Jeffco assessment results are in — and not great

Progress made last year, but improvements trail pre-pandemic levels

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 9/17/21

2020-21 state assessment data is incomplete but combined with information from MAP (Measure of Academic Progress), CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success), Acadience and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude …

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Jeffco assessment results are in — and not great

Progress made last year, but improvements trail pre-pandemic levels

Posted

2020-21 state assessment data is incomplete but combined with information from MAP (Measure of Academic Progress), CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success), Acadience and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) results, Jeffco’s School District is able to get an accurate picture of how the year went.

The picture that emerges from the date suggests academic progress was lacking.

In a presentation to the Jeffco Board of Education, Dr. Carol Eaton, Executive Director, Instructional Data Services, said students made progress last year, but the gains were lower than in pre-pandemic years. 

Eaton said students ended last year with lower performance than in typical years, with math scores coming in lower than reading scores. A bright spot is that graduation rates have improved over time. 

According to the data, pandemic-related academic difficulties disproportionately impacted minority, reduced lunch eligible, special education and English language learners.

Eaton said assessment results show Jeffco students are on par with students state-wide and in counties with similar demographics.

Outside of testing data, surveys completed by students and teachers gave insight into the climate and culture in Jeffco Schools. Participation in the “Make Your Voice Heard” and other student surveys, increased from previous years. Eaton said that data shows students are worried about academic performance. The student surveys indicated students attending in-person school were more egaged than remote learners. Teachers who participated in the “Teachers and Learning Conditions Survey” were concerned about student learning and socio-emotional impacts of the pandemic but reported they knew how to access mental-health supports for both staff and students. Family engagement continued to decline, although students and families attending in-person learning showed higher levels of engagement than those who did remote-learning.

Eaton said the pandemic affected schools and districts unevenly, pointing to measurable differences in start of school delays, proportion of remote learners, and number of quarantine days different schools faced.

“We’re so used to being able to look at our standardized data and thinking we can look at all districts — we can compare,” she said. “But it’s very challenging (this year) because we don’t understand all of the impacts of the pandemic considerations as well as the participation problems that we may be seeing across schools and districts. So, that makes it very challenging to use our data the way we have in prior years.”

The Colorado Department of Education says that a test participation rate of 85% is likely good enough to give a test score results that are truly representative of a district or a school. However, in 2020-21 very few districts (including Jeffco) met that threshold.

Half of last year’s CMAS tests were not administered due to a federal waiver. 

Overall, Jeffco bested state averages for CMAS participation, with 81% district participation. However, participation rates varied widely between schools in the district. For example, one Jeffco elementary school had 100% participation in grade 3 English language arts testing, while another had only 7% participation. Forty-eight Jeffco schools were beneath the 81% district-wide testing participation level.

On the sort-of bright side, Jeffco test scores for 2020 met or exceeded state levels for every category. But the district shows an overall decline in historic (2017-2019) growth for CMAS and English Language Arts (ELA) results, compared to the state benchmark.

Jeffco’s total mean PSAT and SAT scores are slightly higher than the Colorado total mean. But board member Rick Rush said comparisons to the state’s low achievement bar weren’t good enough for Jeffco.

Rush called out district administration saying he was a board member 10 or 12 years ago and hasn’t seen needed academic improvement take hold.

“I think it starts with accountability of the board members and the superintendent we hire. And I think that it rolls on down from there,” he said.

“And I’m concerned that we haven’t held ourselves and district staff as accountable as I’d like to see, for these kinds of results.”

Rush called the district’s pre-pandemic academic slide unacceptable.

Jeffco Schools Superintendent, Tracy Dorland, said with what she’s seen so far, this year, there’s no reason Jeffco can’t be among the top school districts in the country. 

You can learn more about Jeffco’s various assessment tests by going to www.jeffcopublicschools.org and clicking on academics.

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