Student testing showdown dominates end of lawmaking term

By Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press | Posted - May 5, 2015 at 10:10 p.m.



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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 formed Monday, when both chambers gave tentative approval to similar bills designed to break the stalemate over student assessments. The bills 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 opponents didn't go down easy. Testing opponents — an unusual amalgam of teachers' unions and conservative critics of national education standards — argued late into the night Tuesday to dismantle more tests. But in the end they agreed to the compromise.

"A little bit is better than nothing," said Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs.

Lawmakers had more work to do Wednesday to settle on a single version of the bill and get it to the governor's desk. But the significant differences were settled late Tuesday.

"I don't want to walk out here having done nothing," said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida.

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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Kristen Wyatt

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