Who Is In Charge

Scores go up, scores go down

The state’s 2010 test scores and growth data once again show the familiar pattern of some improvements and some declines, and the persistence of achievement gaps, according to 2010 test results released by the Colorado Department of Education.

Combined figures for all grades showed 68 percent of Colorado students proficient or advanced in reading in 2010, the same percentage as in the prior two years. In writing, 53 percent were proficient, down two percentage points from last year and the same as 2008. In math, 55 percent were proficient or higher, the same as 2009 and two points higher than in 2008. Those percentages have remained in the same narrow range for a decade.

Colorado Department of Education graphic

“Scores overall were flat,” was how Assistant Education Commission Jo O’Brien summed up the results at a news conference Tuesday. “Some school districts had a banner year, and other didn’t do as well.”

“The expectation was that there’d be more of an uptick … it was not expected to see it flat,” O’Brien added, noting that the results will give educators something to think about. She also said “we were not pleased” with a general decline in writing test scores. Asked to speculate on why those scores dropped, O’Brien said she had a “hunch” that prolonged legislative discussion last spring about eliminating the writing tests may have sent the wrong signal to schools.

The results highlight the challenges Colorado faces in meeting the goals included in its application for federal Race to the Top dollars.

Among other improvements in achievement by state students, Colorado’s application sets goals of 95 percent of students proficient or above in reading and 85 percent in math by 2020, if the state wins R2T.

Without R2T, the state estimates 2020 proficiency levels at 73.8 percent in reading and 61.5 percent in math.

State policy and law, and educational fashion, have shifted toward a greater emphasis on student growth toward proficiency over time.

A key metric contained in the Colorado Growth Model is the percentage of who scored unsatisfactory or partially proficient but whose growth is on track to move into proficient (“catch up”) within three years or by 10th grade, whichever comes first.

Colorado Department of Education graph

That key stat also is flat this year. Of those students, 35 percent are on track to catch up in reading, 24 percent in writing and 13 percent in math. Statewide, there are 143,978 students who scored unsatisfactory or partially proficient in reading, 217,291 in writing and 209,514 in math.

Bill Bonk, who works on growth issues for the Department of Education, said, “We face great challenge in this state” in helping such students catch up.

Of particular concern are the students who score unsatisfactory, the lowest level. This year, there are 47,054 of those in reading, 27,527 in writing and 79,606 in math.

“More than 85 percent of students who need to catch up don’t appear to be doing so,” Bonk said. “The actions taken thus far have not been effective enough.”

Asked what the state should be doing, Bonk said, “Part of the reason for having a growth model is to shine a light” on the problem. “It doesn’t show the path ahead.”

The model also calculates “keep up” and “move up” statuses for students who score proficient or advanced. Keep up statistics measure students whose growth levels are expected to maintain them at proficient or advanced levels. Move up includes students whose growth is expected to move them from proficient to advanced. (See these PDF slides for more details on the Colorado Growth model and 2010 results.)

Here are highlights of the 2010 results for CSAP achivement scores.

Reading (grades 3-10)

The percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced ranged from a high of 70 percent in grade 3 to 66 percent in grades 4 and 10.

Compared to 2009 results, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced grew in grades 4, 7 and 8; declined in grades 3 and 10, and stayed the same in grades 5, 6 and 9.

Over the six years from 2005 to 2010, the percentage of proficient or advanced students improved in grades 6, 7, 8 and 9; declined in grade 3 and remained the same in grades 5 and 10.

Writing (grades 3-10)

Seventh graders had the highest percentage scoring proficient or advanced at 58 percent. The 10th grade was low at 47 percent.

Compared to 2009, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced declined in every grade except 8, which improved by two percentage points. From 2005-2010, the percentage declined in grades 3, 4, 6, 9 and 1o, rose in grades 7 and 8 and remained the same from grade 5.

Math (grades 3-10)

The percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced showed a steady decline as students get older, going from 71 percent in the 3rd grade to 30 percent in the 10th.

The percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced increased compared to 2009 in grades 3, 5, 8 and 9; declined in grades 6 and 7 and stayed the same in grades 4 and 10. Over the period starting in 2005, only grades 4, 6 and 8 showed improvement in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced. Compared to 2009, the 2010 scores show improvement in grade 5 and declines in grades 8 and 10.

Science (grades 5, 8 and 10)

Because of a change in standards, scores from 2008, 2009 and 2010 can’t be compared to those from 2007 and before.

The percentages proficient or advanced were 47 in 5th grade, 48 in 8th grade and 47 in 10th grade.

The Department of Education also compared results by ethnic group, gender, Title I and IEP status, free and reduced lunch eligibility and English language proficiency. Here’s a summary of those findings:


Bill Bonk of CDE discusses growth statistics at Aug. 10 news conference. Assistant Commissioner Jo O'Brien is to his left.

Hispanics and Blacks improved their percentages in the proficient and advanced categories for reading in more grades, six, than all other groups. Their performance declined in only two grades, 3rd and 10th.

In math, Black students improved in the most grades – six (3, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10) with Hispanics and Native Americans both improving in five grades (Hispanics 3, 5, 8, 9, and 10; Native Americans 3, 4, 8, 9, and 10). Whites improved in four grades (3, 5, 8, and 9).

“Regardless of the improvement for minority groups, it should be noted that a significant gap between the performance of white and minority students persists across most tests,” the CDE summary noted.


A higher percentage of girls than boys are proficient or advanced in reading and writing at every grade level. Boys do better in math in all but a few grades, and the percentages decline for both genders as students get older.

Title I students and students with individual education plans

The percentage of Title I students scoring proficient or advanced increased on 17 of the 31 assessments administered.

The percentage of students on individual education plans (IEP) in the proficient and advanced categories decreased on 20 of the 31 tests.

Free and reduced-price lunch students

Students defined as eligible for free-or-reduced price lunch increased their percentages in the proficient and advanced categories on 16 of 27 English language tests administered in 2010.

“Regardless of the improvement for students of poverty, it should be noted that a significant gap between the performance of students on free or reduced price lunch and their non-eligible for free/reduced price lunch peers persists,” the CDE summary also noted.

English language learners

Students defined as Fluent English Proficient (FEP) increased their percentages in proficient and advanced on 21 of 27 English language tests. Students who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) improved on nine of 27 tests, as did students who are not learning English.

ACT results

All Colorado 11th-graders are required to take the ACT tests for data purposes, but scores have no bearing on high school graduations.

Compared to 2009, the 2010 statewide results showed slight decreases in all content areas except English (18.6), which remained the same. Reading (down to 19.6 from 20.1) showed the largest decrease. The average 2010 composite score (19.4) was down compared to the average composite score (19.6) for 2009.

This year’s results are the second-to-the-last under the current CSAP program, which started in 1997 with just two tests. Students will take regular CSAP tests next spring based on the old state Model Content Standards. In 2012 and 2013, students will take CSAPs modified to reflect the combination state standards and Common Core standards for language arts and math, which have been adopted by the State Board of Education.

Brand-new tests are expected to debut in the spring of 2014. It seems increasingly likely those new tests will be one of the multi-state common assessment programs now under development, rather than a Colorado-only set of tests.

But parents will see one key change this year.

The familiar SARs (school accountability reports), distributed every December, have been phased out and are being replaced this December by what are called school and district “performance frameworks.”

Those frameworks consider not only CSAP results but also growth, achievement gaps, ACT scores, graduation rates and dropout rates in rating schools.

All of that information about schools and districts will be available on CDE’s data portal, SchoolView.org, which was launched last year. Printed copies of individual school data also will be available to parents who want it. (The 2010 CSAP and growth data already has been added to SchoolView, so parents and citizens can see that now for individual schools and districts.)

The expanded data set also is the basis for the state’s new six-level system of accrediting school districts and determining levels of state intervention in struggling districts. (See this CDE document for details on performance frameworks, the accreditation system and SchoolView.)

This year’s release was low-key compared to 2009’s announcement, which featured Gov. Bill Ritter, Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, education Commissioner Dwight Jones, other CDE officials and a large number of teachers and education officials from around the state.

On Tuesday, O’Brien, Bonk and communications director Mark Stevens briefed a small group of reporters and others on the results. The lieutenant governor and Jones were in Washington Tuesday presenting Colorado’s R2T bid to U.S. Department of Education reviewers. Ritter’s major public event of the day was announcement of an agreement with energy companies to protect wildlife from the impacts of energy development.

Some 1.6 million CSAP tests (there are 31 different tests) were given to about 465,000 Colorado students this year.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: