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Catching Up on Testing, Transparency, Accountability, Innovation… and More

If it seems like the middle of summer is a good time for me to catch up — well, that’s because it is. It took me a fairly long time to come down from my adrenaline rush that accompanied the high-stakes game of legislative testing chicken.

Like any legislative compromise, the final version of House Bill 1323 signed into law certainly isn’t perfect. But overall it made some positive changes.

Going forward, Colorado has maintained annual assessments but also streamlined the number and length of tests. The most underrated and underreported part of HB 1323 has to be the requirement that school districts “annually distribute to the parents of students…an assessment calendar.” The calendar is supposed to provide an estimate of annual testing times as well as which ones are required by the federal government, the state, or the district itself.

Little Eddie loves transparency and helpful information for parents!

Another interesting piece of the final legislation is the opportunity for local innovation and experimentation:

The bill also creates a pilot program for districts that wish to use their own tests in place of state models. Those local assessments may be eligible to replace state versions so long as they get the go-ahead from the Colorado Department of Education. But districts that choose to pilot their own tests must continue to use state assessments in addition to their trial tests.

Making the pilot testing opportunity official requires the feds to sign off on an updated waiver. Given the fact that there was some weirdness on this front with the State Board of Education several months ago, I was intrigued by last week’s Chalkbeat article citing experts who say “Colorado should be cautiously optimistic” about the likelihood of the U.S. Department of Education giving its approval.

Where that one goes is a big wait and see. Another key provision of HB 1323 means we just have to wait. Another 12 months. Period.

What am I talking about? Another Chalkbeat story from last week details how the new law delays the accountability clock by one full year.

The “dramatic firsts” that I previously highlighted as reaching the State Board next year (2016) now couldn’t happen until 2017. The prospects of accreditation removal, district takeover, charter conversion, or school closure drift a little further away from the horizon.

Because so many of these policy areas are connected, the legislation also again delays the full implementation of SB 191 teacher evaluation reform. When it comes to teacher and principal evaluations, HB 1323 takes state assessments off the table for one year. Of course, these tests only make up one part of one-half of evaluations, but in nearly all cases leaves districts relying on a more subjective process to figure out which educators are most effective.

Then again, the Holyoke School District in rural northeastern Colorado has completely opted out of the student growth requirement on educator evaluations. In that sense, they have blazed a trail, though nearby Kit Carson School District secured waivers from a different part of SB 191 four years ago.

Other districts may follow Holyoke’s lead in joining those who seek innovation status. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say, as long as we still have a credible way to measure success at helping students learn. Keep an eye on Colorado’s education landscape. New opportunities soon may abound.

Phew! I am all caught up now, aren’t I?