K-12 standardized testing compromise wins initial approval in Colorado House

By: - March 8, 2021 5:05 pm

(Getty Images)

Colorado House lawmakers on March 8 gave initial approval to a bill aimed at suspending this spring’s standardized testing for certain elementary school, middle school and high school students.

House Bill 21-1161 — sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Emily Sirota of Denver and Barbara McLachlan of Durango — would cancel some Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS, testing for the 2020-2021 school year. The bill represents a compromise between lawmakers who strongly opposed any standardized testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and those who desired an assessment to identify how students were disadvantaged by remote learning.

Normally, students in grades 5, 8 and 11 take a standardized science assessment in spring semester, while those in grades 3 through 8 take a math assessment and an English language arts assessment.

State Rep. Emily Sirota
State Rep. Emily Sirota, a Democrat from Denver, represents Colorado House District 9. (Colorado General Assembly photo)

If passed by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis, HB-1161 would direct the state to seek a waiver from the federal government granting permission to suspend some of the regular CMAS testing. The grade levels and subjects affected would include:

• Grades 5, 8 and 11 science assessment canceled
• Grades 3, 5 and 7 math assessment canceled
• Grades 4, 6 and 8 English language arts assessment canceled

Students in grades 4, 6 and 8 would still take the math assessment as normal, while those in grades 3, 5 and 7 would take the English language arts assessment. Also, a parent or guardian could request their child take the normal assessments even if the bill passed and suspended the testing requirement for the child’s grade level.

Moreover, the bill would direct the Colorado Department of Education not to use CMAS scores — from this school year or next year — in calculating performance levels for schools, districts and the state as a whole.

Eight of nine legislators who serve on the House Education Committee, including two Republicans, voted in favor of HB-1161 during its hearing March 5. Rep. Mark Baisley, a Roxborough Park Republican, was the sole lawmaker who voted against it.

Rep. Colin Larson, a Republican from Littleton, voted in favor of the bill. On the House floor, Larson encouraged his colleagues to do likewise — though many Republicans have argued that standardized assessments should be kept in place for all grade levels.

“Both sides have given so much and truly met in the middle, and we need to recognize that,” Larson said of the compromise HB-1161 makes, by suspending some assessments but not all.

Larson could not win over everyone.

“We should not waive any testing requirements,” Rep. Andy Pico, a Colorado Springs Republican, said on the House floor before voting against HB-1161.

“We need to understand just how devastating this has been to our children and grandchildren, and you do that by testing,” Pico said. “Not by skipping a test.”

Rep. Jeni Arndt, a Fort Collins Democrat, spoke from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. She said she never sent her children to school on a CMAS testing day.

“I fundamentally have always disagreed with the CMAS test because I feel like anything we do in education should be only for the student and their education,” Arndt said before the vote.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Faith Miller was a reporter with Colorado Newsline covering the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories.