Colorado student achievement scores improved, on average, since 2021 but have not quite reached pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the 2022 Colorado Measures of Academic Success exam results.

Students across the state had been making gradual improvements in English and math proficiency since 2014, when the Colorado Department of Education first began administering the CMAS exams. Testing was suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic but resumed the following year.

In 2019, the last full school year before the pandemic, 44.5% of Colorado students met or exceeded expectations in English, and 32.7% reached that level in math.

Last year, student achievement took a step back, with the statewide average declining to 43% for English and plunging more steeply to 27.4% for math.

In 2022, CDE data indicate performance rates are beginning to climb back to where they were before the pandemic, with more significant improvement in math than in English language arts. While 43.5% of students met or exceeded state standards in English — an improvement of half a percentage point from 2021 — math scores recovered 4 percentage points for a statewide average of 31.4%.

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Students in grades three through eight take the CMAS tests in math and English language arts. Students in fifth, eighth and 11th grades take the CMAS science assessments.

“Today, we celebrate the fact that student scores were better in most cases than they were in 2021, but we continue to face the challenge of fully bringing kids back to the levels they were before the disruptions of the pandemic as well as closing the historic opportunity and achievement gaps,” said Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes. “The hard work from teachers, parents and students over the past year has been remarkable, and with support from the COVID relief funds targeted at addressing lost learning opportunities, I’m confident we will continue our rebound.”

In the Colorado Springs region, students made meaningful progress in both math and English. On average, 47.9% of area students met or exceeded expectations in English and 32.5% did so in math, an improvement from 2021 of nearly 1.75% and 6.45%, respectively.

Harrison School District 2 made the region’s biggest jump from last year, with an 8.3% increase in English and an 11.3% improvement in math.

"We are so excited to see the results of such dedication by staff and students during the past year,” said Harrison Superintendent Wendy Birhanzel. “We knew it was key to get students back into school, where important relationships and targeted instruction occurred each day."

Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 was the highest-performing district in the state, with 72.7% of its students achieving at or above expected levels in English and 59.4% in math, according to CDE data.

Manitou Springs School District 14, the only area school district to see improvement between 2019 and 2021, continued its upward trend, with 54.3% of students reaching or surpassing standards in English and 29.7% reaching a similar level in math. The 1,400-student district made a 10-percentage-point gain in English between 2019 and 2021, and gained 10 points in math between 2021 and 2022.

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“It’s a testament to our teachers and their commitment to students,” said Superintendent Elizabeth Domangue. “I have so much gratitude for our educators for their focus on quality teaching and learning before and during the pandemic. It’s important work, and we plan to continue doing it.”

Academy School District 20’s English scores didn’t take a significant hit in 2021, but the percentage of students performing at or above expected levels in math dropped nearly nine points from 2019 to 2021. This year, the district made a 6-point recovery in math, with 47.2% of its students meeting or exceeding standards.

Colorado Springs businessman and education choice advocate Steve Schuck said the 2022 CMAS results offer little to celebrate when fewer than half of the state’s students are where they should be in English, and less than one-third are achieving at or above standards in math.

“Public schools simply aren’t performing at the levels they could and should, and there’s very little that should give anybody any encouragement that it’s going to get any better in the short term,” he said.

Schuck said the CMAS scores are a referendum on how the public school system serves — or often fails to serve — its students, and that the system has little motivation to improve itself.

“Public education, in general, is a monopoly,” he said. “If the customer isn’t dissatisfied with the quality of the product, why should the provider try to make it better?”

While participation rates vary between school districts, the data show a marked increase from 2021 in the number of students who took the exam. In the Colorado Springs area, the average CMAS participation rate dropped from 94.6% in 2019 to 73% in 2021. That number increased to 91% in 2022.

One reason for the marked increase in the participation average was District 49’s return to the fold. Last year, district leadership did not believe the exam results would be an accurate barometer of post-pandemic achievement, so they did not encourage participation in the test, and thousands of D-49 students decided to skip the voluntary exam. Only 40.4% of students in District 49 — based in Falcon and northeast Colorado Springs — took the CMAS tests last year.

In 2022, D-49 encouraged participation, and 90.9% of its students took part in the testing.

"Colorado’s partial test/partial pause compromise was not valuable to our district so we were intentionally low-key and did not promote participation (in 2021)," said district spokesman David Nancarrow. "In 2022, with a full slate of tests and data available, we did advocate for participation, and most of our grades and subjects approached pre-pandemic levels."

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