatorial predecessors, and together they pushed back against the anti-testing, anti-standards movement that has gained bipartisan traction in the Colorado Capitol.

Former governors Roy Romer and Bill Owens, who faced their own education hurdles during their collective two decades in office, came out strong against attempts to get Colorado out of the tests and standards developed by a consortium of states.

"I think there are still a number of Republicans who support standards and assessment and testing," said Owens, a Republican who held the office from 1999 to 2007. "I think over the years perhaps we've forgotten some of the reasons why we came to where we are."

Owens said he and Romer emailed Hickenlooper to see if the governor wanted help on the issue.

"Not that he needs it on this issue anyway," Owens joked.

The three held a joint news conference Wednesday with a clear message to the public and lawmakers: Don't roll back Colorado's existing standards and the assessments that go along with them.

In the debate over testing measures, many have wondered what the governor might veto.

This week lawmakers in the General Assembly are likely to consider two bills - one in the House and one in the Senate - to reduce the number of tests students take between kindergarten and 12th grade.

Students can take more than 30 tests including reading, math, science and social studies exams given multiple times between grades 3 and 12, a required ACT college entrance exam in 11th grade and reading proficiency exams in kindergarten through third grade.

Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, calls it the "axis of eval."

He and Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, are co-sponsors of SB 257. The unlikely team agree on rolling back testing to federal minimums and creating a pathway for local control of testing. The bill is expected to pass the Republican-dominated Senate.

Merrifield taught for 30 years and frequently sides with teachers' unions; Hill is a father of four children who are home-schooled and he advocates for school choice.

"It's the most reasonable bill without being reckless," Merrifield said. "It moves us to the federal minimums, and that's the demand the moms have been making. Let's at least go back to the federal minimums.

"The whole driving force behind this is people are fed up with just the overwhelming number of tests that are drowning teachers and students."

Hill, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the testing issue has consumed most of the session.

"This is a good bill that gives a lot of decision making over testing to our local communities," he said. "I will be surprised if they (the House) can't find the political will to support greater local control in education decisions."

House Bill 1323 proposes much more modest cuts to the number of tests, keeping social studies exams offered in elementary, middle and high school and reading and math exams offered in ninth grade.

The bill is close to matching the recommendation from the 1202 Task Force, a commission of parents, teachers and others that met over the summer to hash out the issue.

Hickenlooper said Wednesday that he supports the 1202 recommendations and particularly supports testing in ninth grade - a key division point between the House, controlled by Democrats, and Senate. He refused to say where he stood on social studies exams that are offered three times in a student's career, saying he'd have to see the entire package. The science exams are required by federal law and aren't on anyone's chopping block.

Colorado's testing program began under Romer before President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2001.

The tests, then known as Colorado Student Assessment Program, were given from 1997 to 2011 and were expanded during Owens' tenure.

"We improved in some ways what Gov. Romer had started," Owens said. "Today that system is under attack. Our friends from both the left and the right, for differing reasons, don't want to test, don't want to measure, don't want to have accountability. This is stunning to me."

In 2012 Colorado began using the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, a placeholder until the PARCC exams could begin in 2014 and be fully implemented for the first time in 2015.

PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, added English and math exams in 11th grade and the social studies exams in grades four, seven and 12.

PARCC is aimed at tracking students' growth and holding teachers and schools accountable for proficiency and student improvement.

That also was a key goal of No Child Left Behind, which required states to adopt standardized tests to measure each student's performance and hold schools accountable for failure.

In August the state Education Board received a report that showed since 2008 little progress has been made to close the achievement gaps for minority, low-income and disabled students in Colorado.

A reform movement, pushed in part by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed to collect more data and use a growth model to better reward and punish teachers who are moving the needle when it comes to their students' performance on standardized tests.

President Barack Obama labeled the movement Race to the Top, and in pursuit of federal grant dollars under the program Colorado joined PARCC and overhauled the assessments in the state.

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Contact Megan Schrader: 286-0644

Twitter @CapitolSchrader

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