With the clock winding down on the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers are still working to resolve two key education issues that directly impact all students in District 50: testing and money. By law, the legislative session is a maximum of 120 days meaning their work must be finished by May 6th.
Lawmakers have spent much of the session trying to find the right balance between student measurement and accountability and effective education. As of this week, no significant legislation has been agreed upon, though several bills are pending.
Critics across the state believe students spend too much time taking high stakes tests and not enough time learning. Many are also critical of the new online (PARCC) Partnershipfor Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessments and have urged lawmakers to pass legislation allowing students to “opt out” of the test without penalizing school districts that don’t meet the mandated participation rate of 95%.
On Wednesday, Governor John Hickenlooper was joined by former Governors Roy Romer and Bill Owens who were critical of what they said were bipartisan efforts to undo education reform in Colorado. You can read more about their comments here.
Leaders in District 50 have repeatedly told the Colorado Department of Education that while the District believes in accountability, the current emphasis on testing is not compatible with a true Competency Based System (CBS). CBS requires students to master a learning topic before moving onto the next level, but because of high stakes testing there can be pressure to expose students to test material even when they are not ready for it.
Superintendent Pam Swanson testified before the Senate Education Committee last week urging lawmakers to put more money into education in general and designate a higher percentage of it towards “at risk” students who face the challenges of poverty and learning English.
“From my perspective, there is no higher priority than investing money in our ‘at risk’ children to ensure that they succeed so they can help their communities grow and prosper,” said Swanson.
The current funding bill passed by the Senate Committee allocates $25 million to pay down the so called negative factor, which is money taken away from school districts during the height of the recession. Governor Hickenlooper and the vast majority of state superintendents had asked lawmakers to return $200 million to school districts with a special emphasis on “at risk” students and children in rural school districts.
The House is expected to take up the funding issue next week.
A good resource to follow ongoing developments at the state Capitol and education in general is Chalkbeat Colorado.