Vail Daily column: Making sense of results
Local results on the state’s English language arts and mathematics tests have been released and parents can expect to see reports for their students coming home this week. The tests, known as PARCC (after the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a multi-state testing collaborative) are aligned to Colorado’s much more challenging academic standards (or expectations). You may recall that our state standards are built using the Common Core State Standards, which are not without their own controversies.
There were lots of issues with this first round of testing including glitches in the computer administration and an abysmally slow turnaround time for the results. (The students took the test in April.) The tests were also marred by unprecedented levels of “opt outs,” or parents refusing to allow their students to take the exam. Putting all this aside for now, we need to unpack our local data and determine what lessons we can learn. At the district level, I see three big takeaways.
First, our results are dramatically lower than they were on the previous state tests, known as the CSAP and TCAP. Proficiency rates used to range in the 60 percent to 80 percent range. On this test, they range in the 30 percent to 40 percent range. This was not unexpected. These new tests were billed as being dramatically more difficult and that the pass rates would be much lower than before and they delivered on that promise. At the school level, our results tend to hover in this range, though there were exceptions.
Where those exceptions occurred leads to my second point. We saw even larger achievement gaps between economically disadvantaged students and those who were learning English compared to more affluent students and those for whom English is their primary language. At the school level, those schools which tend to serve more diverse and at-risk population scored lower than those schools which serve wealthier students. This outcome also matches what we saw at the state level and was not at all unexpected — the finding that standardized measures correlate with student background and demographics is one of the more established in education research.
Third, the “opt out” or parent refusal levels were the highest we’ve ever seen in Eagle County, particularly at the high school level. Frankly, this did surprise us. While most students at the elementary and middle school levels took the exams, almost 13 percent of our 10th graders and 25 percent of our 11th graders did not. The students who refused to take the test were much more likely to be white, English speaking, and affluent. This bias in who did not test also resulted in a bias for our overall high school results.
At our different grade levels, we also saw some expected and unexpected patterns emerge. For elementary schools, demographics were highly predictive of test outcomes. Our elementary schools are most affected by attendance boundaries and the demographics of students zoned to attend neighborhood schools. As expected, schools like Brush Creek Elementary, Red Sandstone Elementary and the Eagle County Charter Academy scored well.
Our middle schools contained several bright spots, nearly across the board. While the demographic patterns previously discussed were present, we saw several middle school grade and subject areas that exceeded state averages. This tells us that the longer students are in our system, especially our English language learners, the better they do, particularly on standardized tests given in English.
At the high school level, I’m honestly struggling to make sense of that data. For the past couple of years, our students have hovered around state averages for ACT results and we have a high number of students earning early college credit through Advanced Placement courses and through Dual Enrollment with CMC. Yet, these high school results lag the state averages. It could very well be that our students (like many across the state) were using this test as a protest against the level of standardized testing. This past spring, the state Legislature rolled back testing at the high school level, which was (at least in part) an effort to appease these students and their families.
Overall, the results reveal some bright spots. But they also reveal that we have work to do in preparing all of our students to be “global ready.” I’m confident the course our schools are now on is the right work. Our focus on teaching all students to high standards, an empowered and professional model of teaching, and customizing instruction to meet the needs of each student is drawn from the best performing school systems on earth. The plan is simple: Keep calm and stay the course — this is the right work for our schools to be doing.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.