Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs High School student Kelly Carlson remembers struggling last year on the math portion of the Colorado Student Achievement Program.
He said some of the concepts on the test were simply foreign to him.
"It might have been just me, but the classes didn't cover some of the questions," said Carlson, an average math student. "We didn't get to study at all for it."
Judging from the CSAP math scores, in Routt County and in Colorado as a whole, Carlson was not alone.
A paltry 14 percent of Colorado sophomores who took the test this past school year scored at the proficient level or above on the math test. Steamboat Springs sophomores scored above the state average by 4 percent, but that still left 82 percent who failed to reach the proficiency level.
The county's two other school districts fared worse.
At Hayden High School, just 3 percent of the sophomores attained proficiency.
At Soroco, not a single 10th-grader met the proficiency mark on the math test.
Some students said the scores don't reflect their math abilities.
Zach Forcum like Carlson, an average math student said some parts of the test were simple. But he said he didn't have a clue where to begin on some of the questions.
"I don't do well with long equations, I'm better with geometry," Forcum said.
Forcum said he often was able to begin work on a problem only to become frustrated as he tried to finish it.
Glenn Bruckhart, a senior math consultant for the Colorado Department of Education, admitted the math scores took state officials by surprise.
"We expected the scores would be low," Bruckhart said. "But 14 percent? No way would we guess that."
But despite the difficulties 10th-graders encountered, the Department of Education does not plan to change the test, Bruckhart said.
The Colorado Student Achievement Program test scores will be used by state Education Department officials to calculate a report on every school, ranking it from unsatisfactory to excellent. Schools in the bottom 2 percent must develop an improvement plan.
Those that fail after three more years face a takeover.
Bruckhart noted this was the first time 10th-graders in the state took the test and that affected the scores.
"With the test, we are trying to set a baseline assessment," he said. "Scores by themselves do not mean a whole lot initially. We would be very disappointed next year if we have 14 percent again. We are aiming for a significant rise."
Routt County school officials have different takes on why the students in their respective schools did not perform well:
n Steamboat Springs officials believe they need to examine all aspects of the test, including how serious an approach students took to the test.
n Hayden officials said they are to blame for not preparing their students better.
n And Soroco officials questioned the fairness of the test.
The Steamboat Springs School District needs to look at everyone involved with the CSAP, including the test, the students, the teachers and the curriculum, said Judy Harris, former director of content standards.
"What we really need to see is the breakdown how it was tested and what kinds of items were highlighted," Harris said. "Once we see our strengths and weaknesses we can make a better assessment."
Mike Smith, a 10th-grade math teacher at Steamboat Springs, said the district and state need to look at how serious students are taking the test.
"I heard it was a really hard test, even accountants couldn't do some of the problems," Smith said. "I looked at some of the questions and thought ... 'This is pretty advanced for algebra.'"
Smith also questions the test.
"That is just so low," he said. "It's an indicator to me that either the benchmark was too high or the test was too hard."
The word problem
Officials believe the makeup of the test is also a factor.
The math portion "is really a reading, writing and math test," Harris said.
Students who took the test had to first comprehend the math question and then write out formulas and theories to support their answers.
Hayden High School Principal Nick Schafer said the explanatory portion of the math test was new to his sophomores and may explain why they performed so poorly.
"They did not know how to take the test," Schafer said. "We did not do a good job preparing them to take the test.
"There is a lot of writing to the test and more explaining that goes with it."
Schafer is not worried about the test scores because the district's scores for the ACT, a college entrance exam, were the opposite.
"Our students can do math," he said. "There is no question about that.
"The CSAP test is a good test. If our kids can learn how to take that test, we are going to have highly educated kids in math. It is our fault we didn't have them better prepared, but with 14 percent across the state, we were not the only ones."
Soroco High School Principal Richard Coleman said he wasn't surprised by his school's scores.
After examining the sample math test last year, he said most people would score badly.
"I think it would be difficult for anybody," he said.
Putting CSAP to the test
Coleman wants state officials to consider the mission of the math test.
He explained that early in his career, he learned that if an overwhelming amount of students fail a test, the test itself needs to be examined.
"I think there is a problem with the test," Coleman said.
Soroco students also scored well on the math portion of college entrance exams.
"I can't believe that one test that's been around for such a long time (the ACT) would measure that much differently," he said.
If the state holds true to the content of the CSAP test, math classes that have produced good scores on college entrance exams may have to be changed to teach the state's test, he said.
"Schools would have to do something different to produce a product," Coleman said. "But is it the right product?"
According to the state, yes.
The test was designed to follow the standards the state set in mathematics in 1995, Bruckhart said.
"The test is consistent with the standards," he said. "How the school district focuses on the test is a local issue. From our standpoint, we believe there are no surprises here."
The test was designed in part by a panel of 20 mathematics teachers from across the state.
"The panel looked at all the items on the assessment," Bruckhart said. "All the items that appeared on the test, were OK'd by a panel of Colorado teachers."
"The content next year will stay the same. We know we have to do a whole lot better.
"What we have now is a baseline. We need to improve, so let's go after it."
Reporters Kelly Silva and Doug Crowl contributed to