How Colorado will punish school districts that break opt-out laws

Colorado school districts that pressure students to take standardized tests or make opting out of them a little too easy could see their accreditation rating lowered or stripped entirely starting in 2017.

Sixth grader Quincy Stover takes part in a practice session while preparing for the PARCC tests at Fort Logan Northgate School in Sheridan on  March 5, 2015. (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post)
Sixth grader Quincy Stover takes part in a practice session while preparing for the PARCC tests at Fort Logan Northgate School in Sheridan on March 5, 2015. (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post)

By Nicholas GarciaChalkbeat

Colorado school districts that pressure students to take standardized tests or make opting out of them a little too easy could see their accreditation rating lowered or stripped entirely starting in 2017.

The State Board of Education gave its unanimous approval Wednesday to new rules that require school districts to neither “impose negative consequences” on students who opt out nor encourage them to do so.

The language that is now part of a school district’s accreditation contract, which covers a range of policies, comes from a 2015 law that overhauled the state’s testing system.

Besides codifying parent rights to opt their children out of the state’s standardized tests, the law also trimmed the number of tests students take.

State board chairman Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, asked the education department this spring to make clear to school districts the law had teeth. He was incensed about numerous complaints he was receiving regarding schools pressuring or punishing students who did not take the tests.

“It seems balanced,” Durham said this week of the rules. “It’s straightforward and covers both constituencies.”

So what happens if similar complaints surface next spring?

It’s a lengthy process: After a complaint is received, an investigation would begin. If the department finds the district is out of compliance, the district would have 90 days to resolve the issue.

If the district does nothing, the department could impose “interventions,” according to the accreditation contract. If the department still isn’t satisfied with the district’s response, it can ask the state board to lower or remove the district’s accreditation rating.

No district has ever lost its accreditation.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.