Thousands of students in Northern Colorado are failing to meet academic standards. Colorado Department of Education released district and school specific PARCC test results for the 2014/2015 school year, show a huge disparity between participation rates and performance. Aligned to the Common Core learning standards, the test is considered harder than the old bubble tests it replaced.
PARCC is administered to students in grades 3-11, measuring math and English language arts. These are the first district specific scores of a test that is supposed to measure analytical thinking, rather than memorization, to better prepare students for college or the workforce.
Statewide data released earlier in 2015 showed that most Colorado students fell far short of where educators think they should be in English language arts and math. Education experts, including the state education department have warned for months that test scores will be low, given the more rigorous standards of the PARCC test.
But some districts were pleasantly surprised.
“We were really happy with the scores, we are scoring above the state average in all the content areas, and I think that’s really a result of some of the work we’ve been doing with our teachers in terms of preparing for the tests through some of the instructional shifts that we’ve been practicing in our classrooms,” said Robert Beauchamp, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Poudre School District.
In all English language arts tests, over 50 percent of the Poudre students who took the test “met or achieved expectations,” the highest of the five basic student performance levels the PARCC test uses to determine how well students demonstrate their knowledge on the test. Students who score in the top two levels are considered on track.
“These tests are more rigorous aligned with more rigorous standards of the state. We were certainly expecting to have lower test scores as a result of this rigor. We’re pretty surprised that our kids are doing as well as they are.”
Beauchamp credits small group collaborative problem-solving that has been implemented in the district in order to help students think creatively about curriculum.
“I think that approach is working, we need to dig a little deeper into sub categories to determine what areas we might want to target further but overall we’re pretty happy with our scores,” he said.
These scores are simply the baseline Beauchamp cautions, and will in the future be more valuable for educators, since the turnaround time will be much faster.
“We’re expecting to have these results earlier in the school year so the teachers can react to them,” Beauchamp said.“We find the purpose of these tests very useful in terms of placing students, evaluating our instructional programs, also thinking about how student’s performance changes over time.”
Poudre school district’s assessment and school support coordinator John Passantino also said the district's transition to the new academic standards, including Common Core, resulted in higher than state average test scores. Poudre also saw a high participation rate, statistically providing most of their scores a valid baseline.
“One of the things we are working on this year is some consistent messaging to try and support more participation in the assessment because when we have data from more of our students we can make better decisions based on it,” Passantino said.
“We did not know what to expect in the data,” he said. “Where we have high participation rates, the data does seem to be solid from a first year look. Obviously we’ll need to see more years before we can really make the call on that.”
Greeley-Evans District 6 had very high student participation rates, never dropping below 84 percent, even in high school. Student achievement remained below Poudre and Boulder school districts, similar to TCAP scores in the past.
But if your students didn’t take the PARCC, test scores are difficult to interpret. Boulder Valley School District saw some of the lowest participation rates in the state, with around 30 percent of the students taking the test. In some schools, just 10 percent of students participated.
Boulder Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Bruce Messinger points out the test are new, so he thinks “it will take some time, maybe several years to fully appreciate what PARCC means to us and how that data will be helpful or not.”
“There was a really strong reaction among parents and students last year around state assessments… I would say it was a tipping point for us. Finally folks said ‘this is just too much for us,’” Messanger said.
“Our parents said to us ‘what value does this test have?’ and I think if we can find education value in this test over time and they see it positively impacting their students and their schools, I think our participation rate will work its way back up.”
Messinger concedes that the low participation rate, especially at the high school level means these test scores are “not very valuable.” Instead, the district will use “other measures” to determine how students are progressing.
“The legislature really opened the door intentionally for parents to opt out and so there is concern across the state that this participation rate will continue to be a challenge for the state, not just in Boulder Valley,” Messanger said.