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Achievement gaps narrow slightly, but statewide test scores stay mostly flat

Colorado students’ performance on state standardized tests stalled for the second year in a row, according to new data released Wednesday.

And while some achievement gaps between the state’s white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts narrowed slightly, state officials estimated that the slow pace could mean three decades will pass before students in the demographic groups perform at similar levels.

“We can call this a glimmer of hope, but it’s a very faint glimmer,” State Board of Education chair Paul Lundeen said.

Nearly 70 percent of the state’s students are reading at grade level, essentially the same rate as last year. About 57 percent are proficient or above in math, an increase of about a percentage point from 2012. Exactly 55 percent of students tested are writing at grade level, also an increase of one point over last year.

The biggest statewide gains came on science tests, where scores rose 1.5 percentage points, with just over half of students achieving proficiency.

“Overall students are making gains. More students are showing growth,” testing director Joyce Zurkowski told the state board Wednesday morning. “But these gains are not sufficient if our students are to be college and career ready.”

State officials pointed out that since 2008, low-income students and those learning English have improved their performance on state exams at a faster rate than their more affluent and English-fluent peers, and black and Hispanic students have made more gains than white students. Between last year and this year, for example, the difference between white and Hispanic students’ scores in both reading and math narrowed by roughly one and a half percentage points.

However, test scores of black and Hispanic students still lag far behind those of their white peers.

“I hope this prompts a deep discussion of the gaps,” said board member Deb Scheffel. Among those questions, Scheffel said, should be whether providing extra funding to low-performing schools is having an impact.

But board member Angelika Schroeder pointed out that the state is just beginning to implement a broad slate of school-improvement efforts, including upgrades to early literacy programs and new content standards that are being introduced to classrooms this school year.

“I guess I’m not as pessimistic as everyone else,” Schroeder said.

Scores of Denver Public School students overall snuck upward in ranges from one percentage point on writing exams to three percentage points on math and science tests.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg lauded the sustained progress in scores, which have increased by double digits in all subjects since 2005. Schools in the Far Northeast neighborhood of Denver, where the district launched a concerted turnaround effort two years ago, have posted double-digit gains in proficiency at both the middle and high school level.

“Most strikingly, Denver Public Schools students for the second year in a row showed more growth than students in any of the biggest districts in the state,” Boasberg said. “At the same time, we remain very concerned about our achievement gaps.”

Performance gaps between Hispanic and black students and their white peers in the district on reading tests, for example, have remained stagnant since 2011 with a a nine percentage point difference. And while 70 percent of the district’s more affluent students met the proficiency bar on math exams, just half of students on reduced-price lunch and just over a third of students who receive free lunch met that standard.

Those sustained gaps, along with low relative overall performance compared to other districts, fueled criticism from opponents of Boasberg’s reform efforts.

“The district will somehow find reasons to celebrate,” said DPS board member Jeannie Kaplan in a statement. “I can find no such thing.” Kaplan argued that progress remains too slow given the wide gaps in absolute performance between the district and the rest of the state. Overall, 54 percent of Denver students reached the proficiency bar in reading. In math, 46 percent of students in the district are proficient and 42 percent write on grade level.

Find your school and district’s TCAP scores as well as their growth rates in our searchable databases. And follow EdNews Colorado for more analysis and take-aways from the state scores soon.

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