For months, Colorado lawmakers have struggled to find a legislative compromise to cut back standardized testing but preserve millions in Federal funding. On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee finally struck a deal.
The Committee gave public hearing to a slate of testing reforms which ran the gambit from a broad repeal of Common Core to a narrow reworking of how often students take standardized Social Studies tests. Ten hours later, a hearing that began with shouted comparisons of Common Core to communism ended in bipartisan hugs.
Lawmakers approved the broad Republican Common Core-repeal measure; the Democratic Social-Studies reform; and a bipartisan bill, SB 257, that reduces testing in high schools and gives districts a few years of flexibility on teacher evaluations.
“It’s an adequate compromise, though it’s not everything I would have liked,” said Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, who carried the measure with Sen. Owen Hill, R-Coloardo Springs.
Minutes before the hearing began, parent advocates of standardized testing reform held a press conference at the Capitol. The parents voiced grave concern with students’ privacy in online testing and demanded that the state back out of its participation in the national Common Core standards and the associated PARCC tests.
“I am here to vow that we are the grassroots,” said Anita Stapleton, a Pueblo parent who started Stop Common Core Colorado. “We will continue to wage the refuse-to-test campaign as long as Colorado stays in the PARCC consortium… If our legislators don’t listen, they will ultimately force litigation.”
Though activists maintained that their cause was bipartisan, only Republican lawmakers were in attendance. Democrats shied away from supporting a repeal of Common Core, saying they feared a loss of critical Federal funding and felt some standards are necessary.
“Part of the reason I wasn’t there is that I do believe in standards,” said Merrifield. “As a teacher, I taught to standards. As a lawmaker, I established standards… so I can’t come out against that. But I’m adamantly opposed to the overwhelming amount of testing that’s come along with that, unnecessarily so. I totally stand with the moms in that frustration.”
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, a former superintendent, voted against the Common Core-repeal bill and was the only dissenting voice against Merrifield’s compromise bill. While he said he’s open to reform, he says many of this session’s measures are political grandstanding.
“There was broad bipartisan support to adopt the Common Core standards,” Johnston pointed out. “There were 100 votes in this building for it four years ago. That’s as bipartisan as you can get.
“I think the anti-accountability movement now, the attempt to repeal all accountability around teachers, principals, schools and districts, certainly has some support from different sides of the aisle, but it’s around separate issues. You have teachers opposing teacher accountability and conservative activists who oppose the [Common Core] who’ve come together to jointly oppose the standards.”
While Johnston fears test reduction efforts have already gone too far, Merrifield says he’s only just begun.
“I’ve been reluctantly willing to carry a compromise bill because we needed to be cautious about loosing federal funding,” he said of his SB 257. “I think this is a good, big first step. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other steps that we can and will take. I’m going to be down here three more years. I’m not done.”
Sen. Vicki Marble, R- Fort Collins, carried the bill to repeal the use of Common Core in Colorado and headlined the parents’ rally before the slate of education reform bills were heard. Still and video by Tessa Cheek.