New student testing shows similar math, language issues

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AURORA | The majority of Colorado students are still underperforming in math and language arts, according to a fresh batch of test results released Thursday, Aug. 11, by the Colorado Department of Education.

Results of the new PARCC test, which the state administered for the second time this spring, largely mirrored the feeble results gleaned in 2015. Known formally as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, PARCC tests are given to students in about a dozen states. Following several years of the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP), the state moved to PARCC in an effort to better measure the state’s relatively new Colorado Measures for Academic Success (CMAS).

Only students in grades three through nine took PARCC tests in English and math this year after a 2015 state law reduced the number of tests students take each year. Last year, the tests were also administered to 10th- and 11th-graders.

The state’s fourth-graders once again led all grades in proficiency in language arts, with nearly 44 percent of students at the grade level meeting or exceeding the PARCC expectations. That compares to 41.7 percent of fourth-graders who met or exceeded performance benchmarks last year. High school freshmen in Colorado performed the worst on English language arts tests this spring, with only 37.2 percent of ninth-graders hitting or exceeding expectations compared to last year’s 37.8 percent of students. Proficiency percentages for English tests hovered around 40 percent for all other grades, according to the results.

Students across the state fared slightly worse in math, although elementary school students posted slightly better scores in the subject than last year. Colorado third-graders led all ages in math proficiency in 2016 with 38.9 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations. That’s about two percentage points better than the percentage of students who hit or exceeded standards last year. Students in eighth grade posted the lowest performance numbers in math, as only 20.4 of eighth-graders met or beat state standards, according to the PARCC results. In 2015, only 18.9 percent of eighth-graders were sufficient or better in math.

Science and social studies tests were also administered to select fourth-, fifth-, seventh- and eighth-graders this year, though only a portion of students took the tests.

Participation rates slightly increased in 2016 with an average participation rate of nearly 89 percent across all grade levels on English language arts tests. About 91.6 percent of Colorado students in grades three through eight took the PARCC math tests. Participation averages dropped off for ninth-graders in math.

Katy Anthes, the state’s interim commissioner of education, said that two years of testing isn’t enough to make many long-term conclusions, and ceded that there must be improvements going forward.

“While we’re seeing some improvements, two years of data isn’t really enough to say we’re seeing a trend,” she said in a statement. “Still, it’s clear that we all have more work to be done to ensure that all students are ready for college or careers and that we are closing historic gaps in achievement.”

This spring also marked the first time sophomores in Colorado high schools took the PSAT 10 in place of the CMAS English test. About 88 percent of students in the Cherry Creek School District took the test and had an average score about 50 points higher than the state mean score of 944. The mean score in CCSD was 995.5. Students in Aurora Public Schools performed worse than their peers in CCSD, posting a district-wide mean score of 834.3, which is more than 100 points below the state average.

On the ACT, Aurora Public Schools students performed slightly better over the previous year, raising the mean score from 17.0 to 17.3. Both Aurora Central High School and Vista PEAK High School showed the largest improvements: Central’s mean score rose from 15.1 to 15.9, and Vista PEAK’s increased from 17.5 to 18.4.

Cherry Creek Schools’ mean ACT score rose from last year’s mark of 21.8 to 22.2.

Anthes cautioned parents from jumping to conclusions about the recent results.

“Only when the tests are considered together with classroom grades and teacher feedback can parents have a complete picture of a student’s academic achievement,” she said.