Testing takes center stage in school board session

Schools concerned about being penalized for learning losses during COVID-19

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/3/21

In a Feb. 23, meeting of the Jeffco School Board, assessment tests and the possibility of their results having a punitive effect on the District and teachers were the main topic of concern. Matthew …

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Testing takes center stage in school board session

Schools concerned about being penalized for learning losses during COVID-19

Posted

In a Feb. 23, meeting of the Jeffco School Board, assessment tests and the possibility of their results having a punitive effect on the District and teachers were the main topic of concern.

Matthew Flores, Chief Academic Officer for the District, and Dr. Carol Eaton, Jeffco’s Executive Director of Instructional Data Services, got the ball rolling with a presentation on the District’s academic testing results from winter Acadience (reading) grades K-3 and Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) grades 3-10 tests.

The Acadience test for grades K-3 was taken by 97% of Jeffco students, a comparable number to previous years.

Flores said the biggest change in Acadience this year is how students took the test, with larger numbers taking it virtually in winter than in the fall, which can lead to unexpected consequences.

“This change can have impacts on the results especially if there’s some kind of glitch during the assessing online or if there’s trouble hearing a student,” he said.

The tests are given in the beginning of year (BOY) and again in the middle of the year (MOY), which gives stakeholders including teachers, schools, the District and parents a chance to evaluate academic growth between the two tests.

This year’s results were a mixed bag, with students in grade 1 showing significant progress from BOY to MOY, stable performance in grades 2 and 3, and less than expected growth between the two tests for kindergarten. Jeffco’s performance in the Colorado Department of Education’s Early Literacy Assessment tool was similar to other districts in the state. 

Before explaining the results of the MAP tests, Justin Houck, Jeffco’s Director of Instructional Assessment, said there were a few things to consider when looking at the bigger picture. Among the changes from previous years, a delayed and extended test window, remote administration of the test for the majority of students and overall lower participation combined to give a less complete picture of aggregate student performance, he said.

MAP tests showed results across the board — some good, some, not so much.

On the upside, the District’s median growth math scores improved for school year 2020-2021 at every grade level. These results were a noticeable change from the District’s lackluster math showing in 2019-2020.

However, reading scores dipped at every grade level.

Flores said the improved math results were a compliment to the District’s schools which identified math as an area with a need for improvement and focused their efforts in that direction. 

Regarding the sub-par reading numbers, he said they’ve been of concern to the District since before the winter MAP assessment, but reading is an area where kids come into the same class with a much wider range of need. 

“What we are finding is, over the pandemic, less opportunity [for students] to practice fluency,” he said. “Specifically, guided fluency where kids read out loud or demonstrate their ability to kind of read at the same pace over time. Students who haven’t had the ability to practice that with a trained professional in the classroom, have slowed some of their reading progress.”

While acknowledging the importance of test data, Eaton stressed that for the overall picture, context is key.

“As you know our academic learning occurs within the context of readiness for learning and conditions for learning,” she said. “So, MAP and Acadience results tell us part of the story of our District’s performance.

The broader context includes, for example, our District’s Make Your Voice Heard student survey or our Family School Partnership survey.”

As for how principals are using the test data, Dan Cohan, Jeffco’s Interim Chief of Secondary Schools, said they’re looking at data and seeing how it aligns with school data.

“They’re asking, “Did kids meet their projected proficiency?”

“Did they not meet that projected proficiency?” “And why? “Then they’re aggregating that (information) down to the classroom level,” Cohan said.

Matthew Flores said centrally, it’s hard to say what the children at each level need by just looking at overall data, because it looks similar year to year and it’s such a large data set. 

“The teacher level is where the difference is made, because they have individual reports on each of the students,” he said. “But what we do centrally with that data is say “are units on target for where kids need to be?” “Are they meeting those targets as represented by the data?” And “How do we give resources to teachers, at that level, with the tools that they will need to differentiate proficiency scales?””

He said that’s how the District looks at big data — connect it back to the grade level expectations and allow for the variability of resources to meet the individual needs of the students at that grade level.

Eaton agrees.

“In our systems, we can actually see very specific areas of need. It really looks at sub-categories within the (MAP) test so, it’s not simply this overall “How did you do in math?” Or, “How did you do in reading?” she said.

“It allows teachers and principals to really pick apart where they’re seeing strengths and what areas need more focus — that’s done at a district level, but also at a school level.”

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