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Officials: High participation across Colorado for new tests

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DENVER (AP) — On the eve of the first round of Common Core testing, the Colorado State Board of Education declared its support for parents' right to choose to keep their children from being assessed.

Some state lawmakers also took up the call, while parents who gathered at the state Legislature to urge lawmakers to scrap the new education standards tossed out opt-out rates as high as 40 percent.

Districts as varied as the more than 34,000-student Aurora Public Schools to rural 151-student De Beque, however, reported high participation rates to AP, which communicated by phone or email with nearly half the states 178 superintendents in recent weeks. Urban Aurora estimated a 95 percent rate, and De Beque's was 96 percent.

Still, some superintendents said the issue of too much testing is one that needs to be addressed.

"While the tolerance of our community for assessment and the technology worked to make this volume of testing possible, this is not saying it was the right thing for our students or our schools," Eagle superintendent Jason Glass said.

Glass saw participation of 99 percent — 100 refusals out of 6,800 students — in his mountain district.

The issue has proven tricky in the Legislature, where lawmakers have considered several testing proposals.

Two bills survived to the final weeks of the session. One would get rid of tests in the 11th and 12th grades and make social studies tests optional. The other would dispense with tests in the ninth grade and all statewide social studies tests.

Both bills have strong supporters and opponents in both parties, making it hard to judge which will prevail.

Kit Carson, a small district on the eastern plains, had a 2 percent opt-out rate on the first round of Common Core-linked tests, acting superintendent Gerald Keefe said.

A revolt might have been expected in Kit Carson, where, in an example of how education questions can be political, voters several years ago passed a mill levy to allow their schools to do without some federal education funding.

Keefe has been a strong opponent of Common Core, which he sees as a step toward stripping local communities of the power to decide what their children are taught.

Some Kit Carson parents may have wanted their kids tested just to see what the questions were like, though Keefe said he had heard no concerns so far that the exams were not "politically neutral."

The Common Core initiative originated with the states, though it does have federal backing.

It does not outline content or curricula. It sets year-to-year goals aimed at ensuring young people head to college or the workplace with a sophisticated grasp of language and math.

The assessments are administered on computers, which required some districts to spend thousands of dollars on equipment and infrastructure. The tests are divided in two parts, with the last being administered in coming weeks.

Some superintendents said their opt-out numbers could rise because parents who didn't realize they had that option earlier have now heard more about it.

But state legislator Mike Johnston, a former teacher and principal, said high participation rates are in line with what's been the case for years in Colorado, and he saw no reason that should change just because the tests have.

Johnston opposes the opt-out call and supports Common Core.

The new tests took the place of a statewide math and English assessment.

In addition, students take science and social studies exams and an 11th-grade college readiness assessment. Other tests, including school-readiness in the early years and proficiency exams for those learning English, are scattered across the grades.

Superintendent Cheryl Serrano, whose Fountain-Fort Carson district serves some 8,000 students, worried that too many opt-outs would yield incomplete data, making it impossible to determine which schools are falling behind or how to fix problems.

"A kid isn't going to be harmed by taking the tests," she said. "We've been doing assessments for 50 years. Why is it now so different?"

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