Most of the 17 school districts in El Paso and Teller counties experienced slight improvement in Colorado Measures of Academic Success test scores in 2018, but mirroring the statewide trend, most also continued to see fewer than half of their students meet or exceed expectations in both English language arts and math.
“I think every district was anticipating this would be a big change when we moved to these assessments, and we didn’t expect success overnight,” said Devra Ashby, spokeswoman for Colorado Springs School District 11, the region’s largest school district.
“However, as you look at the patterns, we’re moving the needle in the right direction,” she said.
Only four of the 17 districts saw at least 50 percent of third- through eighth-grade students meet or exceed expectations in English language arts. They were led by Cheyenne Mountain with 68.6 percent, followed by Lewis-Palmer D-38 at 61.9 percent, Academy D-20 at 59.8 percent and Peyton 23-JT at 50.8 percent.
Three of the 17 area districts recorded a drop in English scores from the previous year in the percent of students in grades three through eight meeting or exceeding expectations: the small districts of Calhan RJ-1, down 9.4 percentage points to 32 percent, Cripple Creek-Victor RE-1, down 9.1 percentage points to 30.4 percent, and Edison 54-JT, down 2.4 percentage points to 47.6 percent.
In math, only three districts saw half or more of their students meet or exceed expectations, led by Edison 54-JT with 66.7 percent, followed by Cheyenne Mountain D-12 at 61.5 percent and Lewis-Palmer D-38 with 50.4 percent.
D-11 experienced its highest scores in both English and math since the state introduced new academic standards and matching tests in 2015, said Director of Assessment Eric Mason.
The tests moved from being taken with paper and pencil to computers and contain lengthier, more complex problems to solve instead of just answering multiple choice questions.
Scores on English language arts throughout D-11 collectively were up 3.3 percentage points from 2017, however, less than four in 10 students met or exceeded expectations with 37.4 percent.
But the results reflect many gains, D-11 officials said. Of the nine schools that were placed on the state’s watch list last school year for low academic achievement, nearly all are projected to rise above their low ratings.
One, North Middle School, is on a trajectory to move from the lowest state ranking of “turnaround” status to the highest “performance” level, said Ashby.
North students ranked in the 88th percentile rank for English language arts growth, Mason said, marking a somewhat Herculean feat.
“The biggest success they experienced was when they felt all the students, teachers and parents understood how important it was for students to show up every day and work their hardest,” Mason said.
Improving attendance, forming Professional Learning Communities, groups of educators that meet regularly to go over the numbers and figure out what’s working, what’s not and make adjustments, and targeted assistance from the district and the state that included additional coaching and financial support were among the solutions.
Peyton 23-JT had the biggest jump regionally in English scores, which rose 6.8 percent to 50.8 percent meeting or exceeding expectations.
Peyton also posted the largest increase in math among area districts of 11.4 percentage points to 46.3 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations.
“We were expecting improvements, but we were very pleased with the level of improvements we saw,” said Assistant Superintendent Brian Rea.
And Peyton Elementary students chalked up the region’s highest growth percentile score of 72, which on a scale of 1 to 99 measures year-over-year progress of students and is based on a comparison to academic peers. The statewide average comparison is a score of 50.
Principal Janette Watts said the elementary school focuses on “high student engagement” and differentiated instruction, “to give kids exactly what they need.”
Under the model, students are divided into “What I Need,” or WIN, groups, based on performance level of being on, below or above target. Instruction in reading, writing and math is tailored to those levels.
“In the past two years, we’ve gotten very deliberate to make sure it happens every day for every student,” Watts said.
In Hanover D-28, middle school students had the highest growth score among the districts in El Paso and Teller counties — 70.
Superintendent Grant Schmidt said his district’s instructional and learning focus has been on growth for every student because “when there is growth, achievement will follow suit.”
Hand-in-hand is a new social-emotional program, which “builds student confidence and grit, while teaching students to build empathy for others,” Schmidt said. “Addressing the whole child effectively always increases student performance in school and life.”
Abrams Elementary, at which 99 percent of students are either in active-duty military or contractor families, also saw large growth increases, including 77 percentile growth in math schoolwide and fourth-graders jutting up to the 84th growth percentile.
Engaging students in what they’re learning, teaching them to self-manage and using assessment results to drive instruction have been the keys, said Principal Lois Skaggs.
Also, “focusing on asking rigorous questions and making sure our instruction helps kids thing about what they’re learning and really analyze it,” she said.
It’s important to keep state assessments in perspective, education leaders say. They are just one tool school districts use to measure student progress and teacher performance and accountability.
When it comes down to it, Mason said, “Whether Colorado Springs students score in the highest in the nation on standardized tests will not determine if a kid is ready to be a successful citizen.”
Gazette Statistician Burt Hubbard contributed to this article.
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