Superintendents: Do not sugar-coat test score results

Editor’s note: This article was written by Peter Huidekoper Jr., a long-time educator and coordinator of the Colorado Education Policy Fellowship Program. This piece comes from his longstanding newsletter, Another View.

As we prepare for the release of the scores on the state assessments, a recommendation for Colorado districts and schools. And for everyone eager to offer their take on the results. Countless studies and articles have set the stage for what to expect. (See “The COVID Academic Slide Could Be Worse Than Expected.”[i]) And we are not unique. Likely a learning loss in all 50 states. Maybe for most countries.

Be clear and honest in reporting the scores that show where students performed last spring on CMAS (3-8), PSAT (for 9th and 10th grades), and the college admissions exam (SAT) for 11th grade.

Offer no excuses, because this is not about blame. Over the past two years, decisions made on closing schools or staying open varied across the state. Some rural students missed few weeks of regular classroom teaching during the pandemic, while many urban students missed most of an entire year. Some will be inclined to look back in anger: see what your shutting down for so long cost our kids! Schools that stayed in session most weeks might want to boast: see what we achieved by staying open!

No need for that. Lessons to learn on that front are for another day. In all humility, we probably have to say no one got it exactly right. Let’s agree that school leaders had tough decisions to make and did so with the best interests of the kids and teachers in mind. Again, no blame.

What we need now, above all, are the facts. We see superintendents strain to put the best face on test scores, regardless of disappointing results. Do they fear we will blame them? Do they find it necessary to spin the truth? Again, to all our hard-working and well-intentioned superintendents, this year, there is no blame. The pandemic and its effects are not on you. But please, if the news is grim, let’s have it.

What matters now is that we acknowledge that there have been real consequences for the academic achievement of our students. The impact of our COVID-years is not over. We must reckon with this. Accept what the results tell us about any learning loss.

And of course no one is blaming students either. If in 2022 5th graders scored well below the proficiency-level they achieved in 2019 (pre-COVID), let’s acknowledge this reality. Last year’s fifth graders now enter our 6th grade classrooms. If they are a year or more behind where 6th graders were back in the fall of 2019, so be it. Much will need to be re-examined, if we are to meet students where they are.

We already hear from those who will belittle the results.[ii] (A repeat of how dismissive many were a year ago? That was more understandable, given the incomplete data for 2021.) Please, no sugar-coating the facts. No unwarranted optimism that student achievement will be “back to normal” soon enough. If our sixth graders are truly not close to performing at grade level, tell us. We need to know.

An alert to K-3 teachers: what CMAS/CDE won’t tell us, but what the 2021 READ ACT report suggests

I now put on my Cassandra hat and explain why I am most concerned by what you and I will not see in these spring 2022 results. (Even if districts and schools, which receive a more complete breakdown of individual scores, could tell us.) CMAS will not tell us the percentage of 3rd or 4th graders who were reading at a proficient level last spring. As I have written many times before (See Addendum A), it is disappointing that the Colorado Department of Education only presents English Language Arts (ELA) scores, a “literacy score,” and we see no breakdown on the reading skills versus the writing skills of our boys and girls. (As any English teacher will tell you, they are separate skills. AV#193 revealed the gap in reading versus writing scores for elementary students during the last seven years of CSAP/TCAP testing.

2022 CMAS scores will only tell us something like this, which we saw for 2021 and 2019.

2021   English Language Arts/Literacy on CMAS – Grade 3 – Percentages
Did Not Yet Meet Expectations Partially Met Expectations Approached Expectations Met Expectations Did Not Yet Meet Expectations Total Met or Exceeded Expectations
2021 21.5% 18.0% 21.4% 34.9% 4.2% 39.1%

https://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/2021_cmas_ela_math_statesummaryachievementresults

2019   English Language Arts/Literacy on CMAS – Grade 3 – Percentages
Did Not Yet Meet Expectations Partially Met Expectations Approached Expectations Met Expectations Did Not Yet Meet Expectations Total Met or Exceeded Expectations
2019 17.3% 18.3% 23.2% 36.8% 4.5% 41.3%

https://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/2019_cmas_ela_math_statesummaryachievementresults

Here is my fear. Consider that “lowest” category, “Did Not Yet Meet.” For 2022, CMAS will suggest, but not reveal, how many more 3rd graders are now struggling to read. To find out, we must turn to the state’s data on reading for K-3 students. We go to last year’s READ Act scores – see below. (2022 figures not yet available). The READ Act focuses on identifying and serving K-3 students designated as having a Significant Reading Deficiency (SRD). These students need extraordinary support to climb from the bottom rung of the ladder (SRD) up to reading at grade level. Note how the number of K-3 students struggling to read grew dramatically during COVID. In some districts, the number has ballooned.

2021 READ ACT: Percentage of K-3 students identified as SRD – Significantly Reading Deficient

2017-18 2018-19 2020-21 Increase from

18-19 to 20-21

  4 urban school districts
Adams 14 39.8 40.6 59.7 +19.1
Aurora Public Schools 35.8 34.2 46.3 +12.1
Westminster 31.8 32.6 43.5 +10.9
Pueblo 60 18.6 20.5 33.5 +13
  2 rural school districts    
Montezuma-Cortez 21.7 25.1 38.5 +13.4
Center 13.1 17.5 35.3 DOUBLED
 State of Colorado  
% of K-3 students ID’d as SRD 15.5 16.3 22.8 +6.5
Total # K-3 students assessed 255,114 250,923 231,850 -19,073

From READ ACT DATA DASHBOARD – https://www.cde.state.co.us/code/readactdashboard, and from

READ Report – 2020 Annual Report –https://www.cde.state.co.us/coloradoliteracy/2020-read-act-report

By law, as of this week, all K-3 teachers in Colorado should be trained in “evidence-based reading” instruction.[i] A good step, but consider this. Half of our K-3 students in Adams 14 and Aurora were identified as SRD in 2021. Imagine a 26-year-old, third-year teacher with 30 students, half of them identified as SRD. Now ask her (even with the best training in the world) to faithfully carry out all the READ Act requirements, and to meet the needs of all her students. Unlikely, you say. Too bleak.

Maybe, but this is why we must ask more questions. Dig deeper than CMAS. Find out the extent of the learning loss for our youngest students. How many are struggling to read? I hope we can handle the truth.

[i] K-3 teacher evidence-based reading training deadline is Monday

All kindergarten through third-grade educators who teach reading and literacy skills in Colorado must complete their evidence-based reading training requirements by Monday, Aug. 1. Documentation that they complied with the K-3 evidence-based reading training requirements should be submitted by Monday, Aug 15. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=rm&ogbl#inbox/FMfcgzGqPpcnXHwqQNgnlSXXhNvdlZdB

Endnotes

[i] By Sarah Sparks, Education Week, https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/the-covid-academic-slide-could-be-worse-than-expected/2022/02

[ii] Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association: “I would urge caution to jumping to conclusions just using the CMAS scores alone, because if you think about it, it’s very hard to draw comparisons right now,”

State Sen. Tammy Story, D-Conifer, who’s vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, … believes CMAS should not be given out until school environments are back to ‘normal.’ Story said, ‘I don’t see these (tests) as a good baseline to compare to when there is so much disruption.’”
“Education trends were on the right track prior to pandemic,” The Gazette, by David Mullen, Aug. 7, 2022. https://gazette.com/news/education/education-trends-were-on-the-right-track-prior-to-pandemic/article_11bac9ae-153a-11ed-a537-4bc94a842bb7.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=cb_bureau_colorado&utm_source=Chalkbeat&utm_campaign=7f7e8dcf7d-Colorado+DACA+opened+doors+to+education+for+some+b&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9091015053-7f7e8dcf7d-1296398182

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