State Board Gets Weird on Testing Issue

My little legs are tired from my various policy field trips this week, so I’m going to sit down, rest, and use the brief respite to catch you up on the most interesting piece of education news this week: Yesterday’s unexpected motion and surprising vote by the Colorado State Board of Education. I may also pound down a quick snack. I’ve got to keep my strength up for the coming heavy-weight bout in Jeffco, after all.

Yesterday, the State Board sat down to do its thing, which you may be unsurprised to learn consists of voting on stuff related to education. Normally, this can be a fairly dry process. This meeting turned out to be a little different, as newly appointed board member Steve Durham brought forward an unscheduled motion to allow school districts to waive out of the first portion of state-mandated PARCC testing. For those who don’t know, PARCC has two parts: A performance-based assessment administered in March and an end-of-year assessment administered in late April or May.

The legality of the motion was swiftly challenged by Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl, who told the board members that despite wide latitude to waive certain portions of state statute, they likely did not have the authority to waive this particular requirement. Durham, however, seemed unconcerned. Chalkbeat reports that he said the following:

“If the commissioner elects not to grant those [waivers] that’s up to him … I believe a much fuller legal analysis is required, and I fully intend to meet with the attorney general.” Interviewed after the meeting, Durham said, “I hope someone makes a waiver request and moves it forward. … Should the commissioner decide he does not want to grant a waiver, then someone who applies for a waiver and is not granted one can litigate the question.”

I got a chance to watch Steve Durham in action earlier this week, and I must say that I admire his gumption. Others may not have been quite so impressed. Marcia Neal, the new State Board chair, strongly opposed the motion. Neal cited what I agree are legitimate concerns about the State Board’s ability to provide such waivers without legislative changes. She also highlighted some of the potential consequences of doing so.

This is where stuff gets a little weird. The motion passed on a 4-3 vote, but that 4-3 vote was not at all what most observers would have expected. Val Flores, not viewed by many as a likely ally of the board’s more conservative members, sided with Steve Durham, Pam Mazanec, and Deb Scheffel on the “aye” side of the motion, while Marcia Neal sided unexpectedly with Democrats Jane Goff and Angelika Schroeder in voting against the motion.

This all comes on the heels of Angelika Schroeder being appointed to the vice chair position on the board, a surprising move by Marcia Neal that earned her a scolding by Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call.

I promised you an interesting 2015, and I am a kid of my word. What remains to be seen is whether the board’s schism is temporary or merely the first showing of new, strange alliances. Meanwhile, I find myself torn. I strongly support local flexibility when it comes to testing, but I also believe policy should fit snuggly into a soft, secure cradle of legal validity. I anxiously await the AG’s opinion.

Have a great weekend!