December
13th 2013
Big Testing (Why Not Funding?) Changes Coming Soon to Colorado K-12

Posted under Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & learning & Online Schools & Parents & School Choice & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature

A couple of stories this week in Ed News Colorado serve as a reminder that whether or not there are new laws or reforms to debate, some kind of change will keep coming to the state’s schools. First comes from the State Board of Education’s Wednesday meeting, where we learned that schools and districts will have exactly one year reprieve on their formal accountability ratings after the new testing begins in 2014-15:

As for teachers, their students’ performance on the new tests will factor into their year-end evaluations starting in 2016.

“Some states declared a timeout,” said Elliott Asp, the special assistant to the commissioner and one of the architects behind the state’s plan for testing. “We don’t want to go there.”

We want to ensure greater accountability for learning results. But the shift to a new kind of testing system realistically demands some sort of accommodation. Providing a year’s worth of reprieve from sanctions or other consequences makes sense on the surface. The story drives home the reality of coming changes — a computerized test-taking system with new assessments rolling out in 2014-15. That puts the consequences back to 2015-16.

(However it happens, can we hope for more meaningful distinctions among schools than the newly released measures that give 70 percent of schools the highest rating of “Performance”? Maybe something a little easier for the average mom or dad, or 5-year-old prodigy, to understand? Just sayin’….)

While the new testing regime is designed to raise expectations, and the one-year timeout would seem to provide a reasonable delay to ensure, this year’s beat-down of Amendment 66 opens the door to looking at how Colorado schools will be funded without raising taxes. It’s all about making sure Kids Are First, after all.

The same day as the State Board’s meeting, department officials went across the street to brief legislators on the Joint Budget Committee. In an eerie coincidence, CDE’s 141-page briefing document is the exact same length as SB 213 (which was joined at the hip with the Amendment 66 tax hike). On top of the various options for general PPR dollars, the briefing document addresses a number of other items (including new tests) that represent real or potential funding needs.

That 141 pages hasn’t been fully digested yet, so I’m not jumping to any big conclusions yet. The Governor has proposed a budget that includes raising K-12 funding but doesn’t undo any of the so-called “Negative Factor” that has kept money below levels prescribed by Amendment 23. To try to get rid of the Negative Factor at this point would eat up a big chunk of the General Fund budget, but districts and other groups may be looking for a plan to chip away at it.

Meanwhile, little me continues to hope for bigger changes. Can we at least talk about making a shift to a student-focused “backpack funding” system that includes enabling greater course-level choice?

Let’s be smart about it, but let’s also be bold. And keep things rolling forward… to help kids.

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