Wed August 3, 2011

More Colorado Public School Students Reading, But Fewer Excel

More Colorado public school children are meeting state education standards for reading than they were 15 years ago, but fewer are excelling at the subject, an I-News Network analysis of new school testing scores shows.

State education officials on Wednesday released scores for the standardized Colorado Student Assessment Program tests – known as CSAPs – which showed the portion of fourth graders in state public schools who meet or surpass state reading requirements has risen 10 percentage points since testing began a decade and a half ago.

An I-News analysis of those data show the gains appear to have stalled recently, though.

Most reading gains came in the first decade of testing, the analysis shows. And most school districts, including some of the largest, have actually seen their students’ reading scores drop since 2006.

This marks the fifteenth year Colorado has tested fourth grade reading and writing in its public schools. The state is revamping its testing program next year.

The I-News Network analyzed 15 years of data and found:

  • More students meet reading standards. Four of every five school districts in the state (81 percent) made gains in the portion of their students who scored proficient at meeting state reading standards between 1997 and 2011.
  • Advanced reading scores suffered. Nearly two of every three districts (64 percent) saw an actual drop in the portion of children scoring advanced in reading since CSAPs began.
  • Reading gains are stalled. Almost all the reading gains came in the first 10 years of testing, with most districts either stagnating or falling slightly since 2006.

The portion of fourth graders scoring advanced in reading fell or stagnated in about 80 percent of the districts, or four out of every five. Some of the biggest drops were posted by some of the highest scoring districts. Academy 20 in El Paso County saw a 4 percentage point fall, Cherry Creek fell five percentage points, Littleton dropped three percentage points, Douglas County fell two percentage points, Poudre Valley in Larimer County fell two percentage points and Boulder Valley dropped one percentage point.

Denver was among the 20 percent of districts to show a gain in the portion of students scoring advanced in fourth grade reading, rising one percentage point over the 15 years.

One in three districts reduced the percent of students scoring “unsatisfactory” in reading.

State officials are most concerned with what they call “passing” scores: Combining both proficient and advanced. Statewide, the percent of students scoring either proficient or advanced in fourth grade reading has risen 10 percentage points in the past decade and a half, to 65 percent.

But since 2006, the portion of students with a passing fourth grade reading score has dropped three percentage points. Among the largest districts, these saw an overall decline in reading scores between 2006 and 2011: Douglas County, Colorado Springs, Greeley, Five Star in Adams County, St. Vrain, Boulder Valley, and Academy 20.

For fourth grade writing, the other test administered in all 15 years of the CSAPs, there also was a gap between gains in proficient scores and gains in advanced scores, though it was not as dramatic as the reading score gap. From 1997 to 2011, 89 percent of the districts showed gains in overall proficiency compared to 59 percent of the districts showing gains in the percent of students scoring advanced.

Districts also did much better in reducing the percent of students scoring unsatisfactory in writing, with 92 percent of the districts posting declines in unsatisfactory scores.