Standardized test-score results presented the Englewood school district with a mixed bag this month, with PARCC — math and English tests — and science tests showing more setbacks than growth since last year.
Numbers for Colorado as a whole …
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• CMAS, or Colorado Measures of Academic Success, is the current group of standards by which Colorado tests students. It involves the oft-mentioned Common Core standards and PARCC tests.
• Grades three through nine take English; grades three through high school take math; grades five, eight and 11 take science; and grades four and seven take social studies.
• Common Core is a set of English and math standards developed beginning in 2009 by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.
• Colorado adopted the standards in 2010 and developed the TCAP, or Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, to gradually move students to the new way of testing. The year 2012 saw the first TCAP tests. In 2014, Colorado rolled out new science and social studies tests, and the next year, gave its first PARCC tests.
• PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, an organization that’s a multi-state effort to measure how well students learn under the Common Core standards for English and math.
• In 2018 and 2019, the state will move away from PARCC, writing new test questions for English and math. Next year’s tests will not be dramatically different, though, and will still use some PARCC questions.
• CSAP, or the Colorado Student Assessment Program, functioned as the state’s testing system from 1997 to 2011.
Source: Chalkbeat.org, Colorado Department of Education, corestandards.org
Standardized test-score results presented the Englewood school district with a mixed bag this month, with PARCC — math and English tests — and science tests showing more setbacks than growth since last year.Numbers for Colorado as a whole showed near-stagnant results on science, and elementary and middle-school math, with English scores showing modest growth in most grade levels.“Ultimately, we need to do better,” said Patty Hanrahan, deputy superintendent for Englewood Schools. “We are improving, but I think all of us would like to (see) the growth at a far more rapid rate.”Under the Colorado Measures of Academic Success standards, students take tests on math, science, social studies and English language arts. The results focus on how many students met or exceed expectations based on state standards.Overall, Englewood saw a slight drop in several test areas but growth in others, namely elementary school math. It saw large slips in middle-school math — for eighth-graders, the amount who met or exceeded expectations compared to last year dropped by 13.4 percentage points — and uncertainty in English, with third-, fourth-, sixth- and seventh-graders showing declines and fifth-, eighth- and ninth-graders posting growth.The Colorado Department of Education did not release social studies results by district, citing that only one-third of elementary and middle schools took the tests.State as a whole isn’t soaringColorado students in general showed growth in most grade levels in English, marginal growth in science and drops in elementary and middle school math, with stronger gains in high school math.But in most math and science categories, that’s only bringing the state up to somewhere between 20 percent and 40 percent of students hitting or exceeding expectations — they fared better on English, but are still largely stuck in the 40s there.Englewood sits below 20 percent in nearly all grade levels for math and science, and it doesn’t break 30 for English.By contrast, under 2011’s CSAP testing, grades three through 10 in Colorado posted high 40s to low 60s as far as students who met or exceeded expectations in writing; high 60s to low 70s for reading; and 30s to low 70s in math. Grades five, eight and 10 scored in the high 40s on science.How the playing field changedEnglewood’s district officials said the transition from CSAP to the new standards is a dramatic one that shifts how tests evaluate students’ thinking.“I would say (CSAP and TCAP) was measuring skills more than thinking,” Hanrahan said. “And now the PARCC really measures problem-solving and thinking ability, whereas (the old tests) were measuring understanding of knowledge.”Rather than multiple-choice, “black-and-white” tests, it’s more about inferences, analogies and other “higher-level thinking,” Hanrahan said.“It was hard to do — it’s gonna take a bit of time,” Hanrahan said. “It doesn’t mean our kids can’t think. Getting them to show (what they know) on a standardized test can be a challenge.”Because the new state standards are more broad, Hanrahan said, teachers have to figure out how to best break the standards into lessons.A standard “might be `students understand text.’ Well what does that look like for students in first grade?” Hanrahan said. “How do I make it make sense to the students in my class ... and how do I teach while also juggling students who may (have) lagging skills?”When Colorado switched to PARCC in 2015, the state “as a whole saw a big drop,” said Joanna Polzin, director of assessment and analytics for Englewood Schools.Hanrahan says critical thinking and understanding of more black-and-white knowledge are both important.“But clearly, we want our kids to be prepared for their jobs, and not many jobs are going to require a step-by-step process,” she said.How Englewood is respondingTo handle the more rigorous standards, Englewood’s district is revising its teaching strategies, re-training teachers and focusing on what Hanrahan calls “the whole child” with social and emotional learning.The changes in standards are “one of the reasons why we added STEM in three out of four elementary schools this year,” Hanrahan said. All four elementary schools in the city now have STEM programming.Instructional coaches — experts who teach teachers how to improve their lessons — were also a new strategy Englewood added in 2015-16. They meet with teachers and set plans for how to improve. New curricula for K-5 math has been a success, Hanrahan said, and Englewood is planning to align lessons with the new standards for grades 6-12 currently. New science curriculum will also be added this year.“It entails ... having the right tools in our toolbox for how to scaffold for students who might have lapses in their own skills,” Hanrahan said. “For example, if a teacher (has) students that don’t know what they should have known in third grade, they take their instruction down to that level rather than keeping it up” and addressing those specific students. That’s an issue the district is working on now.‘Understanding the whole child’Hanrahan said it’s crucial to focus on the other aspects of students’ lives if schools want to see more success.“They come to school not just for academics,” she said. “We need to support them in (social and emotional needs) ... because if they have a lot of stress in their lives, it’s even harder to learn.”To that goal, Englewood is currently implementing what it calls “restorative practice,” wherein students start each day in a “connection circle” with their teacher. Students and teachers will have a chance to talk about their personal lives and what’s on their minds to relieve stress.Parent groups, which the district started last year is “scaling up” this year, allows parents to meet with a coordinator from the district to learn how to better support their children in school, Hanrahan said. There are groups specifically for segments like non-English speakers and gifted education. Hanrahan said the 2017 test scores likely don’t reflect the changes the district has made in recent years.“I would like to have a little more time to have growth,” Hanrahan said. “If you’re measuring them in third, fourth, fifth (grade), that small amount of time is not the amount of time where we could see growth in thinking. In knowledge, that works. But not (in thinking)… I think more time would be beneficial to all students in Colorado.”
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