Home Page

Comparing lower state school test scores with those in past could be 'apples and oranges'

A chart shows the District 11 participation rates in the Spring 2015 state standardized testing. Note how the percentages begin going down for sixth-graders, with a large drop-off for high-schoolers (starting in ninth grade).
Courtesy of School District 11
With questions about newness, difficulty, relevance and participation, School District 11 is not offering apologies for the seemingly low standardized testing scores - including those from Westside schools - released this month by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE).
       “Because this is a new test, these are baseline results and we cannot compare them to any assessments in the past,” said D-11 spokesperson Devra Ashby, who provided feedback in a phone interview and e-mails. “The district is analyzing how we will use these results, but again, this is not a measure of growth either. It is one snapshot in time of student performance, and not as reliable as looking at the entire picture of growth, classroom performance, graduation rates, drop-out rates, etc. I think terming the results as 'poor' is not accurate.”
       The tests were taken statewide last spring in grades 3-11 in English, math and (for middle and high schools) algebra and geometry. The new CDE format is provided through a multi-state methodology called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which follows "Common Core" standards.
       Ashby additionally asserted in an e-mail that the new standards “were created to be much more rigorous than what Colorado had in place before. Historically, CDE was reporting that a higher percent… of Colorado students entering college had to take remedial courses… Because the standards changed, so did the assessments by which students are measured. However, with change, there are growing pains.”
       One way PARCC is similar to the previous Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) is that its results are broken out into five
Before the start of the grades K-8 Veterans' Day assembly at the West Campus Nov. 9, security officer Bob Jeffords escorts World War II veteran Clyde Wormer into the gymnasium. Wormer would later speak to the students as part of the event.
Westside Pioneer photo
levels of achievement. But the percentage of students attaining the top two levels with PARCC (dubbed “Met Expectations” and “Exceeded Expectations”) were noticeably lower than with TCAP.
       In the Westside's 10 D-11 schools, for example, where the best TCAP scores for math and English had typically been in the 80s and 90s, the highest PARCC results were in the 70s. And this only happened in two cases - Holmes Middle School, geometry (78.3 percent); and Academy for Advanced & Creative Learning (AACL), English, grade 8 (77.8 percent).
       In all, out of 73 separate grade level/subject scores in Westside schools, all but 16 were under 50 percent. The other eight Westside schools (defined as west of I-25 between Garden of the Gods Road and Rio Grande Street) are Bristol, Buena Vista, Howbert, Midland and West elementaries; West and Holmes middle schools; and Coronado High.
       Ashby's arguments about not reading too much into the 2015 PARCC scores were given credence in a separate Westside Pioneer exchange with Nikki Myers, director of AACL, a K-8 charter school whose students have repeatedly been among the district's best in state testing (and whose grades 6-8 students led the district in PARCC). “I wish the phrase wasn't so over-used, but it truly is an apples and oranges comparison, as the new tests are very different from the old tests.” Myers wrote in an e-mail.
       “I would say, and believe that the majority of my colleagues would agree, that one of the top challenges of this process of switching from the former system to PARCC is that it happened without preparation materials sufficiently ahead of the test,” she continued. “When teachers can see sufficient numbers of the types of questions and the formats students will experience, a year or two in advance, they can plan a year's curriculum with these experiences embedded so that students have a smooth learning process and see familiar patterns, technology and question styles.”
       In terms of relevance, Ashby noted that CDE is considering tying the standardized testing in with ACT testing for high school students - in part because of dramatically lower participation rates for grades 9 and up. If so, that might encourage more students to take the test “because this impacts students' college admission,” she pointed out.
       Participation became an issue this year because of a well-publicized CDE decision to allow parents to opt their students out of the PARCC testing, without penalty. A graphic on this page shows how the District 11 PARCC-participation numbers actually started dropping off in grade 6 and continued down from there.
       “Our district research department is currently looking at the opt-out rates comparatively to students' GPA's who opted out and determining how much of an impact this had on the high schools' results,” Ashby said. “I think statewide, the results were much poorer for this new assessment test and the opt-out rates were also much higher statewide.”
       Another element was how the tests were conducted last spring, taking longer than in the past and including multiple computer glitches. At that time, Myers wrote a letter to the CDE and state elected officials, complaining about how the regimen was causing fatigue, frustration and even health problems at her school. Since then, the CDE has announced plans to make this spring's PARCC testing less of a strain.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 12/19/15; Schools: General)

Would you like to respond to this article? The Westside Pioneer welcomes letters at editor@westsidepioneer.com. (Click here for letter-writing criteria.)