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Reading a stronger subject than math

Nicole Frey
Preston Utley/Daily file photoStudents' scores on the math section of the CSAP tests drop as they get older.
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EAGLE COUNTY – Whens the last time you tried to take a test in a foreign language you dont speak? Did you do very well?As one may expect, if you cant read the test, you cant take the test. Eagle County students proved, once again, that if they can read the questions on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests, or CSAPs, they do fine or at least score comparable to state averages.

The downside is non-English speakers, based on 2006 results, are still struggling. CSAP is a test given in English, Superintendent John Brendza said. It isnt enough to be able to speak English in order to perform on the test. You must be able to read and write in English as well. Attaining this level of proficiency takes from three to five years, but once students are there, they do very well, he said.

Theres good news for kids who speak English, whether its their native language or not, school officials said. A greater portion of English-speaking students in Eagle County earned a proficient or advanced score in nearly all subjects and in more grade levels than ever before, according to the Colorado Department of Education, which recently released the 2006 CSAP scores. Math, reading and writing tests are given to students from third through 10th grade. Fifth, eighth and 10th graders are also tested in science. Its evident that when you look at the English-speaking students, they show academic growth over the years, Brendza said. Its indicative that were improving the quality of instruction in the classroom.

Reading and writing scores seem to be holding steady or increasing slightly in six of eight grades the number of English-speakers who managed proficient or better scores in reading increased. And even though this years math scores were better than 2005, less than half of high school students are pulling off proficient scores or higher. It appears the younger the students are, the better they do in math. Third-graders scored a whopping 90 percent proficient or advanced, which dropped to about 55 percent in the seventh grade and plummeted to 35 percent in 10th grade. And thats just the English speakers. The grades drop even more when you factor in the kids who cant speak English. When English and non-English speakers are combined, reading and writing scores hovered between 50 and 71 percent, never dipping more than 5 percent below state averages. Eight-grade writing scores boasted 11 percent more proficient and advanced scores than the state average. Math, on the other hand, is a harder story for the Eagle County kids and the state as a whole. Third, fifth, sixth and eighth graders in Eagle County are scoring higher than the state averages in math. Fourth grade tied the state average with 69 percent of students earning proficient or better scores. All other grade levels fell below the state averages, but remained within 7 percent of the averages in math.

Even though the Eagle County school district has the fifth highest percentage of students whose native language is Spanish in the state, overall Eagle County Schools scores were consistent with state averages, said school district spokeswoman Melinda Gladitsch.But it begs the question, is the state average good enough? Tenth grade math made the most dismal showing with only 29 percent of English and non-English speaking students making the proficient or better grade. Sure, it was only 2 percent under the state average, but why can less than one-third of the 10th graders do the math?Mike Gass, the districts director of secondary education, said its not so much the students inadequacies as the tests difficulty. There are some factors in there that we continue to battle, Gass said. It is an extremely challenging test for kids. It ups the ante quite a bit when kids get into high school.In high school, unlike middle and elementary school, students are required to write essays to justify their math answers, instead of simply computed the correct sum. If Im a kiddo who has a language need or hasnt been necessarily challenged in my critical thinking skills and application of math, Im going to have a hard time, Gass said.

But Gass isnt solely faulting the test. He knows theres work to be done and already has plans in the works to require kids to take more classes in their weakest areas.

Students who arent making the grade in math, for instance, may be required to take three trimesters of the class, instead of the two now required. Brendza said the district will continue to use the Teacher Assessment Program to keep teachers accountable for teaching what kids need to know to be successful on the tests. The program, which has been controversial, rewards teachers based on their performance. Getting non-English speaking students fluent in English speaking, reading and writing is crucial to success, Brendza said. As always, these test results are very informative in allowing us to explore the strengths and challenges that exist in Eagle County Schools, Brendza said. We are proud of the success that we continue to have, however we realize that there is always room for improvement. “For that reason, these assessments continue to be extremely helpful and will be used to make our school district the best it can be.

Math scores

Writing scoresStaff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or nfrey@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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