More funding, less testing.
That was the message last week as the District 50 Board of Education met with Lt. Governor Joe Garcia, State Board of Education member Jane Goff and three lawmakers who represent the District at the state capitol.
State Senator Jessie Ulibarri, and State Representatives Dominic Moreno and Steve Lebsock joined the discussion at the Orchard Court Conference and Community Center. All of the guests are supporters of the District’s Competency Based System (CBS) and wanted to learn how they can help the District in the legislative session which just got underway.
“We need to recognize and reward innovation,” said the Lt. Governor who also praised CBS at a gathering of state educators in December. In addition to his role as Lt. Governor, Garcia is also the head of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. Senator Ulibarri, who lives in the Sherrelwood neighborhood and has followed the District over the last several years, agreed. “I want to congratulate you on your academic growth,” he said.
The open-ended discussion focused on two key topics; funding for public education and growing criticism that there is too much testing of students.
All of those in attendance agreed that Colorado underfunds public education in general and needs to allocate more money to districts, like D50, that have a high number of “at risk” students. “We need to change the funding formula,” said Representative Moreno who grew up in poverty and says he “beat the odds.”
It’s expected that the legislature will increase funding during the legislative session, but it’s not clear by how much. Governor John Hickenlooper’s proposed budget includes an additional $480.3 million for K-12 school finance including $200 million from the State Education Fund.
Still, the Lt. Governor told the group that money alone will not solve all of the education challenges in Colorado. “Money is a necessity, but it is not sufficient. There are other things we need to do.” Garcia said the state must challenge school districts to be “test tubes for the state” in discovering what works.
Goff, who was an early supporter of a competency based approach to education agreed. “I’ve always believed that we need to know, where it is working and why it is working. A student needs to be able to show what they know and be able to apply it,” she told the group.
This session lawmakers are taking a closer look at the number and kinds of assessments that school districts are required to give to students. Critics say there are too many tests that take up valuable learning time and resources and lead to an accreditation process that doesn’t recognize progress for schools and districts whose students have significant achievement gaps.
“We advocate testing process that is fair and equitable,” said Swanson. She told the board that a standardized, state-mandated test that treats all students the same is not compatible with a true Competency Based System which demands that students master a learning topic before moving to the next level. “We believe in accountability. The question is how it is done.”
The Lt. Governor agreed that the debate about assessments is an important one. “There is value in testing. We have to figure out which tests and how often,” he said.
Last week the State Board of Education voted to allow school district’s to opt out of the spring testing program, but the head of the Colorado Department of Education, doesn’t believe that the Department has the authority to allow for waivers, because the state legislature enacted the testing rules and regulations. You can read more about the debate here.