SOUTHERN COLORADO — Advocates continue to push for delaying standardized testing for the rest of the school year as the COVID-19 pandemic proceeds to disrupt education.
"It's been a struggle for everyone, it's been a struggle for educators. Everyone wants the kids in school, parents who are working and single parents," said Jennifer Peltier, Lewis-Palmer School District 38 parent.
"There have definitely been some challenges, switching to online school was not anything we would have ever wanted. Obviously, if we wanted to be homeschooling in the first place we would have been. We made the transition and we had some rough hurdles to get through, but we've really ironed those out," said Crystal Starkey, Lewis-Palmer School District 38 parent.
As students continue to take standardized tests and prepare for more, parents are raising concerns over the learning gaps brought on by the pandemic.
"Some of the testings have gone well, the most recent one he took he told me after taking it, mom I'm not sure what half that stuff was so I think some learning gaps are occurring," said Starkey.
While it may not be the best time for standardized tests, parents say they want them to continue to see where students are academically and the resources needed to help them succeed.
"I don't think we should necessarily tie funding to our testing given the challenges of this year, but I still think it makes sense to have the testing done," said Peltier. "I'm certainly not challenging what educators might say, so if they think it's best to postpone it then I'm certainly fine with that but I just think it doesn't hurt to have the information."
Parents say testing should continue if it's not too difficult for school districts and teachers.
"We need to know where our baseline is, we need to understand where our students are across the state in different income levels and different situations so we can understand what kind of gaps we have this year," said Starkey.
Earlier this school year, the Pikes Peak Area Superintendents Association along with the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education sent letters to the Colorado Department of Education pushing for standardized tests to be postponed.
"We all agree that this is not the year to administer a low value, very disruptive, assessment system," said Peter Hilts, Pikes Peak Area Superintendents Association.
The group continues its efforts to get Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) suspended for the school year.
With emerging bilingual students preparing to take the Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State (ACCESS) test in-person, advocates say they're not stopping the push to get it postponed or some of the requirements changed.
"We are on Spanish language television and Spanish language radio stations, primarily in the four and five biggest school districts that have the largest numbers of emerging bilingual students to try and get the word out and tell parents what their rights are. Their right is to protect the safety and health of their children and families by refusing to take this test," said Jorge Garcia, the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education.
He says they're continuing to work with the Colorado Department of Education to make it clear to families that they're not required to take the ACCESS test.
"We're attempting to get them to tell the truth with respect to parent's rights. We've been trying to get them to send out communication that parents have the right to take the test and they have the right not to take the test. They have been reluctant to use that wording although it is the correct wording, it is the honest wording," said Garcia.
He says the education department is failing to provide families with clear information in regards to the test.
"The commissioner said to us in writing that the test was voluntary for parents without adding any qualifications to that. Now the department is saying that the test is voluntary only if the student is in remote learning. They're relying on two laws that don't require students to take the test, and neither law prohibits students from opting out of the test, yet the department says only if they're in remote learning can they opt out of the test which is wrong," said Garcia.
He says the safety precautions in place are not sufficient enough for a test that involves speaking, listening, and reading.
"All of the safety precautions that they speak about are precautions that were developed to allow students to come back into school. For instance, they say if you're going to reuse the materials you should wipe them off. There's no directive, it's like you should do this to keep it clean but they say absolutely nothing about the proper way to sanitize a microphone," said Garcia.
The Colorado Department of Education says while they understand their concern, they believe schools are low-risk environments for the virus.
"The research that the Colorado Department of Public Health has done shows that schools are a relatively safe place. The transmission of the COVID-19 virus is not high in schools, they've been successful in implementing safety strategies to keep students and teachers safe. And mitigating any outbreaks," said Dana Smith, Colorado Department of Education.
Since it's a federal and state-required test, the department says they're not within their authority to postpone or make changes to the test.
"We're listening to these concerns, we're very much aware of them. But we're kinda in a holding pattern to see what's going to happen with the legislature, the governor, and the US Department of Education," said Jeremy Meyer, Colorado Department of Education.
As of right now, he says most of the tests are planned to continue unless the US Department of Education steps into the situation.