Latest CSAP results mostly flat – again

State test results released today show little change in the proficiency of Colorado students on annual exams in reading and science and only slight increases in math and writing.

The number of pupils reading at grade level dropped less than half a percentage point to 68 percent, with most of the small decline coming at the very top or advanced level.

In writing, 55 percent of students scored proficient or advanced, an increase of two percentage points over 2010 results. In math, student proficiency rose almost one percentage point to 56 percent.

And in science, statewide results were flat – 47.8 percent of students were proficient or advanced in 2011 compared to 47.3 percent in 2010.

This set of tests marks the 15th year of the Colorado Student Assessment Program – and the last. Next year, students will begin taking the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program as the state moves to new tests aligned to new academic standards.

The final CSAPs were administered this past spring to 485,000 students in grades 3 – 8 in reading, writing, math and science. The first CSAPs, in fourth-grade reading and writing, were given in 1997.

An analysis by the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network of 15 years of CSAP results found more fourth-graders are passing the state reading exams, with a 10 percentage-point increase in those scoring proficient or advanced since testing began a decade and a half ago – from 55 percent to 65 percent.

But fewer fourth-graders are excelling on them. The number of fourth-graders statewide scoring advanced was 6 percent in 1997 and 5 percent in 2011.

Highlights of the I-News analysis:

  • More students meet reading standards. Four of every five school districts in the state (81 percent) made gains in the portion of their students who scored proficient or above on state reading tests between 1997 and 2011.
  • Advanced reading scores suffered. Nearly two of every three districts (64 percent) saw an actual drop in the portion of children scoring advanced in reading since CSAPs began.
  • Reading gains are stalled. Almost all the reading gains came in the first 10 years of testing, with most districts either stagnating or falling slightly since 2006.

The portion of fourth graders scoring advanced in reading fell or stagnated in about 80 percent of the districts, or four out of every five.

Some of the biggest drops in advanced scores between 1997 and 2011 were posted by some of the highest scoring districts: Cherry Creek saw a five percentage point decline in students scoring advanced on reading exams, Academy 20 in El Paso County saw a four percentage point fall, Littleton dropped three percentage points, Douglas County fell two percentage points, Poudre Valley in Larimer County fell two percentage points and Boulder Valley dropped one percentage point.

Denver Public Schools was among the 20 percent of districts to show a gain in the portion of students scoring advanced in fourth grade reading, rising one percentage point over the 15 years.

At the other end of the scale, one in three districts reduced the percent of students scoring “unsatisfactory” – the lowest level – in reading.

State officials are most concerned with what they call “passing” scores, the combination of proficient and advanced results. Statewide, the percent of students scoring either proficient or advanced in fourth grade reading climbed 10 percentage points between 1997 and 2011.

But since 2006, the portion of students with a passing fourth grade reading score has dropped three percentage points.

Among the largest districts, these saw an overall decline in “passing” reading scores between 2006 and 2011: Academy 20 (-2 percentage points), Adams Five Star (-3), Aurora (-2), Boulder Valley (-1), Colorado Springs (-4), Douglas County (-4), Greeley (-2), Jefferson County (-1) and St. Vrain Valley (-2).

Denver Public Schools was the only one of the state’s ten largest districts to post an increase in “passing” scores between 2006 and 2011, gaining two percentage points. Cherry Creek results were flat.

For fourth grade writing, the other test administered in all 15 years of the CSAPs, there also was a gap between gains in proficient scores and gains in advanced scores, though it was not as dramatic as the reading score gap.

From 1997 to 2011, 89 percent of the districts showed gains in overall proficiency compared to 59 percent of the districts showing gains in the percent of students scoring advanced.

Districts also did much better in reducing the percent of students scoring unsatisfactory in writing, with 92 percent of the districts posting declines in unsatisfactory scores.

What state officials are saying

“We wish the results were better,” said education Commissioner Robert Hammond while noting that some districts showed significant gains.

CDE highlighted the Roaring Fork, Summit County, Durango, Adams 12 Five Star and Jefferson County districts for gains in scores and, in some cases, growth.

Hammond predicted that as state education reforms such as the Colorado Achievement Plan for kids kick in, “I think you’re going to see significant differences” statewide.

Jo O’Brien, assistant commissioner of education for testing, said the lesson of this year’s results is that schools and teachers need to focus individually on struggling students. “The new business of education will be around focusing those students who are in the catch-up category.”

Catch-up is a classification in the state’s growth model. It refers to the percentage of students who previously scored unsatisfactory or partially proficient on state exams but who are demonstrating enough growth that they’re on track to proficiency within three years or by the tenth grade.

The 2011 results show leveling off of reading gains in the last five years compared to the previous 10.

Deputy Commissioner Diana Sirko said that may reflect an intensive focus on reading in the first several years of CSAP testing. She also said that the state’s schools have higher percentages of at-risk students and English language learners than they did 15 years ago.

Asked about declining percentages of students “catching up” in reading and math, growth consultant Bill Bonk speculated that some students have moved into the next category, leaving students who are move challenged in the catching up category.

The State Board of Education was briefed on the results shortly before the public release. Board members had little comment on the report.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia met with the board briefly before the official release of the results. In a statement later, he said, “This year’s overall CSAP and Growth Model results indicate student achievement success in several key areas, but also highlight the pressing need to continue strengthening the education pipeline so that every student is ultimately prepared for college or a career. Now more than ever, we must implement the significant education policy reforms passed in the legislature these past few years to ensure success for all students across the state.”