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Not a Walk in the PARCC: Testing and Local Control In Colorado

I wanted to open this post with a cute joke rhyming joke, but it turns out nothing rhymes with local control, Common Core, or assessments. Unfortunately for you, this means you get serious Eddie today. Maybe it’s for the best—issues surrounding testing, local control, and the Common Core are pretty serious these days.

As the debate over Common Core and its associated assessments continues to heat up, things are likely to get even more serious. The argument for local control in testing is growing louder and stronger, and leaders at every level of the Colorado education system are beginning to ask very serious (and very important) questions about where power ought to reside when it comes to standards and assessments.

Today, those questions were most prominent at a State Board of Education meeting in Denver. Toward the end of a meeting segment aimed at better understanding assessment options in the state, both Vice Chairman Marsha Neal and Chairman Paul Lundeen voiced concerns about increasing federal influence in Colorado’s education system. Lundeen called on Colorado to find ways to return power to the local level while maintaining acceptable levels of accountability.

Both members acknowledged that any major change will take time, further research, and possibly even legislative action. 

Similar concerns are coming to a head at the district level. Last month, Colorado Spring District 11 Superintendent Nicholas Gledich mounted a high-profile push against the controversial PARCC test, which is aligned with the Common Core State Standards for language arts and math, and the CMAS, which covers socials studies and science.

Gledich backed away from the position after encountering the same complex web of statutory considerations that Neal and Lundeen alluded to in their statements today.

More recently, my friends in Douglas County pushed for more local control on a different assessment front by passing a resolution that will allow some district elementary schools to apply for waivers from certain provisions of the 2012 READ Act. Such waivers would be granted under the Innovation Schools Act of 2008, an interesting law that I’ve written about before.

Meanwhile, the fight for devolution of authority in education is also picking up elsewhere in the country. A large school district in Florida recently made history when it became the first locality to say no to Common Core-aligned assessments altogether. The consequences of this decision are unclear at this point. Many fear they could be severe.

So, what now? Where do we go from here?

A legislative task force is currently looking into testing issues and will issue findings and recommendations early next year. In the meantime, I humbly suggest we start looking at the web of confusing, vague, and interconnected statutes underlying assessment practices in Colorado. After all, it’s hard to know what you will do unless you first know what you can do. We should also look, carefully and honestly, at what type of arrangement will be best for our students.

Only once we’ve done that will we be ready to have the even tougher conversations that will undoubtedly follow.