Education

Social studies: Colorado state tests will now include questions about geography, history

Colorado's Board of Education recently added social studies to its new testing system -- a move that may prevent more geography horror stories like professor Aimee Pellet's. She described a recent map test on which one student labeled the Rocky Mountains "the Alps," another ID'd Alaska as "Germany" and a third created a new state: South Virginia.

The new social studies tests will be rolled out in 2014. In fact, all of the state tests -- now called the Colorado State Assessment Program, or CSAP -- will get a makeover to align them with new state standards that spell out what students should learn in each grade, says Jo O'Brien, the state's assistant commissioner for standards and assessments.

Students will be given a state social studies test once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school, though the details haven't been finalized yet, O'Brien says. That's similar to the way students are tested in science now. Reading, writing and math are tested more often. But exactly what the social studies tests will entail isn't known.

"The particulars of what the test will look like will be designed this coming spring," O'Brien says. "We don't know how long it will be or what it will cover" -- though O'Brien says it will most likely include questions about geography, economics and history.

The new tests don't have a name yet, but they do have a price tag. In testimony before the Joint Budget Committee last week, the state Department of Education said that the new social studies tests will probably cost $3.2 million in the first two years, which includes developing the tests and administering and scoring them, and $3 million in the third year.

Which, in the grand scheme of things, may well be worth it. After all, Colorado wouldn't want its students to fall behind those in states like Germany and South Virginia.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar