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High school seniors throughout Colorado refused to participate Nov. 5 and 6 in a state-mandated test. Many school leaders, parents and students hope the expected low participation rate sends a clear message about what they believe is excessive standardized testing.
“People don't always listen to educators, but they do listen to parents and students,” Cherry Creek School District spokeswoman Tustin Amole said. “This may be very helpful in letting policy makers know how parents and students feel.”
A state education official said the student response likely will result in significant discussion.
The first week in November was the beginning of three weeks of state-issued social studies and science tests for high school seniors called the Colorado Measures of Academic Success.
Colorado students in fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grades underwent CMAS testing in spring 2014.
The online test is a partial replacement for both the original Colorado Student Assessment Program, administered until 2011, and the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, issued in 2012 and 2013. Those exams were designed to test third- through 10th-grade students' math, science, reading and writing skills.
A separate CMAS test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College & Career, will test third- through 11-grade students in reading writing and math beginning in spring 2015.
Seniors added to testing schedule
CMAS adds social studies to the list of subjects and comes with another twist: It added seniors to the list of those expected to take the six-hour test.
Castle View High School senior Rachel Decker is among hundreds who didn't take the CMAS assessment at her Castle Rock school. As an outgoing student, Decker said the test won't benefit her academically and has no bearing on her future plans.
“My parents were in full agreement with me,” she said. “I know only about 50 students who actually took the test, and some of them just made up answers or drew pictures in the (test) bubbles.”
The decision to add testing at the 12-grade level was in part because the exams are designed to test knowledge acquired throughout high school, said Joyce Zurkowski, the Colorado Department of Education's director of assessment, and to allow schools control over when in the four-year high school schedule to offer the instruction.
But she said state officials knew scheduling a standardized test for seniors was a gamble.
“We knew we were approaching a line with the fall of 12th grade,” Zurkowski said, but added the options appeared limited. “I don't think (the students' response) was completely unanticipated. In the long run, I don't know that it will stay at fall of 12 grade.”
In the future, Zurkowski said state assessments may be made more meaningful, perhaps by linking them to higher education or post-high school work places.
“Long term, will kids have to take both the ACT and PARCC in Colorado?” she said. “I don't know.”
Logistical challenges in DougCo
Student investment in taking the tests isn't the only issue.
Both the number of computers and the length required for CMAS testing presented high schools in Douglas County with challenges. Castle View, Rock Canyon, Chaparral and Douglas County high schools gave underclassmen two half-days Nov. 5 and 6 to accommodate the testing. Schedule changes also were expected Nov. 12 and 13 during testing at Highland Ranch, Mountain Vista and ThunderRidge high schools. Make-up test dates also were designated.
Despite the accommodation, many Douglas County School District seniors either let school leaders know they were opting out of the Nov. 5 and 6 tests, or didn't show up for them.
Several DCSD principals contacted about students opting out of CMAS testing did not return calls to Colorado Community Media, and the district referred questions on CMAS to state education officials.
Several Castle View parents, students and teachers said well over 50 percent of the high school's students did not attend the sessions. Some seniors at the other DCSD schools that scheduled tests for Nov. 5 and 6 also opted not to participate.
Testing is set for Nov. 13 and 14 at high schools in Cherry Creek and Boulder Valley, where leaders said student unrest is clear.
“There's been quite a bit of conversation about students opting out,” Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger said. “I've met with students. They've communicated with me. I'm not upset with the students. These are very high-performing students — these aren't students who are motivated to skip school. Most of them will be in college (when results come back).
“If it were of great benefit to them individually or to our school district, we might take a stronger stance. I'm not going to force the students to take a test.”
At Cherry Creek, Amole said the district is requesting only that parents notify the school of the absence if a student chooses not to take the test. Amole said student discussions reflect those of parents and other adults concerned about excessive testing.
“We need to respect our kids,” she said. “They are adults, or nearly adults, and need to make choices for themselves about what they think is the best thing for them to do.”
Impacts for schools
Colorado Department of Education officials said they need 95 percent of students at each school to participate in the test to ensure they have accurate data, a figure set by federal legislation. The data helps education leaders make state, district and school-level policy decisions, according to the CDE.
Without that participation rate, a school's performance framework rating could drop one level. The state's performance framework includes four levels, ranking a school's academic achievement and postsecondary readiness, among other factors.
Schools are not impacted financially by test participation percentages.
Districts can, however, file a request for reconsideration if a school's rating changes. They must then provide evidence to the state of a good-faith effort to test all students.
The state already knows that at least some students are taking the tests. As of 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 6 — with two more weeks of testing to go — Zurkowski said seniors had completed 25,000 assessments. If every student took the test, the CDE would receive 110,000 assessments, she said.
Messinger said Boulder Valley will make a good-faith effort to administer the test. He's optimistic the student response could prompt change.
“Our hope is over time our state board of education and Legislature will listen to this input, and maybe consider a better balance,” he said. “We aren't saying there isn't any need for assessment. This just seems like way too much for us.”
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