5 Things To Know About Test Scores That Show Colorado Students Still Aren’t Performing As Well As They Should Be

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A classroom inside South High School, April 13, 2018.

Colorado students still aren’t performing as well as they should be when it comes to the state’s standardized test.

Less than half of Colorado students met or exceeded expectations in math, English, science and social studies, according to new data released by the Colorado Department of Education on Thursday. 

Test scores show students did better on the math, English language arts and social studies tests compared to 2018, but there was a dip in science test scores. 

Half a million Colorado kids in third through 11th grade took the Colorado Measures of Academic Success in the spring. This is the fifth year the test has been administered. Depending on the grade level, students are tested in English language arts, math, science, social students, and the PSAT and SAT.

Here’s what you need to know about the state’s 2019 test scores (or you can dive in and find your school’s results here): 

The results show achievement gaps continue to persist between historically disadvantaged students and their peers.

Lower-income students, students with disabilities and students of color have shown some improvements but they aren’t closing in on the gap.

Students who qualified for free and reduced lunch had about a 30-percentage-point gap across all grades compared to other students, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The largest gap was for sixth-graders in the English language arts test, which had a 32.3-percentage-point gap. In 2018, the largest gap between lower-income students and others was in the fifth-grade science test.

The achievement gap is even larger in some grades for students with a disability. Eighth-graders with a disability tested 44 percentage points lower than their peers without a disability on the English language arts test. Only 7.2 percent of those students met or exceeded expectations compared to 51.2 percent of students without disabilities. The gap was between 28 and 43.8 percentage points in 2018 for elementary and middle school students who had a disability.

In every grade, black and Hispanic students met or exceeded expectations at smaller percentages on the math and English language arts tests compared to their white peers. Sixty percent of white fifth-graders met or exceeded expectations on the English language arts tests where black students came in at 31.6 percent and Hispanics at 31.5 percent. 

“They are either kind of matching the growth that we’re seeing with, as an example, our white subgroup, or they’re actually growing a little bit slower,” said Joyce Zurkowski, chief academic officer with Colorado’s Department of Education. “The gaps definitely are of concern which is why as one of our goals, we have reference to ‘All Means All,’ which really does indicate that our focus needs to be on all of our students regardless of background, regardless of achievement and our goal is to help all of those students move forward.”

Those gaps have remained relatively unchanged for five years, according to the state's education department. 

The gender divide continues to grow.

Eighth-grade girls outperformed boys on the English language arts test and increased the achievement gap between the two by 19.2 percentage points. Third through sixth-grade boys slightly outperformed girls on the math test. 

All students continued to improve on the English language arts test.

All grades except seventh improved on the English language arts test since 2018. Even though the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the English language arts test improved by at least 3 percentage points since the test was first administered in 2015, there are still more than half of the test-takers in each grade not meeting expectations. 

“We’re not shifting or changing or advancing as quickly as we would like to but yes, I think it is fair to say that our students in 2019 are meeting and exceeding our standards for ELA at a higher rate than they were in 2015,” Zurkowski said.

Floyd Cobb, executive director of teaching and learning with the state, said the improvement over time in English language arts tests could be because of a number of reasons, including professional development for teachers and additional funding through the READ Act

“Our teachers are becoming more familiar with the standards and what the expectations are for students at each grade level,” he said. “There has been a tremendous focus here in the state of Colorado as it relates to early literacy.”

Lots of SAT-takers but a little more than a third scored at or above college benchmarks.

More than 90 percent of 11th-graders took the SAT, setting a record high for Colorado public school participation in a college entrance exam, according to the state. Thirty-seven percent of students scored at or above the SAT’s college readiness benchmarks in math and evidence-based reading and writing. 

Eleventh-grade test scored slightly declined compared to 2018 but Colorado students had better scores than the rest of the U.S. 

Less than 25 percent of the fourth and seventh-graders who took the social studies test met or exceeded expectations. 

Only fourth- and seventh-graders from sampled schools took the CMAS social studies test. However, those are different students taking the test compared to last year’s students. Students who did take the test showed a positive change between 2018 and 2019’s scores. Nearly 24 percent of fourth-graders met or exceeded expectations versus 22.4 percent in 2018. About 18 percent of seventh-graders met or exceeded expectations versus 15.7 percent in 2018.

Overall, all grade levels showed increased participation in the state test since 2015, when the test first started. Ninety-five percent of third through fifth-graders took the CMAS test.  

Find your school’s results here.