Bye-bye

Short TCAP testing era ends on flat note

Photo illustration

The three-year run of the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program tests has ended with 2014 statewide student proficiency levels little changed from when the test was introduced.

Results from tests given in spring 2014 in grades three through 10 showed 68.9 percent of the state’s students were reading at proficient or advanced levels. Some 56.4 percent were proficient or above in math, and 54.3 percent of students were proficient or above in writing.

The state’s overall results from this year were within one percentage point of last year’s numbers in all three subject areas.

At the state level, no grade moved more than 3 percent from last year. With a few exceptions, almost every grade level declined in almost all subject areas. Those exceptions were slight increases in fifth and seventh grade reading, 3rd and 8th grade writing and 8th and 9th grade math.

As has been the pattern with statewide testing results for several years, there are significant achievement gaps among ethnic groups, and overall proficiency levels tend to drop as students get older.

[Search Chalkbeat Colorado’s database for 2014 results by district, school, grade and subject.]

Multiple years of test results are used to calculate student academic growth, which the Department of Education uses to classify students as catching up, keeping up or moving up in their growth toward proficiency. Those results are also in roughly the range reported for 2013.

The final major piece of the annual state testing report is results of the ACT test, which is taken by all high school juniors regardless of whether they’re going to college.

The average ACT composite score increased to 20.4 (out of a possible 36) this year, just a third of a point higher than last year’s average. Average scores on the English, reading and science reasoning sections of the test also increased very slightly, while the average math score was unchanged.

State tests date back to 1997

This year’s TCAP results, released Thursday, mark the end of an era for statewide standardized testing, which began in 1997 with administration of the first Colorado Student Assessment Program reading and writing tests to fourth graders. Reading tests for third graders were added in 1998, and the system was expanded gradually. It wasn’t until 2006 that reading, math and writing tests were given to all students in grades 3-10. (Click here for details about CSAP/TCAP tests in two other subjects.)

CSAP tests ended in 2011 after new state content standards were adopted, and the TCAPs were intended to bridge the gap until new tests could be developed that would be fully aligned with the new standards. (Get more background here from the state education department on TCAPs.)

A 2011 analysis of CSAP scores by I-News and Chalkbeat Colorado found that fourth-grade proficient and advanced levels in reading increased by 10 percentage points, from 55 to 65 percent, over the 15-year run of the CSAPs.

But that analysis also found that almost all the reading gains came in the first 10 years of testing, with most districts either stagnating or falling slightly since 2006. (See this story for details on the last year of CSAP testing.)

In the last year of CSAP, 68 percent of all students were proficient or advanced in reading, with 56 percent in math and 55 percent in writing. Those figures are within two percentage points of those reported during the three years of TCAP.

Colorado education has undergone major changes since 1997, including implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind law, changing accountability requirements, periodic funding crises and implementation of new standards. There also have been important changes in student demographics, most notably a sharp increase in the proportion of students who are Hispanic, and a corresponding drop in white students.  In 1997 71.3 percent of students were white and 19.3 percent Hispanic. Last year the percentages were 55 and 32.8 percent. The percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch has risen from 34.3 percent in 2006 (the year the full testing system was rolled out) to 42.2 percent in 2013-14.

Third generation of tests is coming

The testing system
  • New online science tests were given in grades 5 and 8 last spring
  • The first social studies tests, also online, were given in grades 4 and 7
  • Science and social studies tests will be given in 12th grade this fall
  • New online CMAS language arts and math tests roll out next spring. Tests start in 3rd grade, and 11th grade tests are being added
  • There will be two sets of language arts and math tests, one in early spring and one near the end of the school year
  • Schools administer annual literacy assessments in grades K-3 under the READ Act
  • Districts are phasing in school readiness assessments required by the CAP4K law

Colorado’s next set of tests – named Colorado Measures of Academic Success – are headed to state classrooms next spring. The math and language arts tests (combining reading and writing) will be the multi-state online assessments developed by the Pearson company for the PARCC testing consortium, and those tests will be based on the controversial Common Core State Standards.

While PARCC test results won’t be available until late 2015 or possibly early 2016, state education officials have been warning for months that proficiency percentages will drop, as usually happens after states launch brand-new tests. Scores have dropped in several states that already have rolled out new tests. (See this story about projected science and social studies test results for a preview of what’s likely to happen.)

Stagnant or falling test scores always spark contentious debate among educators and interest groups about the cause – whether misdirected reforms, an underfunded K-12 system, ineffective classroom instruction, meaningless tests or the challenges posed by at-risk students, or some combination of factors are to blame.

The perceived burden of testing also has become a growing issue. A state task force assigned to investigate that and other testing issues is starting its work and will make recommendations to the 2015 legislature. (Get more background on the Colorado testing debate here and here in the Chalkbeat archives.)

Highlights from 2014 TCAP results

Growth

CDE uses growth data to classify students as catching up, keeping up or moving up in their growth toward proficiency. Those results also in roughly the range reported for 2013. (See detailed explanations of those categories here.) Here’s what those results looked like:

  • Reading: 30.9 percent catch-up, 80.7 percent keep-up and 13.7 percent move-up. (The 2013 percentages were 32.1 percent, 81.5 percent and 14.9 percent.)
  • Math: 11.2 percent catch-up, 62.4 percent keep up and 16.5 percent move-up. (The 2013 percentages were 12.4 percent, 63.4 percent and 18.6 percent.)
  • Writing: 26 percent catch-up, 72.4 percent keep-up and 18.1 percent move-up. (The 2013 percentages were 27.8 percent, 74.2 percent and 18.9 percent.)

At the state level, students were most likely to move up, keep up or catch up in reading. Students were least likely to move up, keep up, or catch up in math.

[Search Chalkbeat Colorado’s database for 2014 growth results by district, school, grade and subject.]

Proficiency: Districts & Schools

The 10 largest enrollment districts mirrored the statewide pattern of modest fluctuations in percentages of students scoring proficient or advanced.

At the state level, scores in every grade fluctuated less than 3 percent from last year. With a few exceptions, proficiency for almost every grade level declined in almost all subjects. The exceptions were 8th and 9th grade math and 5th and 7th grade writing.

Growth: Districts & Schools

All the highest growth districts in the state were rural: Liberty, Edison 54, Ouray, Summit, Silverton, Kim Reorganized and Gilpin County. One of the districts with the highest average growth across subjects was Vilas, one of two districts facing the end of the state’s accountability clock.

The state’s lowest-growth districts or entities were also small — Aguilar, Hanover, West End, Las Animas and the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind.

Two of the five highest-growth schools were in Denver, Steck Elementary and DSST:Byers. The others were Aspen Community Charter School, Vanguard High School in Cheyenne Mountain and Victory Prep Academy High State Charter School, authorized by CSI. All but Steck are charter schools.

The five lowest-growth schools in the state include two Pueblo 60 schools, Roncalli Middle School and Benjamin Franklin Elementary. The others were Juniper Ridge Community School in Grand Junction (a new “no-test, no-tech” school) and two Waldorf-inspired schools, Mountain Sage Community School in Poudre, and Mountain Song Community School, authorized by the Charter School Institute.

Race & Ethnicity

There continue to be significant gaps in the percentage of white students scoring proficient or advanced and the percentages of minority students doing so. The largest white/black gap was in math (32.4 percentage points), and the smallest was in writing (27.2 percentage points). The largest gap between white and Hispanic students was in reading (27.8 percentage points) and the smallest was in writing (27.1 percentage points).

In reading white students had the highest percentage of proficient or advanced students at 79.8 percent. Asian students had the highest percentages in writing (68.5 percent) and math (73.4 percent).

Percentages for other minority groups in the three subjects either remained the same or decreased statewide, although there were increases for some groups in some grades.

Special groups of students

Proficient and advanced percentages were lower for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, with the largest gap in seventh grade math (34.2 percentage points) and the smallest in third grade math (25.2 percentage points). Subsidized lunches are used as a proxy for poverty, albeit an imperfect one.

Percentages for English language learners classified as fluent English proficient increased in most tested grades on reading and writing, while math proficiency increased in four of eight tested grades. Improvement by grade was more mixed for students classified in two less-fluent categories.

The percentage of Title I students who scored proficient or advanced increased from 2013 in reading for grades 5, 7 and 8; in writing for grades 3, 6, 8 and 10 and in mathematics for grades 8 and 9.

The percentages of female students scoring proficient or advanced were higher than those for males in all three subjects.

Some 1,523,301 TCAP tests were given to approximately 507,700 students last spring.

Other tests taken but not counted

Students in grades five and eight took online science tests last spring, and 4th and 7th graders took online social studies tests. (High school seniors will take those tests this fall.)

Different science tests were given to 5th, 8th and 10th graders under CSAP and TCAP, and the social studies tests were new this year.

Scores on the 2014 tests, which are being calculated, won’t count when district accreditation ratings are set later this year.

Detroit Story Booth

Why one woman thinks special education reform can’t happen in isolation

PHOTO: Colin Maloney
Sharon Kelso, student advocate from Detroit

When Sharon Kelso’s kids and grandkids were still in school, they’d come home and hear the same question from her almost every day: “How was your day in school?” One day, a little over a decade ago, Kelso’s grandson gave a troubling answer. He felt violated when security guards at his school conducted a mass search of students’ personal belongings.

Kelso, a Cass Tech grad, felt compelled to act. Eventually, she became the plaintiff in two cases which outlawed unreasonable mass searches of students in Detroit’s main district.

Fast forward to August, when her three great-nephews lost both their mother and father in the space of a week and Kelso became their guardian. Today, she asks them the same question she has asked two generations of Detroit students: “How was your day in school?”

The answers she receives still deeply inform her advocacy work.

Watch the full video here:

– Colin Maloney

First Person

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

“With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.

Districts spend a ton of money paying people to pick out massively expensive, packaged curriculums, as if every one of a thousand classrooms needs the exact same things. Then officials say, over and over again, that they must be implemented “with fidelity.” What they mean is that teachers better not do anything that would serve their students’ specific needs.

When that curriculum does nothing to increase student achievement, it is not blamed. The district person who found it and purchased it is never blamed. Nope. They say, “Well, the teachers must not have been implementing it with fidelity.”

It keeps happening because admitting that schools are messy and students are human and teaching is both creative and artistic would also mean you have to trust teachers and let them have some power. Also, there are some really crappy teachers out there, and programs for everyone are often meant to push that worst-case-scenario line a little higher.

And if everyone’s doing just what they’re supposed to, we’ll get such good, clean numbers, and isn’t that worth a few thousand more dollars?

I was talking with a friend recently, a teacher at an urban school on the East Coast. He had been called to task by his principal for splitting his kids into groups to offer differentiated math instruction based on students’ needs. “But,” the principal said, “did the pacing guide say to differentiate? You need to trust the system.”

I understand the desire to find out if a curriculum “works.” But I don’t trust anyone who can say “trust the system” without vomiting. Not when the system is so much worse than anything teachers would put together.

Last year, my old district implemented Reading Plus, an online reading program that forces students to read at a pace determined by their scores. The trainers promised, literally promised us, that there wasn’t a single reading selection anywhere in the program that could be considered offensive to anyone. God knows I never learned anything from a book that made me feel uncomfortable!

Oh, and students were supposed to use this program — forced-paced reading of benign material followed by multiple-choice questions and more forced-pace reading — for 90 minutes a week. We heard a lot about fidelity when the program did almost nothing for students (and, I believe quite strongly, did far worse than encouraging independent reading of high-interest books for 90 minutes a week would have done).

At the end of that year, I was handed copies of next year’s great adventure in fidelity. I’m not in that district any longer, but the whole district was all switching over to SpringBoard, another curriculum, in language arts classes. On came the emails about implementing with fidelity and getting everyone on the same page. We were promised flexibility, you know, so long as we also stuck to the pacing guide of the workbook.

I gave it a look, I did, because only idiots turn down potential tools. But man, it seemed custom-built to keep thinking — especially any creative, critical thought from either students or teachers — to a bare minimum.

I just got an email from two students from last year. They said hi, told me they missed creative writing class, and said they hated SpringBoard, the “evil twin of Reading Plus.”

That district ran out of money and had to cut teachers (including me) at the end of the year. But if they hadn’t, I don’t think I would have lasted long if forced to teach from a pacing guide. I’m a good teacher. Good teachers love to be challenged and supported. They take feedback well, but man do we hate mandates for stuff we know isn’t best for the kids in our room.

Because, from inside a classroom full of dynamic, chaotic brilliance;

from a classroom where that kid just shared that thing that broke all of our hearts;

from a classroom where that other kid figured out that idea they’ve been working on for weeks;

from that classroom where that other kid, who doesn’t know enough of the language, hides how hard he works to keep up and still misses things;

and from that classroom where one kid isn’t sure if they trust you yet, and that other kid trusts you too much, too easily, because their bar had been set too low after years of teachers that didn’t care enough;

from inside that classroom, it’s impossible to trust that anyone else has a better idea than I do about what my students need to do for our next 50 minutes.

Tom Rademacher is a teacher living in Minneapolis who was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. His book, “It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” was published in April. He can be found on Twitter @mrtomrad and writes on misterrad.tumblr.com, where this post first appeared.