KATIE PICKRELL//KELSEY PHARIS
Funding is arguably Colorado’s largest educational issue, mainly due to the broadened problems regarding where money is effectively spent.
“Money is a necessary but not sufficient [resource],” Lieutenant Governor Joseph Garcia said.
Though Colorado is ranked ninth in overall educational performance, the state falls 41st in funding per pupil at just over $8,500, thus leaving large gaps in effective funding. Because Colorado is the only state with Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), it isn’t possible to raise revenue through higher taxes without the approval of the people. Public education in Colorado accounts for approximately 26 percent of the total state expenditures.
Many argue that educational systems need more money to produce a more secure and productive learning environment. The top-ranked schools in the United States, though inconsistent with funding in some places, habitually align with higher funding.
“[We should] give money to students to have a measured pathway that allows the students and parents to choose the way that would the best possible education to their children,” state Colorado Rep. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument) said. Lundeen is a proponent of encouraging the utilization of charter schools, but maintains the belief that public education in the United States is “a sphere in which more dollars spent has not translated into a better education for our children.”
One of the largest arguments regarding Colorado’s educational standards lies in standardized testing. Mandates such as Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) have been criticized for their irrelevance to students.
Standardized testing, while providing a basis by which to judge educational prosperity across large amounts of students, cannot always be defined as an accurate assessment of student achievement and teacher proficiency.
“How do we improve quality and how do we make it consistent?” Garcia rhetorically questioned of the mandated standards for Colorado schools. “Students who show up for college — they may both have a high school diploma that was just issued a few months earlier, but they come in at totally different levels college readiness and preparation.”
Garcia believes one of the most pervasive issues in Colorado public education is the lack of consistency between districts. “In some districts 100 percent of kids test into remedial courses and in others virtually none do,” he said.
Because most students either do not understand the importance of government-mandated tests (or simply do not care) they are highly unlikely to utilize their best efforts toward taking them.
“Students don’t like it and they don’t see the value in it,” Garcia said.
This provides the idea that standardized testing is nothing but a waste of time. Many would argue it is even more important is that the mandates are also a waste of scarce resources.
“We have gone overboard with standardized testing at this point,” Colorado Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) said. “There’s a lot of state-mandated tests and local school districts also have their own tests.” The idea Hamner supports is to find the delicate balance between the amount of state mandates and the acknowledgement of the individual needs of students.
Without a system in place to judge the prosperity of students across a mandated line of standards, it’s impossible to know exactly how states compare to each other. The lack of uniformity in testing could also prevent the United States as a whole from competing on an educational level with foreign nations.
“We’re working with other colleges in the state to see if they will use the PARCC test at least for placement into college-level classes,” Garcia said. “With PARCC being brand new, we don’t know how it will work, but we think we know how it could work.”
Garcia, who also chairs the Colorado Board of Higher Education, said providing a greater purpose to the PARCC tests for students will allow them to provide greater effort into the exam. “We want everybody to have to opportunity to get into college, so we have to do assessments along the way and do course corrections along the way,” he said.
So far, Colorado has yet to find an appropriate fixed system to determine success of either teachers or students, especially considering that only one college (Adams State University in Alamosa) has agreed to include PARCC testing scores in its admissions criteria. Still, district- and state-mandated testing accounts for 50 percent of teacher evaluation – and, subsequently, teacher pay.
In its first year, the PARCC assessment has not yet proven to be a solution for Colorado’s issues regarding conformity and cost efficiency, but a method of standardized testing that is implicated through the states may prove helpful to students, teachers, schools, districts and parents.
“The standards are the floor, not the ceiling,” Garcia said.