DENVER — A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers will move forward with their plans to request a waiver from the federal government to be exempt from statewide standardized testing this year.
HB21-1125 would direct the state’s department of education to submit a request for a waiver to the federal government to do so.
The federal government offered a blanket waiver to all testing last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges school districts faced in teaching remotely.
Education groups have called for the Colorado Measure of Academic Success (CMAS) tests to be cancelled once again this year since many districts are still participating in remote or hybrid learning.
“The same reasons that we canceled the test last year exist this year,” said Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, who is a cosponsor of the bill.
However, this week, the U.S. Department of Education released a letter encouraging states to go forward with testing. The letter did offer some flexibility, like encouraging districts to shorten the tests, administer them remotely or extend the testing window.
Zenzinger says none of these options will work for Colorado.
“Unfortunately, the test product that we have here in Colorado cannot be shortened,” she said. “The second guidance that they offered was to allow students to take the test remotely. We have been instructed by our test administrator that the CMAS test cannot be given remotely in Colorado.”
Extending the testing window could also pose its own set of issues since the results for CMAS testing in a normal year don’t come back until August. Expanding that window would delay the results until the fall.
“The state budget will already have passed by then. The school finance act will have already been passed by then. Opportunities for summer school will already have gone by and we really feel like there are opportunities to collect better data,” she said.
Beyond that, proponents of the idea of canceling testing this year say the process to test would be too disruptive to students since they would have to turn in their school-issued computers and tablets.
Those computers and tablets would then be wiped clean, updated and then have the testing software uploaded. The technology would then have to be kept in the district’s possession until testing was over, meaning students would not be able to use them for instruction or homework.
Students who are learning remotely would also not be able to participate in the CMAS testing, and all students would be able to opt out of taking the test, which could sway the results.
Still, some state lawmakers and even the governor say some sort of testing is important in order to understand the learning challenges students are facing during COVID-19.
“If we go about the process of just kind of eliminating an assessment for this year, we’ll never know the progress that we made as a result of COVID. We know there was education loss — that’s a given,” said Rep. Tim Geitner, R-Falcon. “The issue really is from here, how do we correct going forward and how much of a correction do we make? We owe that to our students and we owe that to our families.”
Geitner says the tests are not about punishing anyone for the learning loss that has occurred over the course of the pandemic but understanding how and where best to help students.
“I don’t think anybody wants to penalize the results of the test. I’m certainly not interested in that either. I think at the end of the day, ultimately, we're interested in the data,” he said.
In an effort to understand the needs of Colorado students, the bill will be modified to offer a local option for testing, which Zenzinger says would be more inclusive.
“We just want to create a pathway for, perhaps, a local assessment that will have greater participation that is a little bit more timely,” she said.
Colorado already has a number of standardized tests that have been preapproved by the state department of education for schools to use locally.
For now, HB 1125’s cosponsors are taking a close look at the federal guidance and working to modify their bill to fit its requirements.
If the bill passes, the governor would need to sign it before the education department could begin to work on requesting a waiver. Gov. Jared Polis has shown hesitation in delaying testing once again, telling lawmakers the pathway to receiving that federal waiver would be difficult.
If the governor does sign the bill, the federal government would then have to sign off on the waiver. So far, seven states have already requested a waiver and at least six others are in the process of doing so.