APS shows state test score improvement but still lags; Cherry Creek virtually static

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AURORAOn Thursday, the state Department of Education released Colorado Measures of Academic Success test score results, giving Colorado parents and educators an estimation of student successes — and shortcomings — in schools. 

The scores are from tests taken last spring, when Aurora students from third grade through high school tried their hand at math, English language arts, social studies and science. 

Local districts heralded the scores this week. Aurora Public Schools improved slightly as a whole, but still landed below state test score averages. Cherry Creek schools remained above state results.  

Aurora Public Schools 

Aurora Public Schools officials celebrated the new scores as showing “noteworthy momentum” improving district test scores. 

This year, about 26 percent of district students met or exceeded the state standards in English, up from just over a quarter in 2018. In math tests, 18.2 percent met or exceeded standards, from 16.7 percent. School districts usually reference these two subjects.

That’s well below the approximately 35 percent of all Colorado students meeting or exceeding math standards and about 45 percent that met or exceeded English standards.

But APS spokesman Corey Christiansen said the scores mark the fifth consecutive year of improvement for the district. APS has improved 5.8 percent in English and math over the last five years, he said. 

Standouts in the district include Aurora Quest K-8, the district school for gifted and talented students. About 90 percent of students there met or exceeded standards in English and math. 

Even so, critics often wield the district’s below-average test scores when arguing that educators run subpar schools. 

But context is important when interpreting test scores. 

APS covers much of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, which are also communities of many immigrants and refugees. About 35 percent of APS students are learning English, according to the district. State tests are conducted in English only. 

Plus, almost 70 percent of district students were also receiving free and reduced-price lunches at school, an indicator of poverty. Educators say impoverished students often struggle learn because of issues at home or in their neighborhoods. 

Like many school districts across the country, white and asian students in APS fared better than hispanic and black students. 

In Colorado as a whole, asian and white students outperformed black and hispanic students. About 57 percent white students met or exceeded standards this year, compared to about 30 percent of black and hispanic students. Asian students fared even better than white students. 

APS has a smaller racial achievement gap than the state as a whole, but scores are generally lower. 

Almost half of white students met or exceeded expectations, compared to less than a quarter of black and hispanic students. Asian students fared slightly worse than white students here. 

APS credited its slow and steady test score growth to an educational model grounded in meeting students where they are in life. 

“I am especially proud that equity is at the heart of our work every day and am honored to work with staff members who recognize the strengths that all of our students bring to our classrooms,” said Superintendent Rico Munn. 

Munn said the district still has a lot of work ahead of it. 

Cherry Creek School District 

Cherry Creek’s test scores saw a slight decline, but students largely delivered relatively impressive results. 

English language arts scores rose slightly to 50.8 of students meeting or being pegged above state standards, and math scores declined slightly to  43.1 students meeting or exceeding state standards. 

“Across the district, we maintained performance levels on state assessments from the previous year,” said Mike Giles, assistant superintendent of performance improvement.

Cherry Creek includes some schools of mostly low-income students, but the district is generally more affluent than APS. About 30 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunches, according to the district. 

Scores at individual scores were mixed. Excluding a few standouts, scores declined or improved slightly in various schools. Many elementary schools declined slightly. 

But at Mission Viejo Elementary School, the percentage of students succeeding in English tests jumped from about 30 percent to 40 percent. 

Cherry Creek is still plagued by a higher racial achievement gap, which is wider between white and black students than the rest of the state. 

“We also know we have work to do to ensure all students have access to high quality educational experiences that prepare them for their future,” Giles said.