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Do the math

Juan has a bag containing 3 red, 2 blue and 5 green marbles. He removes one marble from the bag, sets it aside and draws another marble. What is the probability that he draws a red marble followed by a blue marble?

Those who don’t know the answer might want to brush up on their math skills. The question is a sample of the problems 10th-graders faced on the math portion of the Colorado Student Achievement Program.

Alarmingly, only 14 percent of the 10th-graders in Colorado scored proficient or above on the math test. In Steamboat Springs, the numbers were slightly better 18 percent. But in Hayden, only 3 percent were proficient. In Soroco, not a single student was.

The results got the attention of local and state education officials who offered up several reasons for the poor scores. Whatever the cause, the numbers indicate there is much work to be done.

It was disheartening to hear the Department of Education has no plans to alter the math test. Maybe adjustments aren’t necessary, but the scores indicate the state should at least review the test to ensure it fairly measures what 10th-graders should know. Surely more than 14 percent have proficient math skills.

Likewise, the scores should be a wake-up call for teachers and administrators. The debate over standardized testing is longstanding and exhaustive. But at this point, test advocates have won out. The CSAP is not going away, and increasingly, it will be used to judge the effectiveness of individual schools and school districts. Given that dynamic, educators who fail to ensure classroom instruction covers the concepts tested by the CSAP do a disservice to their communities, their schools and their students.

But there is a flaw in the CSAP model while schools are held accountable for CSAP scores, students are not. The test won’t affect students’ graduation status or their ability to move to the next grade. They won’t be required to take additional courses. In some states, passing an assessment test is a graduation requirement. That’s something Colorado should consider. If the state is going to use the CSAP to assess schools, it should use the test to assess students as well.

Next spring, a new group of 10th-graders will take the CSAP. Expectations are that scores will improve. But unless everyone involved works together on this obvious weakness, Juan’s got a better chance one in 15 of drawing red and blue marbles out of his bag.

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