Last spring’s state SAT and PSAT test scores for Colorado high school students fell from the previous year, results released Wednesday show.
In 2021, Colorado’s high school test scores improved from 2019, despite the learning interruptions students endured, but results released Wednesday are less encouraging.
Two of three groups — ninth and 11th graders — also scored lower than did their counterparts in 2019, state results published Wednesday show.
The bright spot was among 10th graders. Although a smaller proportion met or exceeded expectations than did last year, their rates still were better than in 2019. In English for example, 67% of 10th graders met or exceeded expectations this spring, down from 69.3% in 2021, but higher than the 64.9% of 10th graders who did in 2019.
Colorado uses the PSAT for ninth and tenth graders, and the SAT for 11th graders as its annual state test.
Looking for CMAS results for 2022? Look up those scores, here.
Last year, when more high school test scores seemed to improve, educators wondered if lower participation rates might have skewed results. Students who took the 2021 test might have been those who were more motivated and likely to do well.
High school participation in the PSAT and SAT this spring went up to around 85%. That’s still lower than the roughly 92% participation rates before the pandemic, but state officials said that the students who did participate reflected the year’s enrollment diversity.
Some colleges use the SAT for admissions criteria, though many are now backing away from standardized testing requirements.
SAT scores can range from 200 to 800 each on the literacy and math tests, with a maximum composite score of 1600. The statewide average composite score in 2022 was 986, down from 1001 in 2019.
PSAT scores for 10th graders can range from 160 to 760 on individual tests, with a maximum total score of 1520. For ninth graders the range is from 120 to 720, with a maximum total score of 1440.
For ninth graders, the statewide average total score was 885 in 2022, down from 906 in 2019. Ninth grade scores on the math PSAT test declined the most. Only 40.8% scored at least on grade level, a decline of 8.8 percentage points from 2019.
Most achievement gaps grew across various demographic groups, with the largest gaps this year between English learners and other students. On the reading and writing tests, those gaps exceeded 50 percentage points. Among racial and ethnic groups, the largest gap separated Hispanic students from white students.
Among metro area school districts, Adams 14 and its neighbor, the Brighton-based 27J had some of the largest declines in scores for 11th graders from 2019. Students meeting or exceeding expectations dropped by 9 percentage points in 27J, and by 8.4 percentage points in Adams 14.
Ninth graders in Adams 14, a district that may lose control of its schools because of its chronic low achievement, also had some of the largest three-year drops in math scores in the metro area. Only 7.8% met or exceeded expectations this spring.
The district also had lower participation rates than the state average with 76.9% of students taking the test.
Adams 14’s growth scores for high school students were also among the worst in the state.
Performance on the SAT is strongly tied to demographic factors, with better-off white and Asian students posting higher scores. Growth scores, which are supposed to be a more equitable way to look at achievement, compare how much students improve relative to students who have a similar test performance history. Students who are below grade level need growth scores above 50 to make progress toward catching up.
For math, Adams 14’s average growth score of 32 was the seventh-worst in the state.
Jeffco and Cherry Creek school districts are among metro area districts that did well on growth measures. For high school math, both districts had a growth score of 55, placing both in the top 20 scores in the state.
Mica Buenning, the principal for Ralston Valley High School in Jeffco, said she wasn’t surprised by her school’s scores. After seeing a big drop in math scores last year, her staff spent 2021-22 focusing on rewriting math units. Math scores at her school were up this year, though they still haven’t bounced back to 2019 levels.
Buenning said she had made a point of making time for her math teachers to collaborate and plan together, particularly for Algebra 2 teachers, which is usually a class for juniors.
“I know my teachers make a difference when they have time to collaborate,” Buenning said. “We did that last year and we’re doing it again this year too.”
Buenning said her school now will focus more on ninth grade math classes. Those scores are the farthest from 2019 levels. About 69% of Ralston Valley ninth graders scored at least on grade level on math, compared with 84% of freshmen in 2019.
Ninth graders last year had tougher challenges than did other students, Buenning said.
“My freshmen came in today and they were 1,000 times different than the freshmen from last year,” Buenning said Tuesday. “They had a full year of middle school to work on their skills around organization and all of those executive function skills, including moving from classroom to classroom. Last year we had a lot of kids coming in that academically they might have been OK, but socially they struggled.”
Teachers across the country talked about the challenges of helping students with greater behavioral issues and social-emotional needs.
Other districts that showed some bright spots were Englewood and Sheridan.
Tenth graders in Sheridan, where most students come from low-income families, had larger improvements than either the state or most metro area districts did. In reading and writing, 46.3% of 10th graders met or exceeded expectations, up from 30.5% last year and from 38.9% in 2019.
Maegan Daigler, executive director of assessment and technology for Sheridan, said that district leaders were “delightfully surprised” at the scores. She said there are some investments the high school has made to help students catch up.
Those changes include adding a pre-Advanced Placement English course that helps push more students into rigorous courses, expanding AVID programs, and adding a partnership with University of Colorado Denver. Math professors from the university’s education department have helped Sheridan create diagnostic tests to help teachers better understand how to help students progress.
Daigler said it seems students who made more progress were more likely to be involved in rigorous courses including the new pre-AP classes.
“We’re thinking about how we’re pushing and supporting students, instead of just remediating,” Daigler said.
Now leaders are digging deeper to see how those different approaches have helped, to look at where to expand the work.
See how students performed at your school in the searchable database below. You can also see the state’s full data release on its website here.
Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at firstname.lastname@example.org.