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Liberty Common Shatters ACT Test Record; State TCAPs Less Inspiring

Yesterday brought a big data dump from the Colorado Department of Education, and it’s nothing that is going to get the rest of the nation ooh-ing and aah-ing about where we’re headed. When aggregate scores for 3rd to 10th graders in all three subject areas dip half a point, clearly far more is getting measured than improved. Still, there’s plenty that’s hidden when you take the statewide view.

So leave it to little old me to ferret out and compile a few of the key local story lines that deserve attention, reflection, and in a few cases, imitation. Speaking of which, none rises to the top more than the Liberty Common High School‘s record-breaking ACT score — besting the 2010 mark of 27.78 with an eye-popping 28.63.

Did I say “record-breaking”? I should have said “shattering” — almost, but not quite, Beamonesque. Congrats to Liberty Common and principal Bob Schaffer for raising the bar! When I wished them “best of success” nearly two years ago after my Education Policy Center friends concluded their visit, I had no idea they would so thoroughly heed my admonition!

Here are some other local highlights of yesterday’s test score data dump that caught my attention:

  1. The Gazette‘s analysis of academic performance in the Pikes Peak area found the biggest academic gains occurring in high-poverty schools and that area charter schools — including the Vanguard schools and James Irwin Charter Academy — recorded the highest scores locally in reading, writing, and math
  2. As before, Harrison’s Centennial Elementary remains a bright spot with its 90% free and reduced lunch student population — yielding across-the-board improvement and higher-than-state-average scores in math, while sustaining strong results in reading
  3. Denver Public Schools continued the trend of slow, upward progress, with strength at the middle school level — driven largely by charter success (including KIPP, which fits the national picture), the exception being an off-year for STRIVE Prep
  4. As Chalkbeat also points out, four of the five highest-growth schools in Colorado are charters, but perhaps more interesting is the fact that tiny southeastern Colorado’s Vilas School District showed some of the highest growth statewide, just as it’s “facing the end of the state’s accountability clock”
  5. Meanwhile, year-over-year TCAP proficiency changes in districts attracting a lot of recent attention did nothing to distinguish themselves from the statewide trends: Adams 12 was a balanced mix of gains and losses, while district-wide TCAP scores in Jeffco, Dougco, Falcon 49*, and Thompson trended more negative than positive
  6. On the other hand, most of these districts (Falcon 49* and Thompson excepted) trended slightly upward along with the state on average ACT scores for their 11th graders

Do your own TCAP data searches (and there are plenty more to be done — no doubt I’ve missed some items) with Chalkbeat’s helpful TCAP database, and you may find yourself pulled into the same sort of philosophical discussion the State Board held yesterday. I admit to being sympathetic to this view:

Member Deb Scheffel of Parker responded to Berman in a different way. “We’re going to continue to get these kind of results if we continue a regulatory approach to reform,” she said. “Students and parents need more choice. … We really need a different model, a different funding model so that money follows kids.”

Hopefully, that kind of jolt not only would better satisfy the needs of students and parents but also would create more incentive for individual school and district leaders to take hold of the data and seize on what’s really working. Because in many places, the results really still aren’t all that pretty. Sure, there’s a danger in trying to read too much from one snapshot, but the extended trends don’t offer much more inspired hope. Easy solutions aren’t falling from trees.

Having witnessed the last-ever release of TCAP scores, Colorado now stands on the verge of a new testing regime. I expect that, a few years from now, the transitional testing program will linger in my mind only as the answer to the trivia question: “What state assessment system rhymes with kneecap?” Other than that, I’m ready to move onward and upward.

*To be fair, Falcon 49′s trend scores were significantly affected by the addition of GOAL Academy at-risk students into the mix. I would be interested to see what the results look like without them.