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Continuing a longtime trend, standardized test scores released earlier this month by the Colorado Department of Education show that Littleton Public Schools consistently scores higher than the state average.
Despite the high marks compared to the rest of the state, the percentage of LPS students meeting or exceeding expectations on the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS tests, remains mid-range.
On the CMAS English Language Arts tests, which are administered from third grade to freshman year, the highest score was in seventh grade, where 68.3 percent of students met or exceeded expectations.
On CMAS Math tests, which are administered beginning in third grade up through Algebra II, the highest score was among Algebra II students, of whom 77.6 percent met or exceeded expectations. Only a third of eighth-graders met or exceeded expectations.
The trend continues in science: on the CMAS science tests, only 54.9 percent of elementary schoolers tested met or exceeded expectations. In middle school, the number is 52.3 percent, and in high school the number is 42 percent.
The high school science figure, though, contains a statistical weakness: only 38.1 percent of eligible LPS high schoolers even took the test, owing to a state policy that allows parents to opt their children out of the testing without consequence.
The opt-out policy makes tests with low levels of participation essentially statistically meaningless, said LPS Deputy Superintendent Connie Bouwman.
“It's no longer a useful benchmark because so many kids opt out,” Bouwman said. “It used to be a useful benchmark when we had everyone taking the test, but it's no longer of much use to us.”
The seemingly low marks owe in part to years of changing tests and expectations coming from the state and federal level, Bouwman said.
“Because these are relatively new tests, and we're going to be having even newer tests coming along, it's difficult to hit our stride, to hit the mark,” Bouwman said. “Until this year we didn't really have materials that match the standards.”
Back in the days of CSAP testing, which was abandoned in 2011, LPS generally scored in the 90-plus percent range, Bouwman said.
“CMAS is a significant step up in rigor,” Bouwman said. “It asks students to do more higher-level tasks. For example, it will give students two reading selections and ask them to compare the two in a variety of ways. Students have to be able to support their answer with data from the text. It's a far cry from asking who was the main character and what was the outcome of the story, like CSAP asked.”
The change in testing standards also means that establishing long-term trends is difficult, when comparing scores across diverse testing platforms.
Comparing the 2017 CMAS numbers to 2016, LPS shows little movement. Many scores changed by less than a percentage point year over year — essentially statistically negligible.
“We're kind of flat, but in some areas we've moved up, and in others down a little,” Bouwman said. “Since these are relatively new tests, we haven't found our stride yet. We'd like to have 100 percent of our students meeting those standards.”
The seemingly low marks are put in better context when compared with state averages, however. LPS's scores in Language Arts, Math and Science are generally 10 percentage points above state average.
Scores on the SAT, now a state requirement for high schoolers, show similar trends: though LPS's scores range from the 50s to 70s in terms of meeting benchmarks on reading, writing and math, they are around 20 percentage points higher than state average.
Bouwman said she's confident that as standards settle and teachers and students become used to the tests, scores will improve, but schools could use some help.
“We're all struggling to match our materials, our teaching strategies with the standards,” Bouwman said. “It takes a great deal of professional development, but it also takes a great deal of time and money — two things we don't have a lot of.”
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