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Vail Daily column: Testing system debuts

Jason E. Glass
Valley Voices

This week in Eagle County, and this month across the state of Colorado, public schools embarked on a new system of student testing for statewide accountability purposes. These tests are quite different from those administered previously in a number of important ways. In this article, I’ll share some of those key differences and what they mean for our students.

As some background, Colorado incorporated the Common Core State Standards into our state standards (called the Colorado Academic Standards) in 2010 for English language arts and math. The Common Core standards are internationally benchmarked and are much more challenging than the previous standards used in Colorado. These new standards ask students to critically evaluate, draw inferences from complex materials, and construct sound and well-reasoned statements.

Also, Colorado is also part of a multi-state group called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. You may have heard mention of the PARCC tests, which are designed to measure student performance in meeting the Common Core standards in math and English language arts.

Colorado has also transitioned to the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, a new set of standardized tests for social studies and science. These tests are designed in a similar way to the PARCC assessments.

Like all public (including charter) schools in Colorado, Eagle County Schools is obligated to administer PARCC and CMAS under both state and federal laws (chiefly, No Child Left Behind).

Some key differences between the older tests (called CSAP and TCAP) and the new tests (PARCC and CMAS) include:

• PARCC and CMAS tests will be administered (for the most part) online — students will take the test on a computer.

• PARCC and CMAS tests are longer than previous tests, totaling 9 to 11 hours for PARCC completion and CMAS will take 3 to 4 hours. The testing is broken into several shorter sessions. Each school is scheduling its sessions.

• PARCC and CMAS tests are designed as multi-step problems. Students will be asked to draw conclusions based on evidence and demonstrate their critical thinking, analytical writing and problem-solving skills.

• The results (in terms of performance categories and passing rates) from PARCC and CMAS tests will be different from previous tests. These new tests are dramatically more difficult and measure fundamentally different concepts. Therefore, it is inappropriate to compare the results from PARCC and CMAS to those from prior tests (CSAP and TCAP).

In particular, PARCC tests measure higher order problem solving and critical thinking skills which students should acquire through effective teaching at levels equivalent to internationally benchmarked standards. Our stated goal in Eagle County Schools is to meet this challenge in our classrooms. We are supportive of and embrace high expectations for our teachers and students and believe that our kids are among the smartest in the world!

As with any change, there will be a period of adjustment as teachers and students get used to the new standards and new tests. We live in an increasingly complex world. The knowledge and skills students need to succeed is changing and increasingly challenging. The new standards and tests are an effort to mirror that reality.

Statewide and nationally, there are a number of criticisms, concerns and vocal opposition to these tests and many of these (in my professional opinion) are valid. I’ve made my positions regarding national testing policy quite clear — we have gone way overboard with both the assessments and the consequences hitched to them.

With that said, there is value in seeing how our students perform in meeting these standards and how our schools stack up against other students across the state and nation. Toward that end, we ask for your support of our students, teachers and schools as we prepare for and take these required assessments.

That means things like making sure your child gets a good night’s sleep, arrives at school ready to participate when the tests are scheduled and comes to school ready to do their best on the assessment.

Teaching students to show up and do their very best is a good life lesson for anyone. We believe our students can perform well on these assessments and we want to show everyone how capable our students are.

To all our parents and legal guardians, thank you for having your students attend our community’s schools. On behalf of everyone associated with Eagle County Schools, there is no greater professional honor for us than being of service to your family and your children.

Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at jason.glass@eagleschools.net.


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