With nearly a million Common Core-based tests already taken in Colorado this year, hundreds rallied on the west steps of the state Capitol Wednesday to protest the flood of standardized testing in Colorado’s public schools.
Bundled children held signs that bent in the the blowing sleet. They read: “Testing ≠ Teaching,” “School zone … No PARCCing,” “Have you freed a teacher today?” and the Twitter hashtag eponymous, “More than a score.”
“I took my first standardized test in third grade. My teacher was a first-year teacher and she was so afraid of standardized testing that she told us if we didn’t do well, she would get fired,” said Sydney Chinowsky, a senior at Fairview High School in Boulder who recently protested outside her school instead of taking CMAS, Colorado’s new state-mandated science and social studies test.
“I went home that day in tears because I was so afraid this wonderful educator was going to be dismissed if I made a mistake. Things have not improved in the last ten years. They’ve gotten worse.”
The rally hit just as consensus crumbled on a test reduction bill, SB 215, that came out of a standardize testing task force’s recommendations and had backing from both Governor John Hickenlooper and bipartisan leadership in both chambers of the state legislature. The measure would have slashed testing in the last two years of high school but retained the influence standardized tests have on teacher evaluations.
But if anything, the rally on Wednesday said loud and clear that the reductions need to be much more significant. That response came not just from students, teachers and the Colorado Education Association, but from some lawmakers as well.
“I would say that I and the people at this rally are all way off from where 215 and the [standardize testing task force] currently stand,” said Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. “Neither went nearly far enough towards addressing the serious concerns that teachers, parents and students have about the overwhelming testing that is taking all the joy out of education, teaching and learning.”
That joy of learning, and the diversity of learning styles, is a priority to the educators who gathered at the Capitol.
“It’s just extremely ironic that teachers are being told to differentiate their teaching, to meet the needs of special ed. students, ESL students, typical students, gifted students — the whole spectrum. Yet, the only measure that counts is the measure of standardized testing,” said Kathy Royce, a retired special education teacher from Canon City and president of the Pikes Peak Education Association.
Frustrated teachers pointed out that standardized testing evaluations don’t necessarily reflect their actual abilities as educators, sometimes at the most literal level. Because the evaluations are done in arrears and not all grades or subject areas are tested, teachers who are new to a school or teaching the arts or younger grades depend on other instructors’ abilities for 50 percent of the professional evaluations on which their pay and job security are based.
“We’re not afraid of accountability, but I get measured by other people’s performance when I have no control over that,” said second grade teacher Phyllis Robinette.
She, like many of the teachers at the rally, said there’s a role for testing but that she’d like to see the state drop it to the federal minimum.
Sen. Merrifield, it turns out, has a bill to do just that, as well as a measure that would eliminate the weight of standardized tests in teacher evaluation. Both are in limbo, which is to say they’ve been assigned to the Education Committee, where they have yet to be heard.
Video by Kyle Harris. Photos by Tessa Cheek.