Two former governors, Roy Romer and Bill Owens, joined current Gov. John Hickenlooper at the state capitol to urge lawmakers not to go too far in reducing the numbers of standardized assessments school children take. This comes as legislators are debating several bills to lower the number of exams.
Republican Bill Owens said it's important to have standards and test against those standards to see if students are learning what they should, and to evaluate schools and teachers.
"Our friends from the left and the right for differing reasons, don't want to test, don't want to measure, don't want to have accountability," said Owens. "This is stunning to me."
The state's largest teacher's union, along with many parents and teachers has said students are spending roughly a third of the school year preparing for and taking standardized tests. There's been a bipartisan movement at the capitol to find a way to free up more time in the classroom.
"Time that they could be learning material, time that could be inspiring our children to learn. The system of testing right now is a crushing burden," said Kerrie Dallman the President of the Colorado Education Association.
Dallman said her organization is most supportive of Senate Bill 257 [.pdf]. The bipartisan proposal would bring the state back to the federal minimum requirements for testing, which mandate annual tests in English and Math in grades 3-8, and one test between 10-11th grades. Science would be tested each year in grades 3-5 and once in middle school and once in high school.
Some education advocates and the business community believe this proposal is too extreme. It leaves some testing decisions up to local schools districts. The elimination of ninth grade testing in the bill is also a sticking point. Former Democratic Gov. Roy Romer said ninth grade tests are critical to set the stage for high school.
"It's just nonsensical to not ask what is the level of performance you have so we can get you into the kind of education you best benefit from," said Romer. "Why would anybody not want the parent to have that information, not have the student have that information?"
Romer's administration put statewide education standards in place for Colorado. After three-terms as Governor, Romer then spent seven years serving as the Superintendent of the Los Angeles public school system.
"They're going to compete against a world that's very well educated. I want to make sure each year of education that child is being challenged," said Romer.
"I want to be sure there is adequate and accurate testing, and I want to be sure it's uniform for all children."
It's highly unusual for former Governors to join a current Governor and advocate on policy matters making their way through the statehouse. Hickenlooper said Owens reached out to him and asked if they could be of assistance.
"The discussion has largely focused on the recent past, and I think we've lost sight as a state of how long we've been working on this transformation of our schools," said Hickenlooper, noting that the reform effort has typically brought a lot of people together. "This is something until very recently pretty much everyone agreed to."
A bipartisan school-testing bill in the House is also gaining traction at the capitol. It allows for more tests than the Senate version. Reaching an agreement on reduced school tests is a top priority for lawmakers in both parties and the Governor has even said the state probably has too many tests. Time is short though, with a few weeks left in the session to try and figure out how and where to cut back.