School tests still getting mixed grades
DENVER – More than a decade after Colorado took a pioneering step to set up statewide school tests, the process is getting mixed grades from parents and lawmakers who aren’t convinced exams are the best way to improve education.”I don’t think a high-pressure test on students should be used to grade a school,” said Ron Landgraf, a 42-year-old mechanic from Arvada who has a daughter in high school. “I think they can find other ways to rate schools using grades and reports on teacher training.”Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, a critic of the system, said failing schools are threatened with being turned into charter schools if they fail to improve, and then the state cuts their funding.She said the state should use the information from statewide tests to determine which schools need more resources and to help students who are struggling improve their scores.”Because of the threats, schools have narrowed their curriculum, because they are fearful. The fear is there, and it causes them to focus on more math, more writing. They forget about the arts and music and physical education,” Windels said.The Colorado Student Assessment Program test given to the state’s schoolchildren each year is being reviewed to help school districts improve student performance and narrow achievement gaps.The Colorado Department of Education uses the test results to rate each school in the state.Gov. Bill Ritter said Wednesday the tests are flawed but the state needs some way to measure student progress from kindergarten through graduate school and to help students who are struggling.He announced a plan to set up a database to track student progress from the time they enter school until they graduate, add 70 counselors to make sure students are prepared for college, add 3,000 children to preschool and increase the number of children attending full-day kindergarten.The latest ratings, released Wednesday, showed 48 percent students in the state system attended a school rated either “excellent” or “high” in 2006-2007, up from 39 percent in 2001-2002.The ratings show 12 percent of schools were rated excellent, up from 8 percent five years ago, and 31 percent were rated high, up from 26 percent five years ago.The department said 11 schools in the state were rated unsatisfactory in 2006-2007, down from 21 in 2005-2006.”We know from looking at the overall CSAP results that students from every background are fully capable of reaching state standards when expectations are high and instructional practices are aligned to meeting the needs of children,” said Education Commissioner Dwight Jones.Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Aurora, who serves on Ritter’s task force studying school reform, said lawmakers don’t want to abolish the tests, but they do want changes.”I think there is universal agreement we could have a stronger tool. The question is, how do we move to more longitudinal measures of student progress instead of just getting a snapshot on how a student is doing at a given point in time?” he said.Jones has also said the system needs a close review.”We do believe that after 13 years it’s time for us to take a look at what students need to know and be able to do,” he said in September.The state review is looking at state standards, put in place in 1994, to determine what students at each grade level should now in each subject, followed by a review of the CSAP tests.Jones said he expects changes in standards and testing. Other parts of the plan to help districts improve performance include recognizing schools that undertake successful, systemic school reform, a retreat for school leaders to share innovative ideas, and scholarships for 100 top high school seniors who enroll in state colleges and universities and agree to teach in hard-to-staff teaching positions when they graduate.
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