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Boards endorse social studies CSAPs

Colorado students should be tested on social studies at least three times during their K-12 careers, the state’s two top education boards proposed Monday.

The recommendation came as the State Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education agreed to a broad set of five “attributes” they want to see in a new state testing system to replace the current CSAPs.

A 2008 state law, the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, requires creation of a new state testing system and specifically assigned the two boards to agree on a broad shape for the program by Dec. 15. The SBE also is scheduled to consider a more detailed description of the new system, also mandated by the law, at a meeting next week.

The language agreed on by the two boards reads: “Science and Social Studies will be measured at least once in elementary, middle and high school.” (The original staff recommendation included only science.)

The boards’ endorsement represents a victory for a group of education and business groups that have been lobbying to add social studies tests. But, Colorado students probably don’t need to worry about boning up on their civics books right away. New state tests aren’t expected to roll out any earlier than 2014, and adding a test – and the attendant costs – likely will raise questions and opposition, including in the legislature.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton
Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton

Two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster and Rep. Judy Solano, attended Monday’s joint meeting and warned against expanded testing.

“I’m very concerned about adding a new CSAP,” said Solano, the legislature’s leading critic of the current testing system. “We’ve talked about fewer.” Hudak noted that the legislature considered social studies tests in the 1990s when the CSAPs were developed and chose science over social studies because of cost.

Based on the dictates of that 2008 law, the new testing system is supposed to measure student progress toward “postsecondary and workforce readiness” – the ability to enter college or the workforce without academic remediation.

The testing system attributes agreed upon by the two boards include. (Read full document here):

• Summative tests (whatever replaces the current annual CSAPs): Math and language arts will be given in grades 3-11 plus the less-frequent social studies and science tests. Test results will be included on student transcripts, and SBE and CCHE will agree in the future on what specific scores indicate college readiness. The 11th grade test would be a national college readiness test of some type.

• Use of formative and interim tests by schools to gauge students’ progress between the annual tests. Such tests, widely used now in various forms, wouldn’t be used to measure district and school performance, as the annual tests are.

• Measurement of academic mastery in grades 1 and 2. Hudak and Solano raised concerns that this might lead to a “baby CSAP,” and the boards clarified the language in this attribute to ease such concerns.

• Creation of some sort of online database – the planners call it a “dashboard” – that students could use to track their postsecondary and workforce readiness throughout their school years.

The meeting, which packed both boards, various education bureaucrats, lobbyists and assorted onlookers into a stuffy, windowless conference room at the Department of Higher Education, got confusing at times as members of the two boards nit-picked their way through a draft of the attributes.

“Where are we?” CCHE member B J Scott of Colorado Springs asked at one point. She was dialed into the meeting by telephone.

Seventeen amendments were proposed – 10 of them by outgoing SBE member Peggy Littleton, R-5th District – but only eight were adopted, just one of them Littleton’s. The major change, addition of social studies tests, was proposed by SBE member Marcia Neal, R-3rd District.

Littleton suggested an amendment that would launch social studies tests “when fiscally possible,” but that was defeated.

Rico Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education, moderated the discussion and, with varying degrees of success, tried to keep things moving. “Focus,” he told the group at one juncture.

The amendments were decided on by the whole group, and then each board voted separately to adopted the revised set of attributes. SBE members voted 4-0 to adopt. (Neal had to leave before the vote, and Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, and Vice Chair Randy DeHoff, R-6th District, couldn’t attend.) Six members of the 11-member CCHE participated – two in person and four on the phone. They voted 6-0 to adopt the attributes – after member Richard Kaufman had to be called back on Munn’s cell phone.

Staff members of the departments of education and higher education, along with advisory panels of educators and experts, have been working for more than a year to prepare recommendations for a new testing system. A subcommittee urged that social studies tests be added, but the main advisory committee didn’t agree.

Since then a coalition of education and business groups have been pushing for addition of the tests.

Walter Rakowich, CEO of Denver-based ProLogis, an international logistics and warehouse firm, testified at Monday’s meeting, saying, “Social studies is a crucial subject” in an increasingly interconnected world. He said the some of the firm’s Indian and Chinese employees “know more about American politics than our kids do.”

The current CSAP testing system requires students to take reading, writing and math tests in grades 3-10. Science tests are given in grades, 5, 8 and 10. All 11th graders take the ACT test.

CDE information about revision of the testing system

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