Our View: Good shouldn’t be good enough
August 14, 2012
Last week, as it does every year, the state Department of Education made a big to-do about the release of 2012 TCAP standardized test results. And, as they do every year, media outlets across the state — including this one — gave significant coverage to the highs and lows of the test scores.
Student scores in Routt County's three public school districts also have become rather predictable. The Steamboat Springs School District continues to perform well above state averages across all subject areas and grade levels. The Soroco School District sees more of a mixed bag, performing at or above state averages in the lower grades but struggling to keep up when students hit middle school and high school. And the Hayden School District simply continues to struggle, with students there barely keeping up with their peers across the state in most subject categories and grade levels.
So if the test scores have become predictable, what does that say about the test and how districts respond to it?
Standardized tests, as school administrators are apt to point out, provide simply one snapshot in time of student achievement relative to specific standards. Marty Lamansky, the Steamboat Springs School District's new director of curriculum, said there's value to the tests and the data they provide but that TCAPs aren't a be all, end all.
Lamansky said district teachers will spend much of their first few instructional days next week digging into TCAP data to identify areas for instructional focus. That seems appropriate, but it also sounds like what districts say they've been doing for years.
Perhaps that's why it's so frustrating that districts have been compiling test data but seem unable to use it to make a real difference in student achievement. Nowhere is the lack of progress seemingly more evident than in math scores on the TCAP and its predecessor, the CSAP. In Steamboat, for example, only 60 percent of ninth-graders tested proficient or advanced on the math portion of the TCAP test last year. Steamboat's results sound a lot better when compared to the state average of 37 percent. It also makes Hayden's ninth-grade results (28 percent) sound that much worse.
As a community, we should not be satisfied with only 6 out of 10 ninth-graders being proficient or advanced in math. Worse, the perception that our scores are "good enough," especially when compared to the state average, could be standing directly in the path of better achievement.
Standardized test math scores, particularly for students in middle school and high school, have been much lower than reading and writing results since the origin of the CSAP. Lamansky said it points to the larger and ongoing national debate about math curriculum at the high school level and whether there should be "algebra for all, as an example, or should you allow students to go their own path — have enough math skills for whatever they're going to do in life." It also speaks to the specialization of math courses at the upper levels, which in turn makes it more challenging to devise standardized tests that measure standardized expectations, Lamansky says.
Whatever the reasons, we don't think it's unreasonable to expect our school districts to be able to show improvement throughout time, especially when armed with this data. The Steamboat Springs School District, by hiring a director of curriculum last year, has created the expectation that such improvement is possible. That's a good thing, because if schools aren't fixing the weaknesses the tests are designed to expose, why are we wasting our time and energy on them?