What do test scores predict?

Lots of people from legislators to students like to dismiss the value of Colorado’s annual high school exams, but a new report suggests the test results may be useful as an indicator of who’s more likely to stay in college.

Pencil on test paperThe report found that scores on the 10th-grade math CSAP tests were almost as good an indicator that a student will continue in college as student ratings on the admissions index that colleges use when considering applications.

The higher a student’s CSAP result, the more likely the student will complete at least 30 credit hours of college work – roughly a year of higher education.

“What I’m showing is it’s related to persistence,” said Robert Reichardt of R-Squared Research, who wrote the report for the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

“The admissions index is a slightly better predictor than the CSAP,” he said, but test scores “may be an appropriate thing to consider in admissions policies.”

Reichardt compared 10th-grade CSAP math scores and admissions index data for Colorado high school graduates who attended state colleges from 2008 through 2011. “Persistence” was defined as having completed 30 credit hours of college work. The admissions index includes student scores on ACT or SAT college entrance exams and high school academic performance as measured by grade point average or class rank.

Reichardt said he found two other conclusions of his research significant.

“I think the most significant finding of the report is the consistently lower persistence rates” for males, Hispanic and low-income students despite their CSAP scores, he said.

The lower persistence rates for low-income students were less surprising, given college costs. He’s concerned about lower persistence rates for males: “The problem of males in education in general is not one that’s being talked about a lot.”

“The second thing is … there are still huge variations between institutions in persistence,” even when student scores and indexes are comparable, Reichardt said. “I don’t know why they’re different.”

Reichardt stresses that the report has limitations, including its focus on a traditional cohort of college-going students, and that further research is needed on broader groups of students and on what other factors affect persistence.

“Our universities are dealing with a huge diversity” of students, Reichardt noted, and for that reason, more research is needed on what affects persistence for a wide variety of students.

The report was designed to address such questions as whether CSAP scores predict attendance at two-year or four-year schools, whether scores predict persistence at both levels and to compare test scores and the admissions index. The group studied totaled about 42,000 students. Their persistence rates were 60 percent at two-year schools and 81 percent on four-year campuses. Here are some key findings:

  • Hispanic and low-income students with CSAP scores equivalent to those of the entire group studied were less likely to attend four-year schools.
  • Male, Hispanic and American Indian students were less likely to persist at two-year schools, while black and white freshmen were equally likely to persist.
  • At four-year schools, persistence was lower for males and all ethnic groups.
  • Among the four-year schools, Colorado Mesa, the School of Mines and the University of Colorado-Boulder had the highest persistence rates, while Metro State, Colorado State-Pueblo and Adams State had the lowest for students with comparable CSAP scores.

Reichardt presented the report at a recent meeting of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The document is part of a series of studies the state Department of Higher Education has commissioned to inform development of a new master plan for Colorado’s public colleges and universities.

“CSAP” is common verbal shorthand for Colorado’s annual achievement tests. But the last CSAPs were given in the spring of 2011, and students will take the transitional TCAP tests through at least 2014. Officials then hope to roll out a permanent set of replacement tests. Learn more.

That plan, required by a 2011 law, will become the frame for performance contracts with individual institutions, contracts that may eventually be tied to funding.

The state has an aspirational goal to double the number of degrees issued by 2020. Some 44,908 degrees and certificates were granted in 2011, the most recent data available.

The 2012 legislature passed multiple bills intended to increase completion, including measures making it easier for students to combine community college and four-year credits to earn associate’s degrees, to improve remediation programs and to allow adults to earn credit for past professional experience.

It’s widely agreed that Colorado can’t double degree and certificate production just by increasing enrollment of traditional-age college students.

Some legislators and other policy makers have been critical of high school tests, arguing students don’t take them seriously because the results aren’t considered for college admissions. There have been unsuccessful legislative attempts to reduce high school testing, which is done in the 9th and 10th grades. All Colorado 11th graders have to take the ACT test.

Legislation passed earlier this year encourages school districts to give the Accuplacer tests in high school. Supporters of those tests argue that high schools can use the instant results to help students fill academic gaps before they get to college, reducing the need for remediation.

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.