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Colo. Chief To Boost Students' Test-Taking Skills

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In an effort to close the gap between what Colorado high-school graduates know and what employers and higher-education officials expect them to know, the state commissioner of education is trying to assess the various tests given by business, the military, and universities in the state.

The first step toward a solution, Colorado Commissioner of Education Calvin M. Frazier says, is for the state's education officials to help teachers and guidance counselors develop a clear idea of what is demanded, based on the entrance and qualifying examinations that people in various fields use.

"My theme," says Mr. Frazier, who has been commissioner in the state for nine years, "is to make sure the public expectations are known and understood by the high-school people. Then if the criticism comes, we'll know what it will be based on."

The "problem" arises, Mr. Frazier explains, because "external tests are used to judge 'our product' without us preparing the students for them in advance."

Common Sense Approach

To solve it, he adds, school officials need to determine what is asked on exams given for entrance into college, business, and the military. Although this seems commonsensical, Mr. Frazier says, the content of these tests is not well-known in the state's schools, with the exception of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (sat) and the American College Testing Program's test (act).

"I found that guidance counselors are occupied mostly with giving curriculum and career advice," he says.

Mr. Frazier most recently became interested in the question of test-preparedness follow-ing complaints from the chairman of the state legislature's House Education Committee about Colorado's relative standing among the Rocky Mountain states in sat scores.

He found that only two of the state's 181 districts provide an "organized approach" to preparation for these tests. He characterizes the two districts as "affluent," explaining that all other coaching in the state is done by private companies.

'Matter of Equity'

"As a matter of equity," he says, he has proposed that the state board outline the approaches used by the districts that have testing programs and make these approaches available to all other districts in the state in hopes that schools will emulate them and will make coaching available before a student's junior year.

He envisions not a state-funded or legislatively enacted program, but rather an information service provided to interested local districts by the state education department, concentrating on several areas:

College and university testing in the state system: Mr. Frazier will meet in April with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to try to develop "common standards"--which would be made clear to high-school teachers and counselors--among colleges and universities in the state. "This would alert students to the possibility of being placed in remedial classes in the state universities," he says.

In his informal research, the commissioner discovered a wide range of standards among the state's universities. For example, he found that the presidents of the University of Colorado, the University of Northern Colorado, and Colorado State, did not agree on what constituted "minimum standards" in mathematics and English.

Business testing: The commissioner has met with leaders of the state's businesses and industries, who told him that "our high-school graduates were failing their tests at the rate of 50 percent or better. They felt that over the last 10 years the test-takers had gotten poorer in quality." A survey of superintendents, principals, and counselors showed, Mr. Frazier says, "that very few even knew the content of the tests being given. This is where we begin to get a bad reputation and a bad image with the employers."

Military testing: Recruitment representatives of the armed forces essentially echoed the statements of the business representatives, Mr. Frazier reports, adding that the solution is the same in each case: Find out what is on the tests and prepare students in advance.

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