More than 1,500 Boulder Valley high-school students — 84 percent of the district's seniors — refused to take the state's new science and social studies tests Thursday in a widespread protest against how much classroom time is devoted to standardized testing.
At Boulder's Fairview High, nine out of 530 eligible seniors took the test, while about 200 seniors showed up at the school to wave signs, collect food and school supplies for holiday drives, and write letters to policymakers.
"That we had so many students out there in the freezing weather really shows how committed we are," Fairview senior Jessica Piper said. "We had a really good turnout."
Seniors, for the first time, are taking state science and social studies tests, with Boulder Valley and many other districts in the state scheduling the test for Thursday and Friday. In previous years, ninth- and 10th-graders took state tests, while juniors took the ACT and seniors were exempt.
Students in other districts also failed to show for the tests, with parents in both Boulder Valley and elsewhere agreeing to opt them out.
Those parental refusals were concentrated in a few of the state's highest-performing and most affluent school districts.
At nine Douglas County high schools, nearly 1,900 students did not take the tests, or more than half the overall student population at those schools, according to preliminary data provided by the district.
The student protests come as educators and parents are raising concerns that too much time is now spent on testing, with Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger agreeing that the state hasn't found "the right balance."
He added that the students did a good job of demonstrating their concern.
"We hope it will generate good discussion around these assessments," he said.
'Protesting in the freezing cold'
A state task force, with a report due to the state Legislature by Jan. 31, is now investigating testing cost, timelines, impact on instruction and opt-out options.
In a statement Thursday, Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said he hears the concerns about the timing and volume of testing.
"I understand the frustration," Hammond said. "I am fully committed to evaluating how the testing goes and working with districts and policymakers to identify ways to improve. I know that together we will find the best pathway forward that yields the best results for students."
Along with protesting, seniors at Fairview, Broomfield High and Centaurus High wrote an open letter — complete with footnotes — to the community about the reasons behind the protest.
At Fairview on Thursday morning, senior Cody Limber said students wanted to make their displeasure over the standardized tests heard.
"We're not happy with not only the money being spent, but with the time being spent," he said.
Added senior Emma Boelts, "We're all out here protesting in the freezing cold for our educational rights."
The students are planning to continue the protest Friday.
Students 'were very thoughtful'
Fairview Principal Don Stensrud said he was "very proud of the students for exercising their rights."
"They were very thoughtful in their planning," he said. "They wanted to make sure it wouldn't cause any harm to the district."
While this first round of senior science and social studies tests won't count for school accountability measures, districts will be held accountable for reaching a 95 percent participation rate. If Boulder Valley's participation is lower, Messinger said, the district will need to show that it made an effort to get students to test or face a lower state accreditation rating.
Schools gave new state science and social studies tests in elementary and middle school in the spring. New online tests in reading and math will debut in the spring of 2015.
The Colorado Department of Education estimates that third-graders will spend 490 minutes on tests, fourth- and fifth-graders 800 minutes, sixth graders 570 minutes, seventh- and eighth-graders 840 minutes, ninth- and 10th-graders 600 minutes, juniors — who take the ACT along with state tests — 795 minutes, and seniors 540 minutes.
The Denver Post contributed to this report.