Colorado gets a C in math standards

Finding a job applicant for openings at Western Slope Industries Inc. isn’t tough for company president H. Merritt Kinsey.

Finding one that knows math well enough to be a machinist is another matter.

Kinsey, who hired several people since May and is looking for more, has job applicants take a math test. What he has found is many applicants don’t have what it takes.

“When someone comes to you with their thumb on a ruler and asks how long that is, it’s a little scary,” Kinsey said.

Kinsey said he wants his employees to understand fractions and decimals, be able to weigh and measure items and know basics such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. All of these skills are part of new math-curriculum standards adopted by Colorado in December.

But those standards got an unfavorable review in a study released last week by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit educational research group. The institute reviewed math and English language arts curriculum standards for all 50 states and compared them to national math standards rolled out last month by a group called the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is organized by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.

The report shows Colorado’s math standards are better than pre-2009 standards, but high school curriculum standards aren’t expansive enough for the institute’s liking, and some standards are not stated clearly enough. The institute gave national standards an A-minus and offered Colorado’s math standards a C.

Colorado may have taken a hit because state standards are designed to leave school districts wiggle room to decide how to develop curricula around the standards and select materials for the classroom, District 51 Elementary Math Content Specialist Julie Schmalz said.

District 51 adopted new math curricula for middle and high school students last fall. Elementary schools have until school starts next month to join in the new math curriculum, but many opted to adopt it last year, Schmalz said.

The district is seeing if there is a need to alter local curricula to fit with new state standards, Schmalz said. The district’s goal throughout has been to meet or exceed state standards, she said.

The Colorado Board of Education will consider during a meeting Monday in Denver whether to use the new national standards in math and English to enhance, not replace, state standards, which may affect where the district goes with math concepts. The Colorado Department of Education contracted WestEd to perform a line-by-line review of the differences between the national and state standards. The board will use this analysis as well as recommendations from subcommittees and citizens to make its decision.

Colorado’s English standards scored equal in strength with the national English standards in the institute’s study. Both earned a B-plus, or six of a possible seven points for content and rigor and two of a possible three points for clarity and specificity.


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