Originally Posted by The Denver Post on August 14, 2014. Copyright © denverpost.com. Written by Eric Gorski and Yesenia Robles. Read here.
The percentage of students who scored proficient or advanced dipped by small increments in each of the three subjects covered by the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, or TCAP.
The most significant declines in the tests, given last spring to about 507,700 students, were in fifth-grade writing and third-grade reading.
Just 55.5 percent of Colorado fifth-graders scored proficient or advanced in writing, 1.7 percentage points less than in 2013. Statewide, 71.6 percent of third graders hit those marks in reading, also a 1.7 percentage point drop.
Since 2008, scores from the TCAP and its predecessor, CSAP, have gone up and down slightly, adding up to not much change in a state at the forefront of testing and considered a leader in education reform.
“The results are clearly not acceptable,” said state Board of Education member Elaine Gantz Berman, a former Denver Public Schools board member. “Whatever we’re doing, we’re not doing enough and we’re not doing it right. To see this kind of flat result is more than troubling. It’s like, ‘Where do we go from here?’
State education commissioner Robert Hammond, facing board frustrations Thursday after this year’s results were presented, argued progress would come if the state stays the course while reducing the number of initiatives it expects school districts to follow.
“It clearly isn’t where we need to be. There is no doubt about that,” Hammond said in an interview. “I do believe districts are working very hard within the resources they have to try to make the improvements.”
The state begins another era this spring, with a new set of statewide assessments aligned with Common Core, a national effort to establish more rigorous standards for what students should know.
The final year of TCAP results provide a many-layered portrait of progress and disappointment — from continued strong growth figures in Denver Public Schools and a suburban district that threw out the traditional classroom structure to widening racial achievement gaps and a precipitous dropoff in a high-performing charter school network.
For the third consecutive year, Denver Public Schools ranked at the top among the state’s largest districts in median growth — a measure of how much a group of students is progressing compared to others.
The district’s median growth percentile was 55 in writing and math — meaning the growth rate of those students was higher than 55 percent of students statewide. DPS’s reading median growth percentile was 53.
DPS’s numbers weren’t as encouraging by another measure — “catch-up growth.” To achieve catch-up growth, students must demonstrate fast enough growth that, if kept up, can get them to at least proficient levels within three years or before 10th grade.
That DPS demonstrates higher growth but has fewer students making catch-up growth could mean students making the most growth are students who are already proficient, or that students start off so far from proficiency that the high growth they’re showing isn’t enough.
DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg credited teachers and school leaders for continued growth gains he called striking given that DPS has the highest percentage of low-income students in the state.
“At the same time, I think we’re all disappointed we are not seeing growth in key areas at the level we need to,” he said. “Our gaps between affluent and high-poverty students are not closing and we are not catching our kids who are behind up at nearly the rate we need to.”
Despite the continued growth, more than half of DPS’s students were below grade level in math and writing. DPS students showed slight improvement in math and writing proficiency. Reading scores were flat.
Boasberg noted speeding up growth is at the heart of the Denver Plan 2020, an update to the district’s goals to be introduced this month.
Van Schoales, chief executive of the reform group A+Denver, said the most frustrating takeaway from data on district-run DPS schools is the lack of a clear pattern in identifying what works.
“DPS has a lot of things going on at the same time,” he said.
One of the more striking year-over-year declines beset STRIVE Preparatory Schools, a network of charter schools that routinely cracks the list of top DPS secondary schools in academic growth.
Across all subjects, 45 percent of its students tested proficient or advanced, a roughly a 7 percent drop from last year. The largest decline — 10 percent — came in math.
STRIVE CEO Chris Gibbons attributed the slip to taking on too many innovations at once, high turnover among less-experienced teachers and adjusting the network’s curriculum and testing to line up with Common Core before state assessments do.
“I’m disappointed by the data and I believe we can and must do better,” he said. “We own this and we’re going to improve.”
Two other high-performing DPS charter networks — DSST Public Schools and KIPP, or the Knowledge is Power Program — continued to place among the top schools in growth.
In Westminster’s Adams County District 50, officials feel continued gains validate their 5-year-old “competency-based” system that groups students together by proficiency instead of age.
The district improved or maintained proficiency scores on 19 of 24 tests this year, but dropped one point in reading.
“In no way, shape or form do we think we have truth in a bottle,” said Superintendent Pam Swanson. “But we do think we are onto something in terms of a systematic approach to improving public education.”
In Jefferson County Public Schools, proficiency scores remained higher than state averages but were flat across all three subjects. Eighth- and ninth-graders gained 4 percentage points in math, a significant shift in a district so large.
“We’re very excited about the gains some of our schools made,” said Superintendent Dan McMinimee, hired this year by the school board’s conservative majority in a contentious process. “We also know we have significant work to do.”
In the metro area, Littleton Public Schools had the highest median growth scores in math and the Cherry Creek School District held that distinction in reading.
After signs of improvement last year, achievement gaps between Hispanic, black and white non-Hispanic students widened statewide.
Writing scores were an exception. But that was because white non-Hispanic students regressed; Hispanic and black student proficiency held steady.
State officials also released results of ACT college entrance exams taken by 11th graders. The composite scores of Colorado high schoolers rose slightly, to 20.3 from last year’s 20.
Eric Gorski: 303-954-1971, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/egorski