To applause from a standing-room-only crowd, the Douglas County School Board adopted a resolution Jan. 21 to push for a dramatic reduction in standardized tests.
District leaders said they are working with other Colorado school districts on legislation to free students from an excess of required state and federal testing, and to instead let districts use more individualized methods of measuring student performance. The proposed legislation also would allow parents to opt their children out of such tests without penalty to the student, teacher, school or district.
Many of the community members at the meeting were there to protest recent district issues - and several later delivered harsh critiques during public comment - but the resolution garnered apparently unanimous support.
The board's resolution reflects a growing sentiment nationwide about the rise of standardized tests, triggered by the goal of improving the academic performance of American students.
DCSD leaders say that at one level or another, students are taking tests nearly every school day, most of which are mandated by state law.
The assessments also are tied to teacher pay. In Colorado, recent legislation links 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation to student performance.
DCSD Systems Performance Officer Syna Morgan, whose office facilitates the administration of national, state, and district assessments, said most of the standardized assessments focus on what she calls "lower-end thinking levels." The amount of time and resources required to take the mandated tests infringes on teachers' ability to offer deeper, more meaningful instruction.
"I'm not saying we would throw out every standardized assessment. It's important to have comparability," Morgan told the board. "But right now, we have an overbalance. We're not able to do the work on the higher end of thinking and skills."
Linking the tests to pay puts another layer of pressure on teachers.
"The intent is we do no harm to students and teachers in the rollout of this primary evaluation process," Morgan said. "The more we have school-wide assessments that are meaningful to schools, and part of the balanced assessment that corrects the imbalance, the better it is for teachers."
Technology also is over-taxed, Morgan said, adding that computers used for testing aren't available for instructional purposes.
Students also know which tests merit the most attention. Most focus more intently on the ACT, which assistant superintendent of secondary education Dan McMinimee called "the gateway to get into the college of their choice," than the TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program).
"When they know the test means something, they perform," he said. "I'm not saying they're throwing the test. But to scale back the number of times they're assessed and make the times they are assessed mean more would be very beneficial to our students."
As it did in the DCSD boardroom, Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said the testing issue is uniting school officials statewide.
"This is one topic that no matter if you're in the most rural district, or right here in Denver, everybody is in agreement the amount of assessments to our students has exceeded anything that's logical," she said.