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What Colorado Students Don’t Know Can Hurt Them

• Patricia Levesque

CO #ProficiencyMatters


When students leave high school without being prepared for college and career, they suffer. But it doesn’t stop there.

From remediation costs, to lost income, higher unemployment rates and even fewer qualified candidates to serve in the U.S. military – families, communities, states and our nation also face the consequences of an inadequate K-12 education.

Right now, Colorado has the opportunity to ensure every child in the state has the ability to compete in a 21st century economy that increasingly demands more skilled and better educated workers. State leaders can save its students from a future of remediation and an irreversible skills gap.

And they can do this by setting and implementing high proficiency expectations on Colorado’s new state assessments.

Each state sets its own academic requirements for reading and math, and its own passing scores on state assessments to determine if students truly are proficient in the subjects. In some states, test scores accurately reflect proficiency. In others they do not because passing scores are set too low.

Currently, Colorado belongs in the latter camp.

The state’s low proficiency expectations can be quantified by comparing results on state tests with results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Also known as the Nation’s Report Card, NAEP is considered the gold standard in measuring and tracking academic achievement.

Looking at results from 2013, Colorado’s state-administered tests indicated that 68 percent of fourth-grade students were proficient readers. However, NAEP results from that year found only 41 percent of fourth graders were on grade level.

The numbers for eighth grade math are the nearly same, with state tests indicating 67 percent of students were proficient in reading compared to NAEP results of only 40 percent.

Put simply, low Colorado proficiency expectations convey a false sense of student achievement to parents, teachers and educators. And this comes with consequences. For example:

  • More than 16,800 Colorado freshmen entering two-year colleges require remediation and nearly 21,300 entering four-year colleges require remediation.[1]
  • Colorado students seeking a four-year bachelor’s degree lose up to $68,000 each additional year they don’t graduate on time. ($23,000 in cost of attendance and $45,000 in lost wages.)[2]
  • Nearly 18 percent of the Colorado high school graduates that take the United States Army’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) are found ineligible.[3]

Colorado must set higher passing scores on its new state assessments if they are to have any meaning. Scores must reflect in-depth knowledge of the subjects tested. If passing a test is not indicative of mastering the material, then it’s a hollow accomplishment at best.

And local voices agree.

“While Colorado has taken this challenge head on by adopting new, stronger assessments, it’s critical that they set rigorous expectations for students so the label of proficiency truly means ready for the challenges of tomorrow,” said Luke Ragland, Vice President of Policy for Colorado Succeeds.

Requiring more of students will always be harder than requiring less. But this is a challenge Colorado leaders must embrace to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed in college or the workplace after high school graduation.

Visit for more facts, graphics and sharable content. Join the conversation online with the hashtag #ProficiencyMatters.

Read more in the #Proficiency Matters series:


[1] Source: Complete College America, Remediation: Higher Education’s Bridge to Nowhere, 2012.

[2] Source: Complete College America, Four Year Myth, 2014.

[3] Source: The Education Trust, Shut of the Military, December 2010.

About the author

Patricia Levesque @levesquepat

Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at