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By The Daily Sentinel

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The good news is that for the second year in a row District 51 third-graders beat the state average in scoring at or above grade level on 2014 Transitional Colorado Assessment Program reading tests: 72 percent to 71.5 percent.

The bad news? Both the district and the state averages are down slightly from last year. Whether they can pull those numbers up will remain something of a mystery because the TCAP is being replaced by a new assessment that won’t provide an apples-to-apples comparison, but, hopefully, better results.

Still, it’s good to know that students in our district aren’t falling behind or performing worse than the rest of the state. And the new testing, we think, warrants some optimism about the state’s gradual implementation of new academic standards.

The state has been tinkering with the idea of tougher state standards since 2007. In 2008 and 2009 the Colorado Department of Education began rewriting standards and developed the Colorado Academic Standards, which cover 10 subject areas including Common Core math and language benchmarks.

The state board of education added the Common Core standards in math and English to the state’s standards in 2010. Common Core is a set of national grade-level expectations (not a curriculum) that has been adopted by 45 states.

Colorado joined a multi-state consortium called PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which creates tests to measure student progress on the new standards.

So, next year, TCAP will give way to Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS, testing. CMAS will encompass Common Core-aligned math and literacy tests from PARCC.

CMAS science tests were given this year to Colorado fifth- and eighth-graders, and Colorado fourth- and seventh-graders took CMAS social studies tests. CMAS tests are the first statewide standardized tests in Colorado to be given online and to align with the new state standards.

There’s some controversy about the changes, no doubt. Opposition stems from a variety of concerns — from untried testing to effects on local control to impacts on teacher evaluations.

But we think the Colorado Academic Standards are necessary and worth whatever growing pains they may cause. A healthy state economy relies on Colorado schools putting students on a trajectory to fill Colorado jobs, and more than ever, those jobs require education beyond high school.

The Colorado Department of Higher Education projects that 74 percent of the state’s jobs will require some kind of post-secondary training by 2020. Currently, only 22 percent of high school students go on to earn a post-secondary degree.

The state’s business leaders have joined forces in supporting the new standards. The initiative Future Forward Colorado seeks to inform about how the standards can assure that students receive the kind of education that will help them compete for quality jobs being created in the state.

“Each year, nearly 17,000 students drop out or fail to graduate from high school on time,” according to an organization fact sheet. “Of those who do, only 23 percent are academically prepared for the rigors of college, leading to costly remedial classes at the college level. As a result, Colorado schools are producing less than half of the workers needed to fill the top 30 occupations with the largest projected opening.”

Tying standards to the state’s economic future is a smart way to get the public behind education reform.

Preparing kids for jobs a worthy real-world outcome of changes that may be confusing, but are entirely necessary.

This originally appeared in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.