Whichever Way You Look, Colorado Seems to be Stuck in a Testing Rut

I came across a story in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times under the headline: “Majority of California’s Latino voters highly value school testing.” Given the state of affairs in Colorado, how could something like that escape my attention?

A majority of Latino voters, 55%, said mandatory exams improve public education in the state by gauging student progress and providing teachers with vital information. Nearly the same percentage of white voters said such exams are harmful because they force educators to narrow instruction and don’t account for different styles of learning.

The survey, sponsored by the Times, found that even higher percentages of Californians (77% Latino, 56% White, 64% Total) agreed that “students’ achievement and progress on standardized tests” should be an important or the most important factor in teacher pay and evaluations. That finding casts even more doubt on the suspect poll finding trumpeted by the National Education Association last year.

Especially interesting, given this is the state that gave us last year’s earth-shattering Vergara ruling. Though no one seems to have consulted the Colorado Education Association president, who recently told legislators that “all teachers do the same job.”

On the one hand, the California poll yields the interesting opinion divide between groups of people based on their race, and more likely their economic status. People in poverty who care about their children’s education need some reliable way to show the schools aren’t shortchanging students, that their kids are learning something. Wealthier folks have the luxury of feeling concerned about student stress levels and wanting to lean on alternative measures of student performance. It would be interesting to see a similar survey done in Colorado.

For one, I like both choice AND accountability. Without a universal choice system, which isn’t coming soon, we need some kind of consistent measure for families to compare results in crossing neighborhood and district lines, or choosing charters. That’s why I can smile at the version of Senate Bill 223 that passed the Colorado Senate. It affirms parental rights to opt out of state tests, while ensuring a “good-faith” effort to test every child, thus preserving accountability.

But when it comes to the bigger policy picture of testing and standards, Colorado can’t seem to find a light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, we are led right back into that murky maelstrom of testing, accountability, parental rights, and union manipulation. Remember what my Education Policy Center friend Ross Izard had to say a month ago? You know, all that bit about “strange bedfellows” that I don’t quite understand? His conclusion rings as true as ever:

As the debate over testing and evaluation grows increasingly complex, the strange alignment of conservatives and teachers unions has resulted in an immensely confusing political landscape. On the surface, it appears that both sides want the same things: Opt-out rights for parents, a decrease in testing time, and less onerous tests. Dig a little deeper, though, and problems with that narrative begin to emerge. These problems—and the stark differences in motivation they illustrate—merit careful consideration. Now more than ever, it is critically important that decisions are made from sound philosophical and policy positions rather than on the basis of political expediency.

The funny thing is Colorado legislature has expressed a strong consensus on the need to reduce standardized testing, but there doesn’t seem to be enough agreement on other details to actually forge a solution. Can a balance be struck, or will this issue fester and the frustrations linger into 2016? We don’t seem to be any further along than 6 months ago, when I told you the issue wasn’t going away soon. Somehow, I get this sinking feeling that we’re stuck in a testing rut.