A much-feared boycott of standardized tests has come to fruition in Colorado, with thousands of students in some of the state’s top-performing school districts opting out of new standardized tests in an act of collective protest.
The boycott was expected, but its scale was not. According to data collected by the Denver Post, about 1,900 students at nine different high schools in Douglas County have refused to take the tests, a number that represents over half the relevant student body at those schools. In Boulder County, another 1,200 are believed to have defied the tests. In some individual schools, the boycott is almost total with over 95 percent of students participating.
The tests in question are Colorado’s CMAS tests in social studies and science. In particular, ire is being directed at the administration of the tests to high school seniors, which is happening for the first time this year. While there has been a great deal of fuss nationwide over Common Core multistate standards and their intersection with standardized tests, the protests in Colorado are actually unrelated, as Common Core only covers English and math.
Provided the students had their abstentions justified, they are not in danger of being punished for their actions.
Still, many students held protests outside their schools to make the point that they were seeking change rather than simply playing hooky.
The changes sought by students are summarized in a YouTube video created by some student leaders.
The criticisms leveled against the new CMAS tests are diverse. One major complaint is the cost of the tests. Developing and administering the tests costs tens of millions of dollars that could be put towards other education priorities like better books or improved facilities.
Students also complain that testing highs school seniors is gratuitous, as the tests’ fall administration interferes with college applications and produces results that aren’t even released until after students graduate.
Even if testing were a good idea, students complaint that the test as currently written doesn’t closely align with what they are taught. For example, the social studies test includes an economics component, even though Colorado does not require high schoolers to take any economics.
Others have criticized the effect the tests have on other students’ learning. At several high schools classes for freshmen, sophomore, and juniors were canceled entirely for the two days it takes to administer.
Several educational officials, including the state’s education commissioner and local superintendents, have expressed a degree of sympathy for the demonstrating students, but the only body with the power to alter the state’s test regimen is the Colorado legislature. A task force commissioned by the legislature is currently evaluating the state’s tests and will make recommendations come January.
Some school officials had begged parents to not launch the boycott, since schools that fail to sustain at least 95 percent test participation and have their accreditation rating lowered by the state. Consistently poor accreditation can trigger a host of penalties that schools would rather avoid.
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