Lower Student Scores Follow Tougher New Standardized Tests In Key Subject Areas

<p>(Courtesy American College Testing)&nbsp;</p>
Photo: Test taking 1

Results from the second year of Colorado’s new standardized tests are out, and they show many students aren't meeting expectations in the four main subjects: English, math, science and social studies.

The scores from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests reflect more difficult academic standards, measuring things like critical thinking and real world problem solving skills. The scores grade whether a student is performing below, at or above expectations.

The differences in results are minimal compared to last year, as is often the case when comparing standardized tests with just one other year. The data does show a significant improvement in math scores for earlier grades, but it takes three years of results to show a trend.

What do we know now about how Colorado students are doing overall?

Across third through ninth grade, 40.2 percent of students met or exceed expectations in English, and 32.6 percent of students are on target for math. Only in some schools were fifth, eighth and 11th graders tested in science and social studies, with 30.3 percent and 21.1 percent on track, respectively.

Photo: Test results science and social studies

It seems students are doing as predicted under tougher testing.

“While we’re seeing some improvements, two years of data isn’t really enough to say we’re seeing a trend,” said Katy Anthes, Interim Commissioner of Education, speaking to the State Board of Education in Grand Junction. “Still, it’s clear that we all have more work to be done to ensure that all students are ready for college or careers and that we are closing historic gaps in achievement. ”

Which schools are doing the best on state science tests?

The top is Denver’s Polaris at Ebert Elementary, a school for gifted children, with 93.3 percent of its students exceeding or meeting expectations in fifth grade science. The Challenge School in Cherry Creek jumped 14 percentage points to 92.9 percent in the number of eighth grade test-takers scoring in the top two categories. Hulstrom Options K-8 in Adams 12 Five Star Schools jumped from 71.3 percent in the top two categories, to 87.7 percent in fifth grade math.

What do the results show us about how poverty affects a student’s academic performance?

Wealthier peers are scoring roughly 30 percentage points higher than students who are poor the majority of their education, with poor being defined as students from families with incomes that qualify for free and reduced price lunch.

What do the test scores show about the gender gap in student performance?

Under these new tests, girls continue to pull ahead of boys. The difference reached to nearly 18 percentage points in seventh grade English, with girls outscoring boys. In math, girls have caught up to boys by fifth grade and surpassed them in middle school. In high school, depending on the math class, girls are slightly ahead in some classes and boys are in others.

And what about the achievement gap? What do test scores show based on a student’s race?

The scores show that white and Asian students continue to outperform black and Latino students. For example, in fifth grade math, 17 percent of black students met or exceeded expectations. For Latinos it was 18.6 percent; whites was 44.6 percent and Asians 58.9 percent met or exceeded expectations.

Statewide results came out today for all academic areas but there were science test scores released from specific districts and schools. What stands out?

There are ups and downs across the 178 districts. In the Thompson Valley district in Loveland, there were fewer of the 1,000 fifth graders who took the spring science test who met expectations; that’s down 6.4 percentage points over 2015.

Margaret Crespo, the district’s chief academic officer, says they look at a number of factors: the teacher, the lessons, the science unit, among other factors. Thompson Valley is focusing not so much on the drop, but is looking at this year as the first true year of test scores in a new computerized testing system.

“Those are the hiccups of the first year, how was the system working, what was the investment look like, how was it evaluated,” Crespo said. “This year is a better baseline data. It’s like anything else, they’ve taken the assessments, they know what to expect, teachers know what types of questions we are looking for.”

She also points out there are differences between districts in how much money can be invested in up-to-date curriculum.

Fountain 8 schools, south of Colorado Springs, points to a three-year, $3 million federal STEM grant to possibly explain its 6.7 percent jump in test scores in eighth grade science.

“We’ve had a significantly high emphasis on STEM concepts, STEM thinking, so I would say that’s probably a piece of it,” said Lori Cooper, the district’s assistant superintendent of student achievement.

Cooper says the district purchased a science textbook in 2014, received engineering kits and finally had the money to give teachers training in science content and teaching methods.

How can these state test scores help parents?

When parents get their child’s score, they’ll also get some information specific enough to help them help their children. They’ll get a write-up on what specific skills their child is proficient in, along with a list of skills the child needs to work on. The results are color coded red, yellow and green to help families know areas that need work.

For high schoolers getting the results of the pre-college entrance exam called the PSAT there is a free resource; Colorado has an arrangement with the online Khan Academy. Students can sign up and get practice SAT tests and get an individualized study plan based on how they scored on the PSAT.

When will parents have this information - to know how their child did on the state tests?

It depends on the school, but most scores will be released at the beginning of this school year, which is already starting in some districts. State officials say parents should keep in mind these tests are just one measure of student achievement, and they should be considered along with classroom grades and teacher feedback. Help and information for parents can be found here.

The state released other data, too. What about the college entrance exams that 11th graders take? How did they do on those?

Photo: ACT results 2015

All students had their highest marks in five years on the ACT. The composite score was 20.4 percent, up one-third a percentage point from the previous year.

But that test is being replaced?

It’s being replaced this year by the SAT, a different college entrance test. Late last year, high school sophomores began taking the PSAT, as a pre-ACT test. That’s because state education officials say that test better reflects what students are being taught under these more complex academic standards. The SAT tests cover reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

How did Colorado’s 10th graders do on the PSAT?

Their total score was 944 (math = 468.4; reading and writing = 475.6), slightly above the national composite score of 932. Parents and students will have to get used to a whole new scoring range; for PSAT the top score is 1520.

Among schools, Develyn Junior/Senior High School in Jefferson County had the top overall score of 1206.3, followed by Liberty Common High School in the Poudre district, Thomas MacLaren State Charter School, Vanguard School at Cheyenne Mountain and Fairview High School in Boulder.

Among districts that had enough students to report scores, Cheyenne Mountain district reported the highest PSAT scores, followed by Boulder Valley, Steamboat Springs, Lewis-Palmer 38 and Littleton districts. Districts reporting the lowest overall PSAT scores were Adams County 14, South Conejos Re-10, Westminster 50, Las Animas Re-1 and Sheridan 2.

What was the participation rate for this year’s tests?

It was higher than last year. In 2015, pockets of Colorado had significant numbers of students opting out of tests. Last spring though, close to 95 percent of students in grades third through fifth took the tests. In grades sixth and seventh, close to 90 percent, and eight remained close to 85 percent.

Ninth grade improved a bit over last year, approaching 75 percent participation. According to state data, kids who didn’t take tests were disproportionately white, economically better off and English native speakers. And the shift to the new practice college entrance test the PSAT was successful; nearly 90 percent of 10th graders took that test compared to 70 percent taking the old practice test in 2015.