Parents decide reading or math: Why not both?


By Joyce Rankin
State Board of Education

The Colorado Measurement of Academic Success, known as the CMAS test, is a federally mandated end-of-year assessment. Under the 1994 Every Student Succeeds Act, every state must test students in grades 3-8 yearly and once in high school. Tests are administered in math and English/language arts (reading). Students must also be tested periodically in science. 

If you could decide, what test(s) would you select for your child this spring?

CMAS tests how students compare nationally and lets parents and teachers choose what additional help a student might need. The assessment brought the READ Act (Reading to Ensure Academic Development) to Colorado’s forefront in 2012 and again in 2019 (SB19-199). Only 40 percent of our fourth-grade students are reading at grade level. Since the legislature determined that reading was the No. 1 priority for student success, they passed this law unanimously. The State Board of Education unanimously agreed.

With the pandemic disrupting the school year, the federal government canceled the federal testing requirement for 2020. As the pandemic continued, many began to question the loss of learning that was occurring. CMAS tests could help answer that question, and many were wondering about the possibility of testing again being canceled this spring. The Colorado Department of Education told districts to prepare for testing, although there was talk of another possible cancellation. 

Due to the ongoing pandemic’s unique circumstances, Colorado state legislators, through House Bill 21-1161, asked the federal government for a waiver. The waiver, including taking only half of the tests, was granted. Students in third, fifth and seventh grades would only take the English language arts test (reading), and students in fourth, sixth and eighth grades would only take the math test.

Reading is critical to success. The legislature agreed when they passed the READ Act emphasizing the importance of learning to read in grades K-3. Why then is math the test given in fourth grade? Wouldn’t fourth-grade reading be the critical area to assess for learning loss due to the pandemic? 

One key element of House Bill 21-1161 is that parents can “opt-in” to have their child take the English language arts (reading test) instead of the math test. Some parents may want their child to take both the math and English language arts assessments to get a complete picture of the pandemic’s effect on their child’s learning. This bill allows for that. Check with your district to make changes.

This summer, school activity will include opportunities for students to take additional coursework to “catch up.” Parents can make better choices when they are informed.

Parents, you have assessment choices to make this spring. Talk to your child and make knowledgeable choices together. Discuss your decision with your child’s teacher. Together you can make a difference, not only now but for your child’s future.

Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education, representing the Third Congressional District.