Participation by local students low on standardized tests

School board explores what the results mean

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Low participation rates made certain results difficult to interpret and some directors questioned the exams' effectiveness when the Douglas County School Board recently reviewed standardized testing outcomes.

The school board on Sept. 17 heard the first public presentation from staff concerning Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) results, which were released in August.

Matt Reynolds, the district's system performance officer, provided an overview of how the district compared in both performance and participation to neighboring districts and the state.

Douglas County participation in CMAS was the lowest across all grade levels when compared to Aurora Public Schools, Cherry Creek School District, Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools, Littleton Public Schools and the state.

In CMAS science, participation across the state and within DCSD fell so drastically from the fifth grade to high school level that educators cautioned against gleaning any conclusions from the data.

“This is where things get really interesting,” Reynolds said.

In 2019, the participation rate for Douglas County in fifth grade science was 92.9% but 22.2% in high school. The test was not administered in high school before 2016.

For Douglas County fifth-graders, 47.7% met or exceeded expectations in science. In eighth grade, that fell to 41.9% and further still to 29.9% in high school. Compared to neighboring districts, Douglas County fifth-graders and high school students performed second only to Littleton Public Schools. Eighth-graders came in third behind LPS and Cherry Creek.

In general, more Douglas County students met or exceeded expectations in CMAS math and English Language Arts than at the state level, although participation was lower. This was true for all grade levels in both subjects.

In CMAS math and English language arts, Reynolds clustered grades three through five into one category and grades six through eight in another when analyzing how the district performed compared to its neighbors.

Among the younger students, 47.3% met or exceeded math expectations in Douglas County and 45.7% in the older grades. For language arts, 56.8% met or exceeded expectations in the third- through fifth-grade cluster, and 56.7% in the sixth- through eighth-grade group.

SAT performance in Douglas County has held steady. The mean scale score among Douglas County students was 1,084 this year. That was down marginally from both 2018, when the mean scale score was 1,088, and from 2017 when it was 1,087.

DCSD again trailed LPS as the second highest-performing district in the SAT when compared to neighboring districts.

The PSAT tests the same skills and knowledge as the SAT but at the eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade level. For eighth- and ninth-graders, the mean scale score was 967 and in 10th grade came in at 998.

School board directors briefly discussed why there was low participation in certain tests, if there simply was not interest from students, and whether requirements to administer both CMAS and the SAT was redundant.

“To me, having two mandated tests is really expensive and it's also a waste of time,” said Director Anne-Marie Lemieux.

Director Wendy Vogel called state testing a “necessary evil” but questioned what results truly show about students' education.

“I think that we all know a lot of these assessments really measure ZIP code more than they measure what's actually happening,” Vogel said.

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