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5 Denver Schools Prevail In Battle To Waive Tests

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Five Denver elementary schools seeking to exercise newly won authority earned a significant victory this month when the Denver Board of Education approved the schools' requests to waive some testing requirements.

The action, the first such vote under the city's year-old school-based governance system, came a week after a contentious board meeting at which school officials and representatives of collaborative decisionmaking bodies--the local governing boards established by a 1991 teachers' contract--engaged in a heated war of words.

The members of the local school panels had criticized central administrators for failing to act quickly on the waiver requests and for enacting a new testing policy without seeking their input. (See Education Week, March 4, 1992.)

Dorothy Gotlieb, the president of the board, later apologized for offending anyone with her choice of words. She said last week that the "discomfort'' at the meeting reflected the strains of a new system of running the schools.

"We came from a fairly closed institution, and broke it open,'' she said. "In the beginning, sometimes, it isn't easy.''

Waivers 'Not the Problem'

The board's action this month was the first test of a system, engineered last year by Gov. Roy Romer, that gave substantial authority to each of the city's 110 schools.

Although the waiver requests varied, the five schools generally had sought to reduce their reliance on standardized tests, particularly for primary students, and to use instead alternative forms of assessment, such as portfolios.

The waivers will take effect immediately. The district is scheduled to administer the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, one of the tests affected by the waivers, this week.

Ms. Gotlieb noted, however, that at the request of an ad hoc committee appointed by the board to review the waiver proposals, some of the schools decided to use tests already developed by the district while they develop the new tests.

Barbara Baker, the principal of Montclair Elementary School, one of the schools that requested a waiver, said she hoped the board's action would encourage other schools to consider seeking waivers and change their testing practices.

"We've demonstrated to the board that there's really neat stuff going on out here in schools,'' she said. "I hope other schools start demonstrating the same thing.''

Despite the board's action, however, the head of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association said the union is planning to go ahead with its grievance against the board, which challenged the board's recently adopted testing policy, which had also sparked parent boycotts in some schools.

"The waivers aren't the problem,'' said Rae Garrett, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. "The problem is that they wrote school-board policy on such an important issue without collaboration.''

Ms. Garrett said the union, along with the Denver Elementary School Principals' Association, is forming a committee of parents, teachers, and administrators to write a new testing policy "in a collaborative way.''

"If the district chooses to accept it or not,'' Ms. Garrett said, "is another thing.''

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