DENVER (AP) — An intense debate over student testing requirements had Colorado lawmakers scrambling Tuesday to resolve long-simmering disputes over how best to reduce standardized tests.
Rival bills related to student testing were still pending in the state House and Senate with less than 48 hours to go.
A last-minute compromise appeared to form Monday, when the House gave tentative approval to a bill designed to break the stalemate over student assessments. The bill would require annual tests in math and language arts in grades 3 through 9.
Testing 9th-graders has become the major sticking point in the months-long testing dispute. Colorado requires those tests, but the federal government does not. Some want to ax those tests, but others say the tests should remain for high school freshmen. Gov. John Hickenlooper has strongly urged lawmakers not to cut those tests, prompting lawmakers to wonder whether he would veto a testing bill that cuts them.
The compromise takes cues from strong testing opponents, too. The compromise version of the legislation would allow local districts to craft their own tests instead of using the statewide ones, a nod to districts unhappy with one-size-fits-all assessments.
The compromise bill makes no mention at all of social studies, on which students are now tested once each in elementary, middle and high school. A separate pending Senate bill would allow the Education Department to give social studies tests in a representative sample of schools, meaning not all pupils would have to take them. That bill is still pending.
“I think it’s a great compromise and does some great, thoughtful work,” said Chelsea Henkel, analyst for Stand For Children, an education advocacy group that argues that taking away too many tests will harm accountability efforts.
But just when that compromise seemed headed to passage by both chambers, opposition thickened, throwing the bills in limbo. Testing opponents — an unusual amalgam of teachers’ unions and conservative critics of national education standards — derided the compromise effort as window dressing.
“There are those who are saying this is better than nothing,” said Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs and a major testing opponent. “But if you’re a 6-foot man in eight feet of water and someone says they can take a foot off it, you’re still drowning.”
Lawmakers had until midnight Wednesday to settle on a testing bill. With just a few hours to go, uncertainty dominated. Lawmakers were asking themselves whether it was better to adopt an imperfect plan to reduce testing or have no reduction in testing at all, delaying the matter for another year.
“I don’t want to walk out here having done nothing,” said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida.
Others insisted that a modest reduction in testing would simply insult the teachers, students and parents who have been pushing for change. Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, said the testing compromise sent the wrong message.
“We’re going to take a way a little of the pain, and other that that, they need to shut up and eat cake,” Neville said.
By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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