May 6, 2014 Updated: May 6, 2014 at 6:45 pm
Give your favorite third grader a hug today.
Third graders in 13 of the Pikes Peak region's 17 public school districts scored above the state average in reading on the final standardized test known as the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, or TCAP. The Colorado Department of Education released unofficial and preliminary results at noon Tuesday.
"Our goal is to always perform above the state, so this is good news," said Andre Spencer, superintendent in Harrison School District 2.
The news is tempered, though, by the fact that the state average fell from 73 percent last spring to 71.5 percent of students testing at the proficient and advanced levels of third-grade reading standards this year. Schools conducted the testing between Feb. 10 and March 7.
And as in the case of 10 area districts, Harrison lost some ground in this go-round, posting a district-wide average of 73.2 percent proficient and advanced, compared with 76 percent in the 2013 cycle.
"While it's positive, we know we have more work to do because we still have some students that are not at proficient or advanced," Spencer said. "We're working on improving structures to push performance higher."
The district plans to "intensify the level and quality of intervention that's in place and be consistent in them to make sure students aren't falling behind," he said. Harrison also will aggregate the results so it can target specific reading skills where students are lacking, he added.
The tests are meant to provide educators, parents and the community with a snapshot of student performance, and in this case, whether students are reading at, above or below the third-grade level. Reading is considered of utmost importance because it is highly correlated to success in other subjects.
Some school districts had wide swings. Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1 was down 10 percentage points from last year, to 77.7 percent proficient and advanced, while Peyton School District 23 JT was up by 10 percentage points, to 81.8 percent.
Falcon School District 49 slid five percentage points over 2013 to 73 percent proficient and advanced.
Peter Hilts, who is in his first year as D-49's chief education officer, said he was "disturbed" by the results.
"Although our district remains above the Colorado average, these scores reinforce our urgency to deliver improved outcomes for our students," he said in a statement.
Most of the elementary schools that experienced a dip in reading scores underwent a change in administration during the past three years, which Hilts said is partially to blame for the decline.
"We know that leadership transitions in our schools and at the district level have been disruptive," he said. "For that reason, we are prioritizing leadership as a foundation for academic performance."
Three districts, Calhan School District RJ1, Ellicott School District 22 and the area's largest, Colorado Springs School District 11, had district-wide averages below the state average. One school district, Edison School District 54JT, had fewer than 16 students testing so was not scored.
At 68.4 percent proficient and advanced, D-11 dropped four percentage points from last year.
"It is a little bit discouraging when you see it come down, but we have to keep in mind that this is one grade, one subject area and one year. It doesn't show how the kids grew from one year to the next," said Devra Ashby, spokeswoman. "It's not unnatural to see ups and downs from year to year because every class is different."
D-11 also had three of the region's five highest-scoring schools, Columbia, Steele and Chipeta elementaries. And it had four of the five lowest scoring schools, Monroe, Hunt and Mcauliffe elementaries and Space, Technology and Arts Academy (STAR).
A statewide, multi-district online school, Colorado Calvert Academy, which has a blended learning resource center in Colorado Springs, is one of the few schools in the state that got a perfect score of 100 percent proficent or advanced.
Many individual schools are encouraged by the gains they've made. Pikes Peak Prep, a charter school under the Colorado Charter School Institute, jumped 18 percent, from 58 percent proficient and advanced last year to 69 percent this year.
"The school has made a significant turnaround attributed mostly to new leadership and extensive implementation of two professional development teaching strategies," said Kevin Teasley, founder of its sponsor organization, the GEO Foundation. "It's headed in the right direction."
Educators are analyzing the numbers with an eye to the future. This was the last time for the TCAP, which in 2012 replaced the former Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, designed to help schools transition to what's to come, following revised academic standards Colorado lawmakers adopted in 2009.
"We will still use the TCAP data to see how we can enhance instruction," said Linda Miller, superintendent of Calhan School District RJ-1.
But the evolution signifies big changes, as schools move toward new state assessments that have been designed to match the new standards. Not only are there more tests and subjects, but the new tests are said to be more difficult and for the first time are computer-based, instead of paper and pencil.
"We have comparative data we've used since the mid-1990s all of these years that now becomes useless," said Walt Cooper, superintendent of Cheyenne Mountain School District 12, which for the past five years has maintained fairly steady proficiency levels around 90 percent. "I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It'll be interesting to see how we move forward next year with the new data set."
The three-week testing window for the new assessments concluded May 2, with fifth and eighth graders taking science tests and, for the first time social studies knowledge was assessed, starting with fourth and seventh graders. That testing is called the Colorado Measures of Academic Success.
In the fall, seniors will be tested for the first time in science and social studies.
Next spring, online reading, writing and mathematics tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a multi-state consortium Colorado joined in 2012, will start for grades 3-11.
In August, the state education department will release official results from TCAP third grade reading, along with results for the remaining subject areas and other assessments, including one administered to 11th graders in April and May to measure students' preparedness for postsecondary education.
Scores from the new assessments taken in April will be available in early fall, as the state is still determining proficiency levels.