Aurora lawmaker’s bill could change high school testing

Currently, Colorado high school freshmen are required to take the PARCC test in English language arts and math, but Todd wants to give districts the option of offering the PSAT, ACT Aspire or an equivalent test in lieu of the CMAS assessment

AURORA | In spring 2016, roughly a quarter of Aurora Public Schools 11th graders opted to not participate in the Colorado Measures of Academic Success PARCC science test. In Cherry Creek School District, it was a staggering 71 percent.

But that same year, nearly 82 percent and 88 percent of APS and CCSD sophomores, respectively, took the PSAT. According to Sen. Nancy Todd, these numbers point to a serious problem with high school testing: students aren’t “buying into” the PARCC test.

This legislative session Todd is introducing a bill that would give districts more flexibility when it comes to testing ninth graders. Currently, Colorado high school freshmen are required to take the PARCC test in English language arts and math, but Todd wants to give districts the option of offering the PSAT, ACT Aspire or an equivalent test in lieu of the CMAS assessment.

In 2016, roughly 63 percent and 74 percent of CCSD and APS ninth graders took the PARCC test in ELA. Todd said participation numbers could be much higher if districts were given more leeway.

“What message we’ve given to our communities is one of confusion,” said Todd, who represents Aurora’s Senate District 28. “What test are you going to give? We went from the CCAP to the TCAP to the PARCC…and people are just saying ‘make a decision.’ My hope is that we make the decision that it’s something really relevant like the PSAT or ACT.”

Timeliness is a major reason the PSAT or ACT would be more helpful to students, Todd said. Last year 10th graders in Colorado took both the PSAT and PARCC tests in March and the results for the former came back in June while the PARCC scores didn’t come back until October.

According to the Judy Skupa, the assistant superintendent for academic performance, the longer turnaround between getting results and administering the next test is one reason CCSD would be very receptive to offering the PSAT or ACT to freshmen in lieu of PARCC.

“That feedback is really critical because when you think about getting feedback in October or November. We’re talking about making changes in a very short period of time,” Skupa said. “But when we get that data back at the end of the school year in May or June, the teachers really have that opportunity to look at results the whole summer and those adjustments are much easier to make prior to students arriving then in the middle of a year.”

But while Skupa is enthusiastic about Todd’s bill, she hopes what the legislature does this year in regards to testing doesn’t start and stop at the ninth-grade level.

“What we would like for from our state is that they begin to really think about the assessments they are requiring of students K-12…instead of looking at this bit-by-bit,” she said. “While those little changes are appreciated, it’s hard to build a comprehensive system when you’re just chipping away at each little grade level.”

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