Moffat County reading, writing skills improve

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens believes there is a major crisis in public education because half of the students in public schools cannot read and write at their grade level.

Owens made this statement after seeing results of the 1999 Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) which tested fourth- and seventh-graders across Colorado.

"I do not want to mince words. We are facing a crisis in public education in Colorado. We are losing a generation of children to illiteracy. Because I believe the crisis in public education is so urgent I will devote my full energies during the next legislative session to fixing and improving our public schools," Owens said.

Moffat County School District Director of Staff and Curriculum Development Janet Bohart believes there is a reason for concern, but it is not a crisis.

"I am not sure I agree with that because you can't determine a crisis from only one test," Bohart said. She said students taking the TerraNova test, a test similar to that of the CSAP, did well and the two tests need to balance out.

Owens believes in the crisis because of the hard facts. Nearly 20,820 fourth-graders in Colorado, 39 percent of fourth-graders, cannot read at the grade level. In terms of writing, 60 percent of fourth-graders cannot write at a proficient level.

Seventh-graders' CSAP results show nearly 21,628 students, 40 percent of seventh-graders in the state, cannot read at grade level. Seventh-grade writing results show 51 percent cannot write proficiently.

But not all is bad as fourth-grade test results have improved in the last three years.

In the Moffat County School District (MCSD), since the test began in 1997 for fourth-graders, the writing portion has seen a positive decrease in the number of unsatisfactory notations. In 1997, 22 percent of MCSD fourth-graders received unsatisfactory grades and in 1999, the percent fell to 17 percent. The Colorado average for unsatisfactory grades in each district in 1999 is 16 percent.

The number of fourth-graders receiving advanced proficiency grades rose from 23 percent in 1997 to 24 percent in 1999. The advanced proficiency grade is the percentage of students receiving either proficiency or advanced scores. The Colorado Department of Education deems any student in this range as satisfactory. The Colorado average in this category was 31 percent in 1997 and 34 percent in 1999.

Fourth-grade reading also improved since the CSAP began. In 1997, MCSD saw 9 percent of fourth-graders reading at an unsatisfactory level. In 1999, the number has decreased to 7 percent. Statewide, 1997 showed 11 percent of fourth-graders receiving unsatisfactory marks while in 1999, the number is 10 percent.

Currently, fourth-grade reading levels are the highest of all categories and the only section in which the MCSD leads the way. In 1999, MCSD had 63 percent of fourth-graders reading at an advanced proficiency level. The Colorado average is 59 percent. These numbers in MCSD are up from 62 percent in 1997 and in Colorado, 57 percent.

In the first year seventh-graders took the CSAP, MCSD scored below statewide averages. Reading results show 16 percent of the MCSD seventh-grade reading at an unsatisfactory level. Statewide, 13 percent read unsatisfactorily. Forty-nine percent in MCSD scored a mark of advanced proficiency and 56 percent of those in Colorado scored the same.

Seventh-grade writing shows a significant portion of students writing at a non-proficient level. While only 3 percent of those in MCSD scored unsatisfactory, 67 percent scored at only partial proficiency. This is compared throughout Colorado at 2 percent and 49 percent respectively. MCSD had an advanced proficiency level in writing of 28 percent compared to a statewide score of 41 percent.

These results are from the CSAP test taken the first three weeks of March. The test is a three-day event lasting 55 minutes each day.

The CSAP, like the TerraNova test (second-, third-, sixth- and ninth-grade students take the TerraNova), contains no multiple choice questions. It is in essay format which is different from previous assessment tests. Past tests have only required students to fill in ovals. With the CSAP and TerraNova, essay questions require students to gain full knowledge of questions before answering. Reading sections also require students to answer in paragraph format.

Due to the new format, teachers are attempting to make lesson plans tie in closer to the CSAP.

"We are taking steps to correct and improve," Bohart said. "Teachers are working hard to make program changes."

Because of how young the test is, fourth-graders have been taking the test for three years while this is the first year seventh-graders have taken the CSAP. The Colorado Department of Education estimates it will take three years for students to become accustomed to the change in testing. After the three years, test scores should be averaged and that average should be the baseline for future years.

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