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Colorado on the right path to close “honesty gap”

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others thinking and writing about public education.

As a veteran teacher of 13 years, I have witnessed many changes to Colorado’s education system. Among them were the adoption of the Colorado Academic Standards and the Colorado Measures of Academic Success test, or CMAS.

Unless you were living under a rock during the past few months, I’m sure you have heard about parents pulling students out of CMAS, or at least its math and English components, also known as PARCC. One of the more common arguments for opting out of the PARCC tests is that students will be labeled as failures.

But with the revealing data of the Honesty Gap Report, it is clear that Colorado’s old education system was the real failure.

On May 14, Achieve, a national education nonprofit, released data comparing the differences between what students were scoring on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, or TCAP, exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP, for short, is considered the “gold-standard” of student assessments.

The results of the comparison are sobering.

Achieve’s analysis for the 2013-14 school year in Colorado showed a 26-point discrepancy between students scoring “proficient” on TCAP versus NAEP in fourth-grade reading, and a 10-point discrepancy in eighth-grade math. While Colorado most recently reported that 67 percent of its fourth-grade students were proficient in reading, only 41 percent of Colorado fourth graders met NAEP proficiency requirements.

While there’s much work ahead to close this Honesty Gap, Colorado is ahead of its peers. In fact, more than half of all states had a 30-point or more discrepancy between what their state assessment and NAEP proficiency rates.

So what is Colorado doing right?

Colorado was the sixth state in the country to recognize the need to revamp education and adopt new standards and better tests. In 2010, we adopted the new standards in 10 subject areas for kindergarten through 12th grade. The standards outline what students should know and be able to do at each grade leading up to high school graduation.

With new material being covered, we needed new tests. Colorado chose to assess students in math and English using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

I have experienced both sides of the spectrum when it comes to assessment. From the days of almost no testing to our current system, I feel I have seen it all.

This was the first year  of administering PARCC. My students told me they liked the passages, the multimedia aspects, and the opportunity to show off their growing abilities to solve complex problems. Many of them commented that they felt confident and knew the material on the test.

PARCC is an assessment that will continue to help our students demonstrate readiness for college and career. There will be growing pains, and that’s OK. With a more rigorous assessment, there will likely be a drop in the initial scores. It is important to keep in mind that these scores are an honest reflection of student learning. Yet they are just one piece of the puzzle and a place from which to grow.

This honest assessment will allow teachers to meet students where they are and help them improve.

In order to help all students attain success, we need high standards and quality assessments. We need to keep in mind the benefits of honest data from a test aligned to our standards that will help teachers improve instruction to get students ready for their lives after high school.

I believe that this is the right direction to push Colorado and I am confident that this path will close the Honesty Gap and set all kids up for success in the real world.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.