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Half Of Colorado Students Test At Grade Level In Math, Writing

Grace Hood
Bennett High School sophmore Jessica Miller watches a chemistry lecutre on an iPad in 2012.

Colorado released the results of its statewide school tests Thursday, and the results are anything but a surprise.

"This year's [2014] TCAP results look a lot like last year's results. In fact they look like the results from the last several years," said Nicholas Garcia, an education reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado.

TCAP stands for Transitional Colorado Assessment Program. It's called transitional because it's bridging the gap between the old state tests and a new, more rigorous computer-based test that will go into effect in 2015.

Across the state, about seven-in-ten students are at or above grade level in reading, according to the test. In math and writing, that number drops to five-out-of-ten students at or above grade level.

In Northern Colorado's largest school districts, Poudre R-1, St. Vrain Valley RE-1J, and Greeley 6, the trends mirror those statewide. There are small changes in reading, writing, and math scores, but the slight dips or gains are not very significant.

Greeley, with a significant minority population, is the lowest performing of the three larger districts. Its math and writing score averages for those at or above grade level in the low 40 percent range, and its reading average is 56 percent for students at or above their grade level.

These scores, combined with graduation and dropout rates and some other factors will go into overall rankings of districts and schools that will be released in October and November.

Educators question sole focus on tests

While nationwide there has been a strong focus on such high-stakes testing since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, many in education question this strategy.

"What the [test] data provides for us is a data point. It is a data point that we have to dig into deeper to figure out what that data point really means," said Rodrick Lucero, the associate director of the Colorado State University School of Teacher Education and Principal Preparation.

Lucero said the state, and the nation, have overly invested in the meaning of such tests.

"It doesn't give us a view of the whole picture of education." Judging schools against each other, he said, can also be problematic. Lucero wondered how a school in Adams City could be compared with one in Cherry Creek, where students may make similar gains, but start at vastly different levels.

Some of the focus on testing, and on evaluating teachers based on how well their students do on state tests, are leading veteran and mid-career teachers to leave the profession, said Lucero. On the positive side, the teacher trainer said he is seeing a lot of young, enthusiastic teachers come in with a passion for working with struggling children.

"They want to be the best teacher they can possibly be," said Lucero.

That's certainly something Colorado needs more of.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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