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Newly Reported Test Scores Bring (Mostly) Disappointing News

The good news from yesterday is summed up in two words: Sine Die. Near as I can tell, that’s Latin for “The legislature gets out of town, productive everyday citizens breathe a sigh of relief.” (But maybe I need to enroll in one of Colorado’s fine classical schools to find out for sure.)

The not-so-good news comes from a pair of test results that leave me sadly shaking my head. First, Colorado’s critical 3rd grade reading TCAP scores took a slight dip this year. We’re talking about 71.5 percent passing the proficiency bar in reading, as opposed to 73 percent last year.

The Denver Post story mentions one metro district that has bucked the trend, with Colorado Public Radio’s Jenny Brundin shining the spotlight on Westminster:

For the fourth consecutive year, Adams County School District 50’s score climbed 6 percentage points. Over the past four years, district scores have risen by 16 points while the state has remained relatively flat.

Superintendent Pamela Swanson attributes it to the school’s unique model — a competency-based system — that requires that a child fully understand a skill before moving forward.

“These children [the third-graders tested] were kindergarteners when we began this systemic change and I think we’re starting to see that it’s paying off,” Swanson says.

I’m starting to believe District 50 might be onto something. With a poorer student demographic that still lags the state average in 3rd grade reading proficiency but is closing the gap at a steady clip, the approach is definitely noteworthy. Four years ago, before the scores began to climb, I highlighted some real concerns among parents. But district leadership has changed, maybe the quality of implementation, and just maybe the trajectory for many students.

It’s well documented that a student who has fallen behind in reading at the 3rd grade level has greatly increased his or her chances of not earning a high school degree. Which brings us to the other news. At the same time the national graduation rate has inched up, 12th grade math and reading scores on the gold standard NAEP test are flatter than a pancake.

Draw your own reasonable conclusions, while also considering that a number of states (not Colorado that I’m aware of) have excluded significant numbers of special ed students from even taking the test. The stubborn fact remains that the longer students remain in the American K-12 public education system, the smaller the gains and the lower the proficiency rates.

While we’re talking about measuring what students learn, I also wanted to bring your attention to a new survey reported by Education Week. A majority of teachers still think too much time is spent testing, but the number of those who believe that has dropped significantly in the past couple years.

So maybe as we figure out that golden mean of testing students enough to measure important knowledge and skills and to arm teachers with the information all the better to help target specific student deficiencies, maybe we’ll see some of those other numbers turn around. Until then, I struggle and sigh and hope for better news ahead.