Are Children Learning

Colorado middle schoolers fall short on national report card

Colorado’s middle school students fell short on the test known as “the nation’s report card,” according to data released today on the 2013 tests.

Fourth graders posted statistically significant increases in both reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an assessment given to fourth- and eighth-graders across the country every two years.

States' performance on fourth (top) and eighth (bottom) reading assessments. (Image courtesy of NAEP)
States’ performance on fourth (top) and eighth (grade) reading assessments. (Image courtesy of NAEP)

Colorado students’ scores on eighth grade math dipped by two points, compared with 2011. By contrast, the national average was a one point increase. Eighth grade reading scores showed no change in Colorado, compared with a national average increase of two points.

States historically see gains at the fourth grade level, said Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP. Eighth grade gains are more difficult, a trend maintained by Colorado’s scores but bucked by the nation at large. Eighth grade reading posted the highest gains nation-wide, with states moving on average two points. California showed the most growth, with students scoring on average seven points better than in 2011.

Until the implementation of Common Core State Standards, NAEP has been the only way to compare student performance across states with vastly different standards for their own tests. But even as more states align their tests to common standards, Buckley argued that the tests will remain relevant, given how many variations remain and the importance of NAEP’s long-term data collection.

“If everything is changing, we’re going to be the only time series people can use to make comparisons,” Buckley said.

Across the country, Tennessee, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia saw the biggest across-the-board gains, though scores for Washington, D.C. especially, still rank among the nation’s lowest. Tennessee and D.C. saw unusually dramatic gains across both grades and subjects.

“You’d like to see some steady improvement across subjects, though generally seeing an increase in all subject-grade combinations is very rare,” said Buckley.

“It’s hard to move the needle on all four grades and subjects unless you’re really doing something,” Buckley said.

Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, said the overall picture remained discouraging, with scores across the country improving less quickly than they have in the past.

“The gains since 2009 have been basically half the pace that they were 2000 to 2009,” he said.

Some of the national results bucked recent trends. In the past, much of the score increases have been attributed to the lowest-performing students catching up with their peers. This year, Buckley noted that a big chunk of states’ gains came from high-performing students pulling further ahead.

Today’s data breaks down by state but district-level results will come out in December. As for Colorado, here’s a more detailed breakdown of the scores:

  • Achievement gap: Colorado’s achievement gap between white and Hispanic students remains larger than the national average in both levels of math testing. However, it did narrow significantly on fourth grade reading. Between white and black students, the gap on eighth grade reading, which grew this year, is also wider than the national average.
  • Reading performance: 40 percent of Colorado students scored proficient or better on reading in both fourth and eighth grades. That’s nearly half the percent of students who scored proficient or better, according to the state’s testing (for third through tenth graders, 73 percent scored proficient or better).
  • Math performance: 50 percent of fourth graders and 42 percent of eighth graders scored proficient or better the NAEP in math. That’s compared with 72 percent of third through tenth graders who score proficient or better on the state’s testing.

For more details on Colorado and the nation’s performance, click here.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.