Colo. bows to pres­sure, will pe­nal­ize schools for test­ing opt-out

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Ni­cholas Gar­cia

In an ef­fort to keep fed­eral dol­lars flow­ing to Colorado class­rooms, the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion voted Wed­nes­day to cre­ate two qual­ity sys­tems for the state’s schools — the ex­ist­ing one de­signed in 2009 by state law­mak­ers, and a new one that meets fed­eral re­quire­ments.

The un­usual ar­range­ment amounts to a com­pro­mise between the state ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment and the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

Af­ter Colorado be­came a na­tional epi­cen­ter for the opt-out move­ment in 2015, the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion adopted a pol­icy that did not count stu­dents who opted out of the tests in the school’s av­er­age test score. Stu­dents who missed the test and were not ex­cused by par­ents still counted against a school’s score.

That proved to be a stick­ing point when state of­fi­cials sub­mit­ted Colorado’s plan for com­ply­ing with the na­tion’s new ed­u­ca­tion law, the Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act. Fed­eral of­fi­cials sent the plan back, say­ing the opt-out pro­vi­sion didn’t com­ply with the new law.

In the com­pro­mise, the state will con­tinue to is­sue state school qual­ity rat­ings that don’t pe­nal­ize schools for high opt-out rates. But the state also will cre­ate a sep­a­rate list of schools based on the fed­eral re­quire­ment that stu­dents who opt out are counted as not pro­fi­cient.

Some state board mem­bers wor­ried two sys­tems would cre­ate ad­di­tional work for teach­ers, cre­ate con­fu­sion among the pub­lic or misiden­tify schools.

State of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day, teach­ers, stu­dents and par­ents shouldn’t no­tice much dif­fer­ence. No school or district will be re­spon­si­ble for sub­mit­ting more data. The state will be re­spon­si­ble for slic­ing and dic­ing re­sults from an­nual tests as they have in the past.

Be­cause Colorado stu­dents who opt out tend to be white and more af­flu­ent, this change could flag schools for fi­nan­cial sup­port to boost learn­ing that re­ally don’t need it.

State ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials as­sured the board that it had dis­cre­tion in iden­ti­fy­ing whether a school is truly low-per­form­ing or if its scores are de­flated from low par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Ear­lier this fall, the state took a vol­un­tary step to­ward the two-sys­tem ap­proach when it pub­lished a list of schools that qual­ify for fed­eral grants. The state adopted some, but not all of the fed­eral re­quire­ments, when it cre­ated that list.

Board mem­ber Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Re­pub­li­can, said he hoped the state would not pub­li­cize the re­sults from the fed­eral iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem.

“It should not be given equal weight with the data that we find ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said.

Durham also asked the state ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment to re­mind schools that it is still il­le­gal to pe­nal­ize stu­dents who opt out of state tests. (It’s also against the law to in­cen­tivize stu­dents to skip the English and math ex­ams.)

The state must re­sub­mit its plan to the fed­eral govern­ment by Oct. 23.

Chalk­beat Colorado is a non­profit news or­ga­ni­za­tion cover­ing ed­u­ca­tion is­sues. For more, visit chalk­beat.org/co

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