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Sticky Testing Issue Knot: Where’s the Education Policy Velcro?

I may be a precocious and talented young edublogger, but tying shoelaces still gives me fits. My mom insists on double-knotting the laces. Occasionally, in my dreams, I am stifled and frustrated by a tight pair of shoes that I can’t remove because they have been tied snugly so many times with knots that could drive your average sailor to mutiny.

Pardon the aside, but such a strange image is what comes to mind when I search for a winning solution out of the looming political debates about testing. Except it’s even worse, because the knotted material seems less like your standard cotton, polyester, or nylon, and more like this stuff.

A couple months ago, I delivered my highly non-controversial opinion that the testing issue wasn’t going away any time soon here in Colorado. But even then, I didn’t anticipate exactly where so much friction on the HB 1202 Standards and Assessment Task Force might take us. Cue a Chalkbeat’s detailed account of the group’s Monday meeting:

Straw votes taken over nearly eight hours by the 15-member advisory group generally supported reducing the amount of state-required testing in high school, but the members couldn’t reach agreement on a long list of other issues, including reducing the overall amount of testing, what to do about the new social studies tests and about readiness and literacy evaluations for young students.

And those recommendations the group did agree to “are not set in stone,” said chair Dan Snowberger.

As the task force’s January report deadline looms, the closest thing to a consensus emerging is a small retreat to the “federal minimums” — essentially, annual standardized testing in grades 3 through 8. But the January deadline isn’t the only thing looming.

What happens if the federal minimum standard, via No Child Left Behind, changes? Fancy that, just such a debate is coming to life in D.C. Education Week‘s Alyson Klein reports that the new Republican majority in the U.S. Senate plans to draft an ESEA reauthorization that would end the annual requirement. Under this plan, which would have to survive the Capitol Hill sausage-making process and a President who may opt for the veto, states like Colorado would have the option to administer assessments less frequently.

So hold your horse, Task Force. After years of delays and false starts on an ESEA reauthorization, could it finally gain momentum (and threaten a big hiccup) just at the time when Colorado is trying to straighten out the testing situation? While one could argue that maybe the proposed change would make the task force’s work easier, I see it as opening the door to even less common ground and discussion.

Just look at the federal debate on the conservative side of the spectrum. On one hand you have Fordham’s Mike Petrilli arguing that preserving annual testing should be the reauthorization’s top priority because it’s essential for producing the fair and meaningful measure of student growth.

On the other hand, the Heartland Institute’s School Choice Weekly (latest email digest not up on the site quite yet) makes this compelling point:

Another consideration is that annual testing is a hard-won status quo for the Right, who properly insisted that if we must have government-run education, at least parents and the public should be able to see its results. The problem with that argument is that this slight increase in transparency has not meant genuine accountability. We can now know for certain which schools fail to teach even a tenth of their students to read, but that doesn’t mean such schools ever close or improve. So while the right-wing establishment pretends testing equals accountability, the results of this policy prove them wrong.

Yes, we want real transparency to have a helpful school comparison tool for parents, and real meaningful accountability for schools, administrators, and teachers. We also want sensible tests that give educators valuable information on student progress, and want to provide balance with preferred local assessment systems and the need to keep students from losing too much instructional time.

Meanwhile, there are interwoven policy debates at the federal and state level, and the desire to move education forward on a large scale while respecting the different needs of diverse communities and student populations. And we’ve only begun to scratch the surface here.

Sigh. Maybe now you understand why sometimes I’d rather just stick with velcro.