The Colorado Department of Education has released spring testing results, prompting the Ignacio and Bayfield school districts to focus on improving student growth during the coming school year.
About 550,000 students in third through 11th grade took the assessments last spring in the fifth year of Colorado Measures of Academic Success testing. The scores, released Aug. 15, affect school rankings within the state, teacher assessments and more. Overall, the districts continue to see education gaps and opportunities for growth among their student populations, but they also see areas of success.
After almost five years with a priority improvement ranking, Ignacio Elementary School moved into a higher ranking.
“That’s what we were shooting for, so we are very happy with our test scores,” said Kathryn Pokorney, Ignacio School District curriculum and assessment director. The result comes from the state’s preliminary rankings which will be finalized in December.
The priority improvement ranking is second from the lowest, and it requires more monitoring from the state. The school will now enter a two-year probationary period during which it will have to maintain its higher ranking.
In the Ignacio School District as a whole, student growth in math was at or above 50%, the state median in almost all student population categories. In English language arts, most growth scores were below 50%, with the lowest at 38% for fourth graders. Student growth scores track individual student achievement across time.
“We realize that we’re low-performing when it comes to achievement, and we have issues there,” Pokorney said. “We strive to hit the 50th percentile of growth, and we’re seeing that in almost all of our categories.”
In the Bayfield School District, educators are focused on decreasing learning gaps for historically disadvantaged populations, a need felt at the state level as well.
“It is gratifying to see such accomplishments in the performance of so many students across the state, but it is still difficult to see large groups of students who are not advancing as they should,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado education commissioner, in a news release. “Students from historically disadvantaged groups are not making the gains necessary to catch up.”
In the Bayfield School District math program, students on free-and-reduced lunch or English language learners scored around 45% of the state median growth. Students with individualized education plans scored at 29% of the median.
In English language arts, students on free-and-reduced lunch or English language learners scored between 48% and 56%. Students with individualized education plans scored at 41% of the median.
For students with individualized learning plans, “our goal is to increase their achievement across the board,” said Kevin Aten, Bayfield School District superintendent. “We’re not happy with the progress of those students.”
In general, the district has seen good math and literacy growth, he said. However, teachers and staff are focusing on addressing those performance gaps.
“Those (gaps) have been our consistent goals, and we’re not wavering from that,” he said.
The testing can be challenging for schools, and educators can face hurdles improving student scores.
For example, a school’s performance could be tied to decisions as specific as spreading testing out over time or conducting it all in one week.
“(The testing) feels like such a high-stakes environment. It doesn’t exactly encourage risk-taking,” said Bill Hesford, Bayfield Intermediate School principal. The school tried doing all of the tests in the same week, but Hesford isn’t certain it was a good idea.
There, students scored below 50% of the state median for math and English language arts in almost every student population category.
“I think the main challenge around these testing situations with students at this age is getting students to do their best work in a not-so-engaging format,” he said.
The Ignacio district’s biggest challenge is getting more students to attend school regularly. The district’s goal is to have 95% of students attending regularly. Currently, attendance hovers around 90%, depending on the school.
“It takes a lot of hard work on the part of everybody – teachers, administrators, parents and students,” she said.
Overall, educators emphasized that CMAS scores are one assessment during the year and one way to measure growth. The districts are doing intentional work around positive school climate and culture, social-emotional learning and responsiveness to student needs.
“Test scores are important, but they’re not everything,” Hesford said. “There are a lot of other things that schools in this part of the state are doing that don’t get measured and reported.”