Aspen School District joins districts statewide against spring assessments

Citing fallout from the pandemic, a resolution unanimously passed by the Aspen School District Board of Education on Tuesday supports canceling state spring assessment tests.

“Whereas, the mental health of students and staff has been seriously and negatively impacted by stress and concerns related to the pandemic and would be unnecessarily exacerbated by mandatory … state assessments this spring, particularly in light of the academic difficulties teachers and students are already facing due to the pandemic,” said part of the resolution.

Aspen joins Denver, Boulder and other Colorado school districts opposed to giving students end-of-the-year standardized tests known as CMAS — Colorado Measures of Academic Success.

Colorado students in third- through eighth-grades take CMAS to test their literacy in English language arts and proficiency in math. CMAS science tests are given to students in fifth- and eighth-grade, as well as high school juniors.

The Colorado Department of Education has scheduled CMAS to be given April 12 through May 14.

“We are assuming that everything is moving forward,“ Assistant Superintendent Tharyn Mulberry told the board Tuesday of the tests.

Colorado received a government waiver last year to cancel CMAS tests that spring because of the pandemic. This year, the tests are scheduled to take place, and Gov. Jared Polis has indicated he supports the testing to see which school districts are in most need of financial support to address academic shortcomings.

According to the Colorado Department of Education website, “While there is still uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact this year’s instructional settings, a typical state assessment administration season is scheduled to resume in spring 2021 as required by state and federal law. As with most aspects of education, state assessments may need to be adjusted in response to COVID-19 conditions. We will continue to monitor state and federal assessment requirements and expectations as the school year progresses across Colorado and as COVID-19 responses evolve this year.”

The Aspen school board and school officials remain supportive of PSAT and SAT college entrance exams for high school students.

“The CMAS testing is more problematic for our students just because we’re in school, we’re out of school, we’re remote, we’re in person,” ASD Superintendent David Baugh said of the 2020-21 school year, which has seen Aspen schools regularly changing class schedules and learning arrangements because of the pandemic.

In-person classes currently are ongoing at the elementary, middle and high schools.

The ASD resolution also had the support of the District Accountability Committee, which said in a statement attached to the board’s agenda that it wants SATs to remain in place this year.

Colorado residents divided on issue

A survey commissioned Jan. 5 to 10 by Democrats for Education Reform, Ready Colorado and Colorado Succeeds said 46% of 600 respondents — all registered voters — favored students taking the tests, with 41% opposed. Administered by Telluride-based Keating Research, the same poll showed 62% of the respondents in favor of end-of-year testing if the CMAS results were not used for teacher or school accountability and used strictly to assess student performance. Twenty-five percent were in opposition.

Advocates of spring testing argue that assessing students’ progress is equally as important now as it when there is not a pandemic.

“Not testing, not measuring a student’s academic growth and progress, and not looking after the students’ educational health is a disservice to these children and amounts to abandonment,” wrote state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer (R-District 23, which encompasses Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties), in an op-ed published Tuesday in The Denver Post.

“Assessments have always been one important tool for measuring student progress,” said Leslie Colwell, vice president of Education Initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign, in a media statement issued earlier this month. “This year, when students’ worlds have been upended and schools have employed dramatically different models of instruction, they’re essential for understanding the impact that COVID-19 has had on our kids and where opportunity gaps have widened.”

Yet another survey — the results of which were released Feb. 4 by Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance — showed approximately 58% of 729 respondents (also registered voters) in favor of canceling spring tests. Thirty-eight percent supported holding the standardized exams. Boulder-based Harstad Strategic Research administered the survey Jan. 19 to 24.

“We care deeply about making sure all our students are learning, especially during the pandemic,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association, in a statement. “But when students and educators are struggling, bouncing between in-person, virtual and hybrid learning depending on the COVID-19 conditions in their community, administering the CMAS this spring would be irresponsible. The wisest thing to do is to focus every single second on instruction so our students are able to concentrate on learning and maintaining their mental health until the pandemic subsides.”

Testing alone takes up “on CMAS is expected to be less than 1.5 percent of typical students’ total instructional time,” according to CDE.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 vaccinations were administered to ASD faculty and staff Friday and more doses will be given this Friday, Baugh told the board. About 260 people, an estimated 85% participation rate for ASD, were vaccinated last week, Baugh said.

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