Test scores show Colorado students inch toward pre-pandemic academic achievement. Eagle County has similar progress, with some gaps in performance.
Colorado recently released its CMAS, SAT and PSAT data
Last week, the state released standardized test scores showing the slow yet steady progress being made as students recover from the pandemic’s effect on learning.
“At the state level, we are beginning to see small increases in performance, which gives me optimism. It’s a reflection of how hard people are working as well as how difficult it will be to regain momentum given the impact of the pandemic and the disruptions to learning it created,” said Susana Córdova, Colorado education commissioner, in a press release.
Locally, the Eagle County School District showed similar forward momentum although there are still gaps in performance (including with race, gender and socio-economic status) as well as grades and subject areas that are still lagging behind pre-pandemic performance.
With the 2023-24 school year just getting underway, these scores will be one metric used to drive school improvement plans at each of the district’s buildings. According to Superintendent Philip Qualman, principals are drafting these plans — and will present them to the Board of Education in the coming months — based on not just achievement data, but also student needs.
“Each plan is different, and the district provides support to each school based on their needs,” Qualman said. “The district will support schools with curriculum, instruction, intervention, assessment, and lesson planning, among other skills.”
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The recently released scores from the state include the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (or CMAS) as well as the PSAT and SAT scores. This is the second year that Colorado returned to a typical state assessment administration schedule after modifications in 2021 and the cancellation of the tests in 2020.
In the spring, students in third through eighth grade took CMAS tests in English language arts and math. Students in fifth, eighth and 11th grade took the CMAS science tests. Students in ninth and 10th grade took the PSAT tests and 11th graders took the SAT.
What the CMAS scores show
Overall, Melisa Rewold-Thuon, the district’s assistant superintendent of student support services, said that one of the main celebrations from the CMAS data in 2023 is that the median scores have been improving for the past three years.
Among all grade levels, the average score for the English test grew from 737.4 in 2021 to 740.8 in 2023. However, this number is still slightly behind the 2019 average score, 744.3. Similarly, across all grade levels tested, the average score in math rose from 724.4 in 2021 to 729.8 in 2023. This is still slightly below the average score of 731.6 in 2019.
Students taking the CMAS tests are graded on a scale based on whether or not they meet grade-level expectations. Therefore, “proficiency” below is defined as students that “met or exceeded expectations.”
Overall, across all students tested in English language arts, there was a 0.7 percentage point increase in the number of students that met or exceeded expectations between 2022 and 2023 — with 41.8% of students scoring as proficient. This number is still 4.10 percentage points lower than pre-pandemic 2019 scores.
Within this, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth grades all saw an increase in the percentage of students that met or exceeded expectations from 2022 to 2023. The greatest increase was in sixth grade, which saw a 6.1 percentage point increase from 2022 in the 2023 scores, with 40.5% of students meeting or exceeding expectations. All of these grades are still below the percentages meeting that standard in 2019.
The greatest decline in scores was for third graders, which saw a 4.9 percentage point decrease in the number of students deemed proficient between 2022 and 2023 — with 33.7% of students meeting or exceeding expectations. This was also 3.5 percentage points lower than 2019 scores. Seventh grade saw a 3.6 decrease from the 2022 scores — with 43.4% meeting this standard. However, the 2023 scores were still 10.20 percentage points below the 2019 scores.
Between schools, there are also significant differences in scores.
For the English Language Arts test, Eagle County Charter School had the highest percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations, with 70.3% of students hitting that mark. This school was followed by Brush Creek Elementary (60.3%), Red Sandstone Elementary (56.1%) and Eagle Valley Middle (55.7%).
On the flip side, Gypsum Elementary had the lowest percentage of students that were proficient (with 16.3% meeting or exceeding standards), followed by Edwards Elementary (24.6%), Red Hill Elementary (26.8%) and Avon Elementary (27%).
Math scores for all students also saw an overall 0.9 percentage point increase in the percentage of students that met or exceeded grade-level expectations between 2022 and 2023 — with 26.2% of students hitting those marks in 2023. However, this number is still 3.10 percentage points lower than pre-pandemic 2019 scores.
The fourth, sixth and eighth grades all saw an increase from 2022 in the percentage of students that met or exceeded expectations. The greatest increase was in fourth grade, which saw a 6.9% increase — with 25.1% of students meeting or exceeding expectations in 2023. This number is still slightly below (0.6 percentage points) the 2019 proficiency. For sixth graders, this was a 1.4 percentage point increase over the 2019 scores; for eighth grade, this was even with the number of students that met or exceeded expectations in 2019.
Third graders had the greatest decline in the number of students that met or exceeded expectations from 2022, with a 7 percentage point drop from 2022 data. In 2023, 31% met or exceeded expectations. This number was 5.5 percentage points behind 2019 proficiency.
The performance of third grade overall, Rewold-Thuon reported was one of the concerns in the CMAS scores this year. This is something she said will be addressed in schools’ improvement plans.
“The district is looking into specific root causes with individual schools to identify what possible causes of the challenge to math performance in this grade level are by site,” she added.
A couple of factors over the years could be leading to this trend. Rewold-Thuon said this includes the loss of the district math coach five years ago as the district reduced class — which it is seeking grants to bring back — as well as state requirements for elementary teachers that require a 45-hour reading course before the school year, which negates from time allowed for other professional development.
“We are coming out of the pandemic effects, but for some students, especially our minority students, we are still recouping skills that were missed during the most formative early years of their education,” Rewold-Thuon said. “This third-grade group were kindergarteners when the pandemic hit. They were remote for the final quarter of kindergarten and in school in person 4 days per week during first grade. Remote learning is very challenging for this age group since most learning at this age is hands-on.”
After third grade, fifth grade saw the next biggest decline in math proficiency, with a 4.4 percentage point drop in the number of students meeting or exceeding expectations — 25.4% in 2023. This number is still 7 percentage points behind the percentage of students deemed proficient in 2019. Seventh grade has the lowest number of students meeting or exceeding expectations in math, with 19.9% hitting that mark in 2023. This is 9.5 percentage points less than in 2019 and 3 less than in 2022.
On a school-by-school basis, Eagle County Charter Academy had the highest level of proficiency (with 55.4% of students meeting or exceeding expectations), followed by Brush Creek (51.5%), Red Sandstone (36.7%) and Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy (31.9%). On the flip side, Gypsum Elementary had the lowest percentage of students that were proficient (with 9.6% meeting or exceeding standards), followed by Edwards Elementary (14%), Gypsum Creek Middle (15%), Red Hill Elementary (16.4%) and Berry Creek Middle (16.7%).
In science — which students weren’t tested on in 2022 — 30.3% of fifth graders met or exceeded expectations, 34.2% of eighth graders and 20% of eleventh graders.
PSAT and SAT
Overall, Rewold-Thuon characterized the celebrations of the 2023 PSAT and SAT scores with the following:
- The average ninth-grade Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) PSAT scores increased by 11.3 points from 2022.
- The average 11th-grade EBRW SAT scores increased by 3.0 points.
- The average score for minority students in 11th grade on the EBRW SAT increased by 13.0 points.
- The average ninth-grade PSAT math score increased by 16.1 points.
On the whole, between 2022 and 2023, ninth-grade proficiency — as defined by the Colorado Department of Education — grew from 2022 in both EBRW and math. However, this percentage still falls behind 2019 proficiency. Eleventh-grade students showed improvement from 2022 and 2019 in EBRW, but still fell slightly behind the 2019 and 2022 proficiency percentages. For 10th graders, proficiency lagged behind 2022 and 2019.
Prior to the pandemic, one of the things that the district was able to offer was a free-of-charge SAT prep course for students, Rewold-Thuon said.
“We are currently exploring funding options and resources to help our students to prepare for these important tests without a financial burden to families as well as looking at how to incorporate preparation this year during the school day on how to navigate the new online format for our students,” she said.
Disparities between students
While the overall scores show a continual improvement and closure of the gap to the pre-pandemic scores, Rewold-Thuon said that the district’s “very high percentage of minority students was most highly affected by the pandemic.”
For the 2022-23 school year, the Eagle County School District was composed of 55.7% minority students, 36% multilingual learners, 12.8% students on IEPs (Individual Education Plans for having disabilities), 9% gifted students and 0.1% migrant students, Rewold-Thuon added. By comparison, across the state, 48.8% of students were minority students, 12.4% were multilingual learners, 12.4% of students were on IEPs, 7.3% were gifted students and 0.01% were migrant students.
The result of this is reflected in the gaps in proficiency between student groups.
Between the district’s Hispanic and white populations — of which there were 1,361 valid scores for Hispanic students and 1,204 white students for the English tests — significant disparities in testing scores were seen across grade levels.
The results show that on the English language arts test, 62.2% of white students met or exceeded expectations, compared with 22.8% of Hispanic students across all grades tested. This disparity — for the English test — was the largest in fourth grade, with 21.8% of Hispanic students meeting or exceeding expectations and 64.7% of white students.
This trend is also seen in math scores, where 43.4% of white students met or exceeded expectations and 11.4% of Hispanic students did. The biggest disparity in math scores is among eighth graders where 55% of white students met or exceeded expectations and 15.1% of Hispanic students did.
Across all grades tested, a higher percentage of female students (49.4%) met or exceeded expectations on the English test compared with male students (35.3%). In Math, a higher percentage of male students (27.6%) met or exceeded expectations compared with the female students (24.6%).
Based on the students who were eligible for free and reduced lunch and those who were not eligible, the results show disparities based on socioeconomic status as well. Across all grades tested in English, 55.5% of those not eligible for free and reduced lunches met or exceeded grade level expectations (of which there were 1,590 valid scores counted) compared with 19.5%% of those that do qualify (of which there were 977 valid scores counted).
This same disparity is seen in the math scores, where 36.9% of students not eligible for free and reduced met or exceeded grade level expectations compared with 9.9% of those that do qualify.
PSAT and SAT
Similar trends are seen in the district’s SAT and PSAT scores.
Among ninth graders, the mean scale score for white students (943) was 179 points higher than Hispanic students’ mean scale score (764). For 10th graders, the mean scale score for white students (954) was 132 points higher than Hispanic students’ mean scale score (822). For 11th graders, the mean scale score for white students (1036) was 164 points higher than Hispanic students’ mean scale score (872).
For ninth, 10th and 11th grade, the mean score was higher for female students than male students.
For ninth graders who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch, the mean score for the PSAT was 895, compared with 762 for those who qualified. The 10th-grade PSAT mean score for those who do not qualify was 916 compared with 805 for those who do qualify, and in 11th grade was 983 for those who don’t qualify and 865 for those who do.
In addition to improving scores, the district is hoping to increase participation in all standardized tests as it looks ahead. Rewold-Thuon indicated that getting “full participation: is a challenge in the district “with some parents electing to opt their students out of these assessments.”
For the PSAT and SAT testing, Qualman said that this includes helping students “understand the value of PSAT/SAT, even if they plan to start a career, join the military or attend trade school.”
This year, the district is also preparing as the PSAT and SAT transition to a fully digital format in the upcoming spring.
The scores from these standardized tests will continue to inform schools on ways to meet student needs, which kicked off at the start of the year.
“This August, the district staff participated in very intensive and comprehensive training for many topics including the improvement of instructional practices, engaging students, standards-based learning and reporting, and use of adopted curricular and intervention resources,” Rewold-Thuon said. “Schools, even with the reduction of staff after the end of ESSER funding, have prioritized intervention staff for this school to help meet the needs of our students that continue to struggle.”