Governor Ritter is proposing a new bill. Basically, the standards will be revised, and then re-revised every two years, and aligned from pre-school to college. There will be two-tiered high school diplomas: one indicating certain attainment, and another indicating completion of high school. This seems to be similar to New York's "Regents' diploma" scheme; only 42% of students actually receive it. Several other states have similar two-tiered high school diplomas. The intent of the bill is not new, and it is a reaction to the testing dilemma. Make the tests too easy, and everyone passes, so we have no standards. Make tests hard but inconsequential, and kids will not try hard, and your data will be meaningless. Make them hard and tie to graduation, and a lot of kids fail, and what do you do with them? Tell them they need to work harder? So, the compromise that many states use and Colorado seems to be going to is the two-tier diplomas. But that really means that the failing students will get a meaningless pieces of paper, and the diploma that counts will be in the possession of those with privileged backgrounds. The two-tier high school diplomas have been tried in other states, and I do not see any evidence it was successful.
What bothers me about the bill is not its intent and not even its proposed solution, but the utter lack of original thinking in it. I don't know how about others, but I am becoming increasingly bored with educational reform. All fifty states do the same things, call them something different, and fail to learn from each other's errors. The bill will produce a lot of revising and revisions of standards, tests, report matrixes and other stuff without perceptible benefits for K-12 or higher education. Instead of looking for true innovations, Colorado seems to be doing more of the same. The bill reads like a lecture on everything that is right and good, and it is hard imagine the State's power is best applied to lecturing through the law. The substance is lacking.
There is a rival bill in the State legislature, which has much narrower focus. It simply replaces the CSAP for juniors with ACT. It is not that exciting, but at least makes a practical kind of sense. The kids would be trying harder, because colleges really look at ACT scores. But again, it is not clear what level of consequences passing or failure would entail. Those who really hoping to get into college will try their best; those who do not will still pretend to take it, ar won't take at all.
The fundamental problem is this: you cannot require people to do something for free, and require to do it well. It's as simple as that: to test people on how well they do something you need first to make sure they want to do it. If certain activity is involuntary, you can increase the effort in one of two ways: one is fear, and another is to make it voluntary and pay for doing it. While tightening standards and improving teaching seems to be the logical thing to do about elementary education, it is not clear that we are doing something remotely effective on the secondary education. The problem seems to be one of motivation to learn, not of the standards or testing requirement.