Rolling out a full replacement for the CSAP tests in 2014 could cost up to $25.9 million in start-up costs, the State Board of Education was told Wednesday.
That news came at the start of a packed agenda that included some bad news about possible 2012-13 school funding, spirited testimony about whether school districts should opt in or opt out of the new educator evaluation system, ratification of the 2011-12 Building Excellent Schools Today grants and approval of six Denver innovation schools.
The potential start-up cost of a new testing system has caused periodic heartburn in education and legislative circles ever since 2008 passage of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which mandates new tests aligned to new content standards.
Potential costs, and the state’s tight budget situation, have prompted calls by some to cut back on testing. Earlier, seat-of-the-pants estimates put the cost as high as $80 million.
During a brief budget presentation, Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said, “This would be the high end of costs.” He said the department needed to give a number to the governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting as it begins work on the 2011-12 state budget plan.
Assistant Commissioner Jo O’Brien said the $25.9 million estimate for statewide tests includes the addition of social studies tests to the current CSAP list of reading, writing, math and science. The board voted last year to add social studies test once each in the elementary, middle and high school years.
She also said the estimate assumes a paper-and-pencil test like the current CSAPs, with online tests to be phased in over several years. Continuing annual costs for new statewide tests are estimated at $18-$20 million a year, comparable to what the state spends now on the CSAPs.
Colorado has been involved in discussions with two multi-state consortia that have federal grants to develop tests based on the national Common Core Standards that have been adopted by many states, including Colorado.
O’Brien said by one rough estimate Colorado could save $5 million on reading, math and writing tests by using a multi-state test. But she said the department currently is planning for its own tests because of uncertainty about whether multi-state tests will be ready for the 2013-14 school year.
The board is scheduled to receive a fuller briefing Thursday on plans for new tests.
Leanne Emm, assistant commissioner of public school finance, told that board that early word about the 2012-13 school spending isn’t good. “2012-12 will include budget cuts. We’ve heard that from various sources.
She said the governor’s office is currently saying that cuts could range from $175 million to $275 million from 2011-12 spending, which was cut $227 million from last year’s budget.
But she said Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of the House Education Committee, wants to keep funding steady in 2012-13. Massey engineered a plan this year that will reduce the 2011-12 cut to a net amount of $160 million.
“We’re telling districts to be very conservative in their planning,” Emm said.
A public comment hearing on proposed educator evaluations regulations brought out a squad of school district representatives urging the board to be careful about not infringing on local control and going beyond the intent of Senate Bill 10-191.
At issue is a CDE staff proposal that districts be required to opt out of model state evaluation programs rather than opt in.
“Senate Bill 191 does not authorize the state board to require a single model evaluation system nor does it require districts to submit applications,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
Her testimony was echoed by St. Vrain Superintendent John Haddad, Paula Stephenson of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, Floyd Beard of the East Central BOCES, Dale McCall of the Colorado BOCES Association and Elizabeth Superintendent Doug Bissonette.
All said school districts will be more enthusiastic about new evaluation systems if they’re not seen as state “mandates.”
Board member Marcia Neal, R-3rd District, said the discussion “seems a matter of semantics.”
But Deputy Commissioner Diana Sirko admitted she’s even “struggled” with the opt in/opt out issue and promised the board more work on the issue before its September meeting.
The board approved without change the list of BEST grants proposed by the Capital Construction Assistance Board despite a plea for a change in the terms of one grant.
Two representatives of the Ross Montessori School in Carbondale asked the board overrule the construction panel’s decision that the school needed to match 44 percent of the project cost. (Ross was awarded a grant, but the construction board declined its request for a waiver of the full matching requirement.
Leslie Lamont said the match was “impossible” because, as a school authorized by the Charter School Institute, Ross doesn’t have access to local district bond funds.
Ted Hughes, CDE construction division director, explained that state law gives the board few options in cases like this.
Neal indicated her sympathy (the school is in her district) but said, “We cannot go back and change that without taking money from someone else.” More details on grant winners in this story
On a unanimous vote the board approved innovation status for these Denver Public Schools: Green Valley Elementary, Vista Academy, Swigert-McAuliffe International School, Godsman Elementary, McGlone Elementary and Summit Academy.
The decision brings to 21 the number of innovation schools approved by SBE, 19 of them in Denver. Some 7,000 students are now served in DPS innovation schools, which are exempt from various state and local regulations and provisions of union contracts. (See this EdNews story for details on the six schools.)
The board unanimously approved grants to schools from the Colorado Counselor Corps program. The program, which provides funds for schools to beef up counseling programs, was almost cut by the 2011 legislature, but its $4.8 million in funding survived. List of grantees
The board also unanimously approved members of the Education Success Task Force, a committee of legislators and education experts that’s supposed to study ways to help students at key transitions in their school careers and to help reduce the need for college remediation. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education is expected to also ratify the list later in the week. List of members