Moffat County students’ math, English scores lag behind state average | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County students’ math, English scores lag behind state average

Moffat County School District students performed about half as well in math and English language arts as students statewide based on test scores released Friday by the Colorado Department of Education

— The first batch of student test scores from newly implemented math and English language arts assessments were released Friday by the Colorado Department of Education, with data indicating how individual schools and districts performed on the tests.

Known as the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC, tests, they were administered to third- through 11th-graders statewide for the first time in the spring.

In terms of meeting or exceeding expectations, Moffat County students performed about half as well as students statewide in most subject areas and grade levels.

The percentage of students who either met or exceeded expectations hovered around 15 to 20 percent in most subject areas, with a high mark of 35.2 percent of Craig Middle School sixth-graders meeting or exceeding expectations in English language arts, and a low mark of less than 5 percent of eighth-graders meeting or exceeding expectations in math.

Statewide, scores were lackluster as well, and largely hovered around 30 to 40 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations, with a high mark of 41.7 percent of fourth-graders in English language arts and a low mark of 18.9 percent of eighth-graders in math.

Both Moffat County School District administrators and state education officials caution that the scores reflect a shift towards more rigorous standards, and will be used as a baseline to measure progress through future years.

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"These tests are very different from our old TCAP and CSAP tests because they are aligned to our new Colorado Academic Standards," said CDE Director of Communications Dana Smith. "We do expect that scores will raise over time as teachers and students get used to the new standards and the new test."

Colorado finalized the new Colorado Academic Standards in 2010, which are measured through the PARCC tests in English language arts and math and the Colorado Measures of Academic Success tests in science and social studies. The new standards are designed to make sure kids are college- and career-ready when they graduate from high school. However, the standards weren't fully implemented in schools until two years ago during the 2013-14 school year.

MCSD undertook the process last year of comprehensively aligning its curriculum to the new standards through the development of its own district-wide "scope and sequence." Administrators and instructional coaches are now focusing on helping teachers develop and refine lesson plans to ensure students are gaining the necessary skills and knowledge.

"It's a level of accountability that what's really happening in the classroom is what students are really learning," said East Elementary School Principal Sarah Hepworth. "It's monitoring the system of teaching and learning right from planning to implementation through to assessments."

MCSD Director of Curriculum and Assessment Amy Ward said they expect to see scores shift as teachers fully incorporate and master the curriculum changes.

"With change may come some growing pains; this is because the required competencies are higher than ever before," the MCSD administration team, including Ward and district principals, said in a press release to parents.

"We are still implementing those standards across all grade levels at a very early stage," Ward added. "We feel that we are getting deeper in our understanding of the standards and how we assess progress on those standards."

Part of the equation for school district administrators is finding more meaningful ways to measure student progress throughout the year by way of district-level assessments and other "formative" assessments, which inform instruction rather than only offer a "dipstick" of student performance.

The lateness of the scores' release — a full eight months after the tests were taken in the spring — also limits their usefulness to teachers and district administrators. Scores are expected to be released sooner in future years, however, since much of the delay this year was due to the time-consuming process of sorting the scores to define new performance levels.

Teachers will have a chance to review hundreds of PARCC test questions that will be released to allow them to look at the breakdown of student scores and better gauge how to focus their instruction, Smith said.

This year, 10th- and 11th-graders will no longer take PARCC tests in English language arts and math, due to legislation passed in the spring following a groundswell of complaints that students were being tested too much. Participation rates were also extremely low for 11th-graders, with only 50 percent statewide completing the English language arts test. The focus in upper grade levels will instead be placed on college readiness exams such as the ACT or SAT.

School districts already have two sets of test scores in hand in science and social studies from the CMAS administered in spring of 2014 and spring of 2015, however this is the first measurement of students' grasp of the new standards in math or English.

"I already sense this change in how deep our students are being able to show and to demonstrate 21st-century skills … not just technology but also collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking," Ward said. "That is our emphasis, and that is what this latest PARCC test measures, that is a huge component. So as we move forward, our scores are going to show some growth."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

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