Hickenlooper backs testing reforms, draws line in the sand on SB191

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DENVER -- Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper orchestrated a press conference Tuesday morning that served as a show of bipartisan support for a proposal to reduce the number of required tests and assessments for K-12 students.

Hickenlooper sought to show broad consensus around reducing the number of assessments for students and teachers while maintaining high academic standards across the state.

He also drew a line in the sand on a related issue, implying that he would likely veto any measure that includes changes to the reforms passed under 2009's Senate Bill 191 requiring that a teacher's effectiveness by determined in large part by their students' demonstrated achievement.

With the Republican senate president and Democratic Speaker of the House behind him, Hickenlooper called the education reforms adopted as a result of S.B. 191 "essential reforms."

"We're going to continue to move forward," Hickenlooper said. "We're not going backward."

The statement and press conference generally served as a warning to lawmakers from both parties as they consider alternatives to S.B. 215, which includes a number of bipartisan proposals to streamline assessments and reduce the number of tests students are asked to take and is supported by Hickenlooper and a number of business groups from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce to Colorado Succeeds.

As FOX31 Denver reported Tuesday morning, Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, has drafted a bill that would do away with all statewide standardized tests, enabling school districts to determine individually what assessments to conduct; that bill also includes a controversial provision to weaken S.B. 191 by lowering its requirement that 50 percent of a teacher's effectiveness be determined based on student achievement so that it accounts for no more than 20 percent of the educator's overall evaluation.

Hickenlooper wouldn't explicitly say what, if any, changes to the current draft of S.B. 215 he would be okay with, but he expressed skepticism about the idea of waivers for parents to opt their students out, something Holbert and a number of conservative education activists want.

"My son asked me if he could opt out of a test," Hickenlooper said. "I said don't get wrapped up in the test. I told him Life is full of tests; you're going to get tested day in and day out," Hickenlooper said. "Go out and do the best you can, and if you don't do well, we'll figure out what you need to do better the next time. It's not anything to be feared.

"Any parent can keep their child out of school on the day they have a test if they want to," Hickenlooper said. "My point is: you're not doing your kid any favors by doing that."

Strange bedfellows backing opt-out bill

Holbert introduced another bill Tuesday afternoon that seeks to clarify the right of a parent to opt their child out of testing.

The proposal, Senate Bill 223, is co-sponsored by Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and has a number of co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, a host of more partisan Democrats and Republicans finding common ground on education policy; its introduction may also indicate that Holbert's other assessments measure with the provisions threatening S.B. 191 may not wind up being introduced.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Colorado Education Association, the state's largest union, issued a press release dismissing S.B. 215 for not going further.

"S.B. 215 takes a few, tentative steps toward easing the testing burden for some students, but it’s largely a bill of cosmetic changes," said CEA President Kerrie Dallman. "Most parents across the state will be left asking, 'How does this help my child?'

"Our education system is infected with obsessive testing and our students and educators are expecting a full recovery from what ails them. Legislators have heard serious concerns from their constituents. They can’t offer serious answers with a bill that only skims the surface of the testing dilemma."

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