It’s another so-so year for assessment-test scores in Colorado, with tens of thousands of students across the state not proficient or advanced in reading, writing, math or science.
The results of the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) tests that were given to nearly a half-million students last spring statistically showed little improvement over the previous year.
All in all, the scores were flat, as they have been for several years. This fact has educators worried because future assessment tests will be more rigorous as the state changes to new academic standards to prepare students for the workforce and postsecondary education.
Science and writing scores were particularly dismal, with less than about half the state’s students receiving scores that were proficient or advanced.
There were, however, bright spots in individual schools statewide and locally. Most of Colorado’s lowest-performing school districts posted some of the biggest gains in state standardized tests this year compared with 2011, while scores at many top-performing districts stagnated, according to an analysis of scores by the I-News Network.
The analysis also showed:
• In math, Harrison School District 2, Westminster and Brighton increased the percent of students scoring proficient during a year when scores stagnated statewide.
• In reading, several districts outperformed the state average for gains, including Harrison D-2 and Colorado Springs School District 11 in El Paso County, the Pueblo City district, and the Mapleton, Denver and Westminster districts in the Denver metro area. The districts posted gains of 2 to 5 percentage points in proficiency, exceeding the average gain statewide. • Minority and low-income students posted stronger gains or smaller declines than white and wealthier students in reading, writing and science. However, the gaps for low-income and Hispanic and black students remained wide compared with white and Asian students.
• Statewide student scores in reading and science inched up. The percent of students statewide scoring proficient or higher in reading and science rose about one percentage point to 69 percent and 49 percent, respectively, from 2011.
• Students scores fell about 1 percentage point in writing, to 54 percent. Proficiency in math remained at about 56 percent for both years.
The general lackluster showing is a wake-up call, state officials say.
“It definitely calls on everyone to have a sense of urgency about how we go about closing the gaps, as the basic academic foundations will only get more rigorous,” said Jo O’Brien, Colorado Department of Education assistant commissioner for assessment, research and evaluation.
In 2010, CDE adopted new academic standards that are tougher and require students to apply what they’ve learned. This is the first year for the TCAP, which is a bridge between the old CSAP tests that were in effect 15 years, and a new test that will be used beginning in 2014.
This year’s TCAP tested information that is common to CSAPs and the new standards, officials said. Information from the old CSAPS that are not part of the new standards were not tested.
It’s the same blueprint and threshold for passing. In the future there will be different expectations.
“The pressure is on,” says O’Brien. She noted that state training in aligning classroom work to the new standards has been ongoing the past year.
“We are looking closely at schools that have been successful for several years,” she said. “They will tell all of us educators how to do it. How to use classroom time, how to think about curriculum, how to teach less but more deeply. Instead of teaching lots of details and facts, the emphasis is on thinking critically and problem solving.”
The state sees much to learn from Harrison District 2, where most students come from impoverished families and are considered at risk of dropping out. D-2 has made leaps and bounds, getting off probation in four years and hitting most of the state assessment averages after years in the academic basement.
“They are showing us how it is done. They are paying attention to fundamentals,” O’Brien says.
Dave MacKenzie, D-2 interim superintendent, noted that this year the district showed gains in all but one test, fifth-grade reading. In the past several years, the district got rid of many teachers, put in place a pay-for-performance plan for educators, concentrated on good instructional practices, monitored individual students daily and provided intensive interventions. It also focused on parental involvement to ensure that kids are in their seats every day, and have done homework and spent time reading.
Two years ago, the district adopted the new state standards as part of the national core standards.
Elsewhere in the Pikes Peak region, educators have worked hard to align classroom curriculums to the new common standards so that assessment scores will climb. The state is aiding in training. Some districts have specialists who are walking the educators through the complex changes.
Smaller rural districts worry about getting the new standards in place, and the state is working to provide more technical assistance and resources, such as lesson plans.
Superintendent Tim Kistler of Peyton School District 23JT said, “In larger districts they can move their money and have specialists on site to help the teachers. It’s harder with our small staffs. As the state demands more and more, we don’t have extra people to do this for us.”
The state uses TCAP scores to track academic growth — that is how much a student grows academically in a year.
School district officials were not expecting to receive data on student growth until the end of the month. The state released the information Tuesday, about a day before the data were available to the public.
District 11 officials expect to see positive results in growth scores, based on small improvements noted in TCAP numbers.
“We want to know every child is growing,” said Jeanice Swift, D-11 assistant superintendent for instruction, curriculum and student services.
Most district officials are just beginning to digest the complex information.
“This year is more complicated because it is a transitional year,” said Lori Benton, Lewis-Palmer School District 38 director of assessment, gifted education and technology.
And while TCAP tests performance, determining how well kids are doing is more complicated.
“I tell parents that it is a complex issue and we look at a variety of factors to determine if students are growing,” Benton said. “You’d never pick a car based on one thing like gas mileage. You’d use a variety of information to make your decision.”
Benton explained, “What we have (on the TCAP results) is just performance compared to last year’s scores. But that is like comparing apples to oranges until we can dig into the cohort data because you aren’t comparing the same set of students.
“A better indicator is looking at academic growth in individual students as well as disaggregated results — are the students growing one year in one year’s time, how many maintained or got better.”
Assistant Superintendent Bev Tarpley of Cheyenne Mountain School District 12, which consistently has some of the highest scores in the state, mines that data deeply. A couple of years ago, it noted that those who took physical science in eighth grade did very well on assessment tests. They were gaining valuable lessons in methodology, inquiry and problem solving that helped them across the board.
So now D-12 plans to have students who didn’t take that class in eighth grade take it in ninth to strengthen their academics.
Like other districts, it also takes the assessment data and uses an analytical tool that maps the pattern of answers that every child made on the test, right or wrong.
Tarpley says, “Seeing that, you can adjust instruction and laser focus on kids who did poorly.
“You can see the weaknesses so you don’t make the same mistake every year.”
Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette
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