Thousands of Colorado students are behind in school and most are unlikely to ever catch up.
More than 100,000 public school students in Colorado are not on track to become proficient in math or writing within three years or by the time they reach the 10th grade, according to a data analysis by I-News. That’s more than one-fifth of the 485,000 students taking the state’s annual tests.
In reading, more than 80,000 students are substandard, and the percent not catching up increased this year.
“We’ve gone as far as we can go,” said Jo O’Brien, assistant commissioner in the Office of Assessment and Research and Evaluation at the Colorado Department of Education. “Students not scoring proficient can’t seem to rise and tend to stay behind through graduation.”
CDE released the 2011 student growth model details and standardized test scores Wednesday. Growth scores track students over time, and many district officials said they are a better indicator of how well schools are doing. Schools receive reports for each student, and are encouraged to give them to parents so both teachers and parents can use them as a planning tool.
However, those details were not released to school districts until this week, so many officials are still going through the data.
Just over 70 percent of those not meeting state writing standards were not on pace to catch up, but that is an improvement since last year when 76 percent were not on track to reach proficiency.
“We believe the new business of education will be centered around the students who are in the catchup category,” O’Brien said, adding that the state is trying to develop strategies to help students who can’t catch up.
Two area districts may have a grasp on what works. Lewis-Palmer School District 38 and Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 both had the highest scores in growth and catchup rates in multiples grades and subjects when compared to districts across the state with 4,500 or more students.
However, dismal state numbers also were reflected locally. In high school reading, Colorado Springs School District 11 had the second-lowest median growth percentile among large districts at 41. The state average if 50, low growth districts are lower than 35 and high growth districts are more than 65.
Though many districts prefer growth scores to indicate progress, Colorado Student Assessment Program test scores were released earlier, giving schools more time to review those results.
CSAP tests, which cover reading, writing, math and science, were taken by 485,000 students statewide, including 69,868 in El Paso and Teller counties.
Statewide, scores were flat from last year.
“We wish the results were better,” Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said Wednesday.
Different reforms recently pushed out across the state, including innovation designations and educator training and evaluations, will eventually yield improvements, but it won’t happen overnight, he said.
The flat scores show that education in Colorado remains stable, but students aren’t going to be helped with once-a-year looks at their performance as part of groups, O’Brien said. Needs must be addressed on an individual basis, with teachers doing ongoing assessments — formal or not — throughout the year, she said.
This was the last year for the CSAP test. However, assessments aren’t going away. It will be replaced by a Common Core Standards test, which some believe may be tougher, especially as schools adjust to it.
For the next two years students in grades 3-10 will take the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP), a test to bridge CSAP with the new test that will be instituted by 2014. The latter will be based on national curriculum for math and English language arts geared to give students modern technology skills and prepare them for college and the workforce.
For many districts, the assessments are just one tool among many. Several district officials said that while they analyze scores thoroughly, they’re not the only thing they look at to boost student achievement.
“They’re important, but they’re one of many, many measures,” said Manitou Springs School District 14 Superintendent Ed Longfield. D-14 is in the top five districts in Colorado for college preparation, he said, and that isn’t tested in CSAP.
Manitou Springs has only about 1,400 students, so a small number of students can mean big variations in testing results. The district’s scores were better than the state average for proficient and advanced in nearly every grade and subject this year, although scores were not significantly changed from last year’s numbers.
Writing was a particularly troubled spot in the 2011 CSAPs for many districts. The state average did not rise above 62 percent proficient and advanced in any grade level. In 10th grade, the writing score average was a dismal 47 percent.
Some El Paso County districts, though, had the highest overall proficiency percentages among districts with more than 4,500 students. At the top was Cheyenne Mountain at 83 percent of third through 10th graders, followed by Lewis-Palmer with 76 percent and Academy School District 20 with 72 percent.
The districts that did well in writing say they have emphasized it because of its importance in college and workplace success.
Science scores statewide were virtually the same as last year — edging up a half percentage point to 47.8 percent proficient or advanced. Less than half of the students statewide were proficient in the test given only to fifth, eighth and 10th graders.
In science, Lewis-Palmer had the highest composite proficiency percentage among larger districts — 71 percent followed by Cheyenne Mountain, 70 percent, and Academy, 67 percent.
But high-scoring Cheyenne Mountain isn’t resting on its laurels.
“We aren’t satisfied with the status quo,” said Superintendent Walt Cooper, even though the district consistently has some of the best CSAP scores regionally.
Bev Tarpley, D-12’s assistant superintendent, said reading and math are structured programs, but writing is another matter. “It’s not the main dish. But you really need it in college, and much of CSAP has writing, even in math and science, you have to explain what you did. You see lower scores in math and science statewide because students don’t communicate in writing as well.”
Last year, D-12 implemented a new elementary math curriculum and thought score might drop slightly. But that didn’t happen. “Two-thirds of our grades increased over last year, and four elementary grades had the highest math scores ever,” Tarpley said.
To move students even further ahead, this week the teachers are spending three days learning to implement a new research-designed writing program called “Every Child a Writer,” through the National Literacy Coalition. It’s based on an Australian approach that focuses on major purposes for writing such as narration, description, explanation and persuasion. It will be layered with “Step Up to Writing,” which has been successful.
In Lewis-Palmer, officials looked hard at data last year, saw where the deficiencies were and made sure the curriculum had it covered, said Lori Wagner, director of assessments.
There were some gains in high school science scores they attributed to changing from 45 minute to 90 minute blocks every other day, which allow teachers to include classroom lectures and labs each session.
“In general we are pleased,” said John Borman, D-38’s new superintendent.
Like other administrators, he noted that trends are elusive. Some scores are up, some down, some the same.
“It’s hard to make conclusive conclusions. It could have been something in the water,” Borman joked. He noted that Colorado’s growth model is a more valid way to look at scores.
“Did we get a year’s growth from each student in a year’s time?”
He plans to examine growth data closely in the coming days.
Debbie Pierre, Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said they also prefer to look at the growth numbers.
“We believe growth is the cornerstone and that is where we focus our efforts.”
She said elementary math growth scores showed good progress. Last year the district put in place a new K-12 math program. “We thought it would take several years to see the impact in the district, but we are encouraged by those scores.”
There was also improvement in science, because of the stronger curriculum alignment across the district, and quarterly tests to see how everyone was doing.
D-8’s two schools, Aragon and Mountainside, which have more impoverished and at risk students, also showed greater growth scores and stronger proficient and advanced results in reading, writing and math.
“It shows we can make progress with schools that have challenges.”
I-News contributed to this report.