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We should reward best teachers in Colorado

By: Tyler Lawrence and owen hill Guest columnists
March 26, 2016 Updated: March 26, 2016 at 4:05 am
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When it comes to good education, leadership and effective instruction within the classroom is invaluable: inspirational teachers are the key to unlocking our children's potential. Think of Robin William's character in "Dead Poet's Society" or of Kimo in "Stand and Deliver." Unfortunately, the debate on testing has distracted us from the importance of leadership.

An editorial printed by the Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board on January 26, "Don't Dumb Down the Ninth Grade," and a rebuttal in the same paper by a group of state senators are examples of the complexity and passion behind the issue of testing in our local schools. The Gazette's editorial argues that "the state's accountability reforms represent an effort to make public education more answerable to parents and taxpayers." The response from some legislators argued that we need to combat the "state's oppressive standardized testing regimen" because "we all know that testing takes away valuable class time that teachers would otherwise dedicate to student learning."

Perhaps we did have too much testing in schools. However, Colorado took on the issue of test reductions last year with a bipartisan piece of legislation that was pointed to as a national model for other states looking to reduce testing while maintaining the necessary elements to ensure transparency, choice, and accountability.

This year, Colorado high school students will no longer take state summative assessments in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade as a result of that policy. Additionally, statewide testing was reduced by over 30 hours over a student's K-12 career. While there are legitimate complaints about the way we are implementing state tests, eliminating all remaining high-school tests via arbitrary, politically motivated decisions won't improve our schools.

Fortunately, there are a group of educators in traditional and charter public schools who focus their energy on overcoming challenges and inspiring students no matter what the circumstances. They hold their pupils accountable and, in return, expect to be held accountable. Minimal, efficient annual tests give them the chance to stand out and be rewarded for their performance.

ColoradoSchoolGrades.com uses these test scores and is our best resource here in Colorado for parents and students to see where the innovative teacher leaders are helping their communities. Over 1.3 million Coloradans have used ColoradoSchoolGrades.com to research their local schools to select the best fit for their children. These school grades show not just yearly scores, but highlight which schools and districts are growing our students' capabilities.

Now that we have reduced testing sufficiently, we need to return our attention to attracting and rewarding the very best teachers to our public schools. We are committed to finding ways to pay our teachers more. We should give parents the tools to choose the best schools for their children. We need to keep our focus on leadership and accountability. All of this is made possible by staying the course with our current testing policy and allowing our great teachers to draw up the next generation of Coloradans with the help and support of parents and community leaders.

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Tyler Lawrence is assistant principal at Harrison High School in Colorado Springs Harrison School District 2. Owen Hill is a state senator from Colorado Springs and he chairs the Senate Education Committee.

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