A Republican-sponsored effort to delay implementation of controversial new standardized school testing mandates failed in a legislative committee on Feb. 13.
The federal Common Core State Standards Initiative sets guidelines for what every K-12 student should know about math and language arts at each grade level, in hopes that the kids will be better prepared for college.
During a Feb. 13 Senate Education Committee hearing, supporters of the initiative — which the state adopted into the Colorado Academic Standards in 2010 — lauded the assessment as an optimum way to set minimum standards that give kids the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in life.
But opponents insisted that the standards are expensive, burdensome on districts to implement, and also argued that students are drowning in assessment tests already.
That polarization was the motivation behind Senate Bill 136, which would have delayed all new, statewide assessments for a year. It also would have set up a task force designed to look into the adoption and implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards in an effort to determine whether the state's participation in the Common Core initiative is worth it.
"All it's asking for is nothing special; no changes, just a time out," said Sen. Vicky Marble, R-Fort Collins, the bill's sponsor.
Marble told the committee that implementation costs associated with the standardized tests are "enormous" and that the state would benefit from the delay.
But the majority of committee members didn't agree. The Democrat-led committee rejected Marble's bill on a 4-3 party-line vote, following a lengthy and often emotional hearing that even resulted in a couple of lawmakers trying to hold back tears.
Although he heard testimony that "will give him a lot of things to think about going home," Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, said he is supportive of the standards.
"I am still a believer that we can build a set of rigorous standards," he said. "I don't think the answer is to pause on this."
States can voluntarily adopt Common Core standards and 45 states and the District of Columbia have done so. Colorado's State Board of Education decided to adopt the standards after a study determined that the federal math and English standards were closely aligned with those that the state was already using.
Colorado schools adopted the standards through its participation of the PARCC multi-state consortia - Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Through PARCC, Common Core testing is set to begin next year.
Testimony on Marble's bill lasted several hours inside the Old Supreme Court Chambers, the Capitol's largest committee hearing room. Supporters of the bill cited several reasons as to why committee members should put the standards on hold.
Sandra Stotsky, a longtime educator and national opponent of Common Core standards, began her testimony by telling the committee that New York lawmakers had voted the day before to delay its Common Core implementation for three years.
She said that New York has it right because Common Core's math standards don't prepare them for the next instructional levels and that the ability of local school boards to dictate their own curriculum "was wiped out overnight" by the 2010 State Board of Education decision.
"(Common Core) is a sticky jar of molasses that was voted on by a State Board of Education that didn't know what it was doing," she said.
Others were critical of the demands that assessments place on school districts' technology. Stephanie Pico of the Cherry Creek School District said that lack of human and technological resources cause stress "and a sense of helplessness" among teachers who are already overwhelmed by technology issues.
Others testified that the federal standards dictate curriculum, which undermines local control of how schools should operate. Monument Academy Principal Lis Richard told the committee that the connection between assessment standards and curriculum is "inseparable."
"I believe the intentions have been good, but ill advised," she said. "Adopting a national form of standards has never been proven to reform education. Our footprint for the instructional time we're going to miss (leaves us) very concerned."
Others said that students are buried under assessment tests to begin with. George Sader, a former educator, testified that assessment standards like Common Core force a child who is slow to develop in school "to run faster than he can run."
"We're reaching the point where we test more than we teach," Sader said.
But Common Core supporters said the standards help students develop critical thinking across all instructional areas and that it helps develop equity in the learning system.
Elizabeth Miner, a physical education teacher who was named the 2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year, said the uniform standards provide students "a consistent and clear understanding of what students are required to learn." And Jessica Keigan, a teacher at Thornton's Horizon High School, said the standards "help kids grasp complex ideas."
Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said her organization strongly supports Colorado Academic Standards, which she said affords equal footing for students without placing a ceiling on what they can learn.
Dallman said the problem isn't with assessment testing, but with teachers' lack of resources in the classroom.
"A lack of resources negatively impact implementation of those standards," she said. "It's the perfect storm of implementation and lack of resources."
The hearing, which lasted more than six hours, became emotional toward the end with one witness offering tearful testimony in support of the bill. And Marble and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, each had to compose themselves prior to the committee wrapping up the hearing.