Student growth data promising for Re-1 schools
Though grade-level English and math test scores for 2015-16 in area schools continued to lag behind the state average, the first set of data measuring student growth over the first two years of testing under the new Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessments is promising.
Data from the new assessments, which measure a student’s performance over time and in peer subgroups, rather than grade-level test scores that provide a snapshot in time, is also more useful in helping students continue to improve or to catch up, local school district officials said.
“This, overall, is very good news for us, because we are seeing higher growth in our students in every single category than the state,” Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said of growth data released by the Colorado Department of Education on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the state released English literacy and math scores from tests given last April to public school students in grades three through nine.
The percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations under the state’s new, more rigorous standards that were adopted two years ago, consistently fell below 50 percent across the state.
Test scores in three area school districts, Roaring Fork, Garfield Re-2 and Garfield District 16, with the exception of some individual schools and test-specific math scores, have trended below the state average in both English literacy and math.
Grade-level performance, though important as one measure of student achievement, does not recognize year-to-year gains that students made compared to their peers, explained Lindsay Redd, data analyst and assessment coordinator for Roaring Fork Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
The growth data does that, she said.
“Focusing on growth allows the district to see where students are making gains and then adjust instruction to ultimately help students reach grade-level appropriate performance levels,” she said.
Julie Knowles, director of assessments and special programs for Garfield Re-2 schools in New Castle, Silt and Rifle, agreed.
“The growth data really compares kids who score a similar way to the prior year test scores, so you’re not comparing the high flyers to the lower-performing students, but comparing them to each other within those subgroups,” Knowles said.
“Having this growth model for all of those different groups of students really helps paint the complete picture so we know where we are growing and moving kids and making progress, and where we need to do some more work,” she said.
Gains and lessons
For Roaring Fork schools, there’s both cause for celebration and some areas where improvements need to be made, district officials said.
In particular, students in district middle and high schools outperformed the state in terms of growth from 2015 to 2016, according to the state data.
In math, “Across nearly all grades, Roaring Fork students outperformed the state in growth,” Redd noted.
The one exception was fourth grade, where the median growth percentile was 49 percent compared to state median growth of 50 percent.
Sixth-, seventh- and ninth-graders saw median growth of 60 percent in math testing, and across all grades combined district growth was 58 percent.
Under the state’s growth model, anything at the 55th percentile or higher is considered “exceptional growth,” while growth ranging between the 36th and 54th percentile is more typical, and anything below the 35th percentile is a serious concern.
Among the high points for Roaring Fork in math were a 66th growth percentile for district ninth-graders, 64 percent for seventh grade and 62 percent for fifth grade.
The district also saw pockets of exceptional growth in math at several individual schools, including Crystal River Elementary in Carbondale, both Carbondale and Basalt middle schools, and all three district high schools.
English literacy growth was equally positive, Redd said. And the percentage of seventh- and eighth-grade students who met or exceeded grade-level expectations was above the state average.
Roaring Fork schools also had a median growth percentile of 56 percent, boosted by strong growth at the middle school level, according to the data.
Where the district knows it needs to improve, though, is in English literacy performance by ethnicity, and at the third-grade level as a whole. Growth is also lacking in literacy skills in fourth and fifth grade, and there’s a big dip for students taking the tests in ninth grade.
Stein said that’s partly because there’s lower participation in the state assessments when students reach high school, and less buy-in for the students who do take the test because the emphasis turns to the PSAT and SAT college preps.
garfield growth lower
Meanwhile, the two western Garfield County school districts saw a similar mix of areas that need work, and some school and grade level improvement.
Overall, though, median growth was somewhat lower in both English literacy and math in the two-year comparisons for both Re-2, and District 16 in Parachute and Battlement Mesa.
In English literacy, Re-2 saw elementary school growth at the 42nd percentile, middle school was at 37 percent and high school was 39 percent.
In math, Re-2’s growth numbers came in at the 41st percentile for elementary grades, 40 percent for middle school and 42.5 percent for high school.
“Our big takeaway from this is that teachers are working extremely hard and putting their heart, body and soul into making sure students are moving toward meeting expectations,” Knowles said.
“We do have some areas where we know we want to improve,” she said. “With the new standards, we are asking our students to think in a more complex way, and it’s not like students suddenly lost a bunch of skills and knowledge.
“We didn’t lose ground, but the bar we have to get over was raised significantly,” Knowles concluded.
For District 16 schools, in English literacy, elementary school students grew at the 35th percentile, middle school at 49 percent and high school right at the state median of 50 percent.
In the math comparison over two years of testing, D16 elementary students grew at the 38th percentile, middle school at 53.5 percent and high school at 35 percent.
In October, school districts will receive individual student reports to give to parents. The reports will show how their student is progressing compared to other students in the state who have performed at a similar achievement level.
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