AG Slaps Down State Board Waivers on PARCC Testing

Last month, we talked about some State Board of Education weirdness that resulted in a vote to allow districts to apply for waivers from the first half of the state’s new PARCC tests. Called the Performance-Based Assessment, this portion of PARCC is administered in March. Since then, we’ve seen some entertaining fireworks at board meetings over the issue, including a particularly fun meeting in Jefferson County that saw a board member illegally abstaining from a vote—an action ironically taken under the pretext that she could not “violate board policy or the law.” According to Chalkbeat, 10 districts have applied for the waiver.

Being the curious policy explorer that I am, I’ve had many conversations with a variety of knowledgeable adults on this topic. What does the Performance-Based assessment do exactly? What happens if we don’t take it? Does the State Board have the authority to provide these waivers? When will our new attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, issue an official opinion?

Other than a CDE statement instructing districts to “continue implementing state and federal law” until an official opinion is issued and an unofficial opinion issued by an assistant AG, the answers to these questions were usually shrugs and various interpretations of one of my favorite parent-defense phrases: “I dunno.”

Well, it looks like we now at least have an official answer to the legality question. The Colorado Attorney General issued an opinion yesterday stating in no uncertain terms that these waivers are not permitted under Colorado law. Feel free to read the entire opinion if you’d like. It’s mercifully short, and it probably causes significantly less permanent brain damage than reading through USDOE’s response to CDE inquiries on federal law surrounding assessments last year. If you’d rather snag the quick-and-dirty version, Chalkbeat provides a good breakdown:

Coffman found that the State Board isn’t authorized to grant waivers for three legal reasons:

1. The legislature has granted the board only limited waiver powers.

2. The board doesn’t have the legal discretion to direct how the Department of Education administers statewide tests

3. Neither the board nor the department have the legal discretion to modify the PARCC tests.

So there you have it. But does this really change much? No, not really. We still need to talk about how often we should assess our kids—a topic tackled recently by my Independence Institute friend Ross Izard. But that’s only part of the issue.

We also need to have a serious discussion about which tests we ought to be using, and PARCC’s onerous scheduling and logistical issues should most certainly be included in that conversation. There are a few bills in the legislature aimed at wrestling with this topic, though it remains to be seen how their various ideas will play out—and how those ideas might affect (or be affected by) other parts of the sticky testing knot.

As much as I wish I had all the answers for you right now, I don’t. But rest assured that Little Eddie is on the case. See you next time!