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Task Force Talks Testing: The Challenges Ahead

As you may have noticed, I’ve been talking a lot about testing recently (see here and here). I thought I got it all out of my system, but it turns out blogging about testing is a little like eating potato chips—it’s close to impossible to stop yourself once you’ve opened the bag. It’s like cracking open a greasy, delicious version of Pandora’s Box.

As I continue to eat my rhetorical potato chips and write about testing issues in Colorado, a legislative task force on testing issues has opened its own, much less easily digestible Pandora’s Box.

Born out of a piece of legislation originally designed to give districts testing flexibility, the task force has been, well… tasked with creating a report and issuing recommendations on testing in Colorado. Yesterday marked the group’s third meeting since July. It is required to finish its work by January 31 of next year.

There’s a problem, though: Testing is a massively complex, delicate issue. The task force’s first two meetings were largely gobbled up by information gathering, and it’s still waiting on at least one important study’s results. Even so, the group is only authorized to work for a limited amount of time, and the deadline looms in the not-too-distant future. At the last meeting, one task force member remarked:

“We’re about halfway through our timeline. Given the amount of time we have together…do we think we want to have some of that conversation in parallel with public input and waiting for the studies?…I would suggest we need to move more rapidly.”

Translation: Let’s roll our sleeves up and get to work. Testing questions are becoming extremely important, and the task force is currently Colorado’s best shot at getting some official answers to those questions—provided the members can turn discussion into action.

As with all group undertakings, the task force faces two equally important challenges: Gathering and analyzing the necessary objective information, and navigating the tricky waters surrounding subjective beliefs among its members. Overcoming the first challenge is often simply a matter of talking to the right people and playing the waiting game. The latter can be tougher.

The most recent meeting saw members vocalizing their opinions on state versus local testing. Some called for local control of testing while others voiced their support for statewide testing. Others remained undecided.

All of this is good. As I’ve said many time before, I fully support good, hearty debate. In fact, I think that’s how we reach the best solutions. The trick is keeping that debate productive and moving toward a common goal (you know, the best outcome for students like me!) rather than letting it derail the process. As differing opinions continue to come to light, the task force members are going to have to work with, not against each other.

There’s no indication that the task force is approaching a danger zone in terms of its current discussions. But with an issue as polarizing and vitriolic as testing in 2014, the danger of a plunge into less productive arguments looms large and must be carefully, actively guarded against. Here’s hoping the task force members are able to keep things professional, thoughtfully consider the issue from all sides, and produce some meaningful recommendations early next year.