Wrapping it up

Testing task force remains divided on some issues as finish line nears

Members of Standards and Assessments Task Force slowly worked through their recommendations as changes were tracked in a document project on screens in the meeting room.

In its final meeting Monday, the state’s testing task force firmed up recommendations for cutbacks in some high school testing and for streamlining of assessments and evaluations in the earliest grades.

The group couldn’t reach agreement on what should be done with social studies tests and with 9th grade language arts and math tests. Nor were its members of one mind about how the state should help districts with the costs of technology needed for new online tests.

The task force isn’t recommending that the testing schedule be changed for this spring or that the legislature mandate changes in local testing.

As the meeting ended, chair Dan Snowberger said, “What this [the group’s work] has represented to me is the real complexity of this issue.” Given that, he added, he hopes “the legislature doesn’t see the limited change we can suggest … as a loss.” Snowberger is superintendent of the Durango schools.

“I feel like we’ve done as much as we can,” said task force member Syna Morgan, a Jeffco administrator.

The Standards and Assessments Task Force didn’t leave Monday’s session with final report language in place. Subgroups of the 15-member body will edit sections of the draft completed Monday, then each member will have the opportunity to comment on the whole document. The panel will review changes during a Jan. 23 conference call, with a Jan. 26 deadline for finishing the report.

Given the group’s propensity for word-smithing, it’s likely there will several changes in language.

Members of the group are scheduled to present their report to lawmakers on Jan. 28.

The task force is recommending that language arts and math tests continue in grades 3-8 and in grade 10. Junior-year tests in those subjects would be made optional, and 12th grade tests in social studies and science would be eliminated. The task force also is recommending streamlining some of the assessments and evaluations used to determine school readiness and reading ability in K-3 students. For instance, students who demonstrate grade-level reading wouldn’t have to be retested during the same school year.

The group will propose there be a one-year timeout in state ratings of schools to avoid schools or districts being penalized if significant numbers of students opt out of this spring’s tests. The panel also agreed that if a ratings timeout is approved, the state needs to provide clear, factual to districts and parents on what that means.

Despite apparent agreement during a Friday meeting, the group split Monday in a rare show-of-hands vote on whether 9th grade language arts and math tests should be eliminated. The report will reflect that division.

The group’s division over whether to continue 4th and 7th grade social studies tests or make them optional also will go into the report.

Late Monday morning, the group also seemed ready to split on other high school testing changes.

After a break for lunch, Snowberger said, “It does feel like we’re starting to revisit, we’re starting to backpedal.” The panel decided to leave the recommendations as they were.

Members also spent considerable time Friday and Monday morning discussing more extensive changes to testing, which might be possible if and when federal requirements change. The possibilities include adaptive assessments (tests that get harder or easier depending on a student’s answers), flexibility for districts to use their own tests, state tests that combine several subjects, and streamlining annual testing so that students wouldn’t take tests in multiple subjects each year.

But the group made no recommendations – “There are unresolved tensions in the group,” noted Bill Jaeger of the Colorado Children’s Campaign – and decided those issues are best left to some future study group.

In closing comments members complimented one another, but a couple were critical of the legislature for lack of diversity on the group. The panel, appointed by legislative leaders and the chair of the State Board of Education, had one Hispanic member and no African Americans. Tony Lewis of the Donnell-Kay Foundation called that “immoral if not unjust.”

Lewis and task force facilitator Laura Lefkowits also chided lawmakers for not providing any funding for the task force. (The only funding was for an outside study of testing impacts.)

state test results

With accelerated growth in literacy and math, Denver students close in on state averages

Angel Trigueros-Martinez pokes his head from the back of the line as students wait to enter the building on the first day of school at McGlone Academy on Wednesday. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Denver elementary and middle school students continued a recent streak of high academic growth this year on state literacy and math tests, results released Thursday show. That growth inched the district’s scores even closer to statewide averages, turning what was once a wide chasm into a narrow gap of 2 percentage points in math and 3 in literacy.

Still, fewer than half of Denver students in grades three through eight met state expectations in literacy, and only about a third met them in math.

Find your school’s test scores
Look up your elementary or middle school’s test scores in Chalkbeat’s database here. Look up your high school’s test results here.

Denver’s high schoolers lagged in academic growth, especially ninth-graders who took the PSAT for the first time. Their test scores were lower than statewide averages.

“We are absolutely concerned about that,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said Thursday of the ninth-grade scores, “and that is data we need to dig in on and understand.”

Students across Colorado took standardized literacy and math tests this past spring. Third- through eighth-graders took the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS, tests, which are also known as the PARCC tests. High school students took college entrance exams: Ninth- and 10th-graders took the PSAT, a preparatory test, and 11th-graders took the SAT.

On CMAS, 42 percent of Denver students in grades three through eight met or exceeded state expectations in literacy. Statewide, 45 percent of students did. In math, 32 percent of Denver students met expectations, compared with 34 percent statewide.

While Denver’s overall performance improved in both subjects, third-grade literacy scores were flat. That’s noteworthy because the district has invested heavily in early literacy training for teachers and has seen progress on tests taken by students in kindergarten through third grade. That wasn’t reflected on the third-grade CMAS test, though Boasberg said he’s hopeful it will be as more students meant to benefit from the training take that test.

On the PSAT tests, Denver ninth-graders earned a mean score of 860, which was below the statewide mean score of 902. The mean PSAT score for Denver 10th-graders was 912, compared with the statewide mean score of 944. And on the SAT, Denver 11th-graders had a mean score of 975. Statewide, the mean score for 11th-graders was 1014.

White students in Denver continued to score higher, and make more academic progress year to year, than black and Hispanic students. The same was true for students from high- and middle-income families compared with students from low-income families.

For example, 69 percent of Denver students from high- and middle-income families met expectations on the CMAS literacy tests, compared with just 27 percent of students from low-income families – which equates to a 42 percentage-point gap. That especially matters in Denver because two-thirds of the district’s 92,600 students are from low-income families.

Boasberg acknowledged those gaps, and said it is the district’s core mission to close them. But he also pointed out that Denver’s students of color and those from low-income families show more academic growth than their peers statewide. That means they’re making faster progress and are more likely to reach or surpass grade-level in reading, writing, and math.

Denver Public Schools pays a lot of attention to annual academic growth, as measured by a state calculation known as a “median growth percentile.”

The calculation assigns students a score from 1 to 99 that reflects how much they improved compared with other students with similar score histories. A score of 99 means a student did better on the test than 99 percent of students who scored similarly to him the year before.

Students who score above 50 are considered to have made more than a year’s worth of academic progress in a year’s time, whereas students who score below 50 are considered to have made less than a year’s worth of progress.

The state also calculates overall growth scores for districts and schools. Denver Public Schools earned a growth score of 55 on the CMAS literacy tests and 54 on the CMAS math tests. Combined, those scores were the highest among Colorado’s 12 largest districts.

Other bright spots in the district’s data: Denver’s students learning English as a second language – who make up more than a third of the population – continued to outpace statewide averages in achievement. For example, 29 percent of Denver’s English language learners met expectations in literacy, while only 22 percent statewide did, according to the district.

Denver eighth-graders also surpassed statewide averages in literacy for the first time this year: 45 percent met or exceeded expectations, as opposed to 44 percent statewide. That increase is reflected in the high growth scores for Denver eighth-graders: 52 in math and 57 in literacy.

Those contrast sharply with the ninth-grade growth scores: 47 in math and an especially low 37 in literacy. That same group of students had higher growth scores last year, Boasberg said; why their progress dropped so precipitously is part of what district officials hope to figure out.

Trending up

Most schools in Tennessee’s largest district show growth on state test

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Students at Freedom Preparatory Academy's high school prepare to take their TNReady geometry test.

Most schools in Shelby County Schools showed progress in all subjects except science, but students still outshined their peers across the state in science, earning them the state’s highest rating in growth.

About half of schools in the Memphis district saw a bump in English scores, also earning the district the highest rating of growth under the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson attributed the gains to a renewed focus in preschool education in recent years, adding a reading curriculum more aligned with state standards, and doubling down on literacy training for teachers and students.

“When you think about the investments that we’ve been able to make in schools over the last two years, I think the data is showing that we’re seeing a good return on our investment,” he told reporters Thursday.

But the scores don’t come without tension. Hopson recently teamed up with Shawn Joseph, the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, to declare “no confidence” in the state’s test delivery system, which has been plagued with online problems since it began in 2016. Still, Hopson said educators are utilizing the data available to adjust strategies.

“It’s an imperfect measure, but it’s the measure we have right now,” he said. Hopson worries the failures of the state’s online testing system used by high schoolers made “some teachers and students lose focus.”

“There’s impact on those kids that we may never know about,” he said.

Find your school and compare here

The state doesn’t release data for an exam if fewer than 5 percent of students performed on grade level or if 95 percent of students were above grade level. An asterisk signifies that a school’s score falls in one of those two categories.

District-wide results released in July show that more young students are reading on grade-level, and that math scores went up across the board. But the percentage of high school students who scored proficient in reading dropped by 4 percentage points. Shelby County Schools still lags significantly behind the state average.

Shelby County Schools also improved its overall growth score, which measures how students performed compared to peers across the state who scored similarly to them the year before. It increased from 1 to 2 on a scale of 5. More than half of schools scored 3 or above, meaning those students scored on par or more than their peers.

The district’s nearly 200 schools include about 50 charter schools that are managed by nonprofit organizations but receive public funding. The rest are run by the district.

Below are charts showing the five schools that performed best and worst in the district in each subject, as well as those that grew or declined the most in each subject.

The state doesn’t release data for an exam if fewer than 5 percent of students were on grade level or if 95 percent of students were above grade level. The charts below only include schools that fall in between that range.

English Language Arts

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

Math

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

Science

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park

Graphic by Samuel Park

Social Studies

Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park
Graphic by Samuel Park