High marks but little change on state tests at LPS

Littleton schools score well above average in science, math, English

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Littleton Public Schools continued a trend of high scores on state assessment tests, though officials say there’s still a ways to go to meet state goals.

LPS students performed well above state averages at all levels of the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS tests, in 2019, according to figures released in August by the Colorado Department of Education.

On the PSAT and SAT tests — which can be determining factors in college acceptance — LPS students scored several points higher than state averages.

By and large, however, the scores are nearly unchanged from last year, and still below where the district would like them to be.

“We’re not unhappy, but they’re flat,” said Patti Turner, the LPS director of learning services. “We’re still working hard to implement the test standards, and realistically they’re only a tiny sliver to demonstrate student performance across the school year.”

On the CMAS math tests, which are administered in elementary and middle school, 52.5% of LPS students met or exceeded expectations, compared to 34.7% statewide.

On the English/language arts tests, also administered in elementary and middle school, 64.1% of LPS students met or exceeded expectations, compared to 45.8% statewide.

Most of the LPS math and English scores experienced only negligible percentage changes from last year, with the exception of eighth-grade math, where scores increased by 19.2 percentage points over last year.

That’s a fluke, Turner said, because in past years accelerated math students were allowed to take high school tests. This year, the state required advanced math students to take tests within their grade level.

In science, which is administered in fifth, eighth and 11th grades, LPS saw 53.3% of students meet or exceed expectations, compared to 30.7% statewide.

The 11th-grade science scores, however, are difficult to use as a metric of student success because of their unusually high opt-out rate, Turner said.

Only 27.9% of eligible 11th-graders at LPS took the science test, according to state data, far below the state participation rate of 61.0%.

Parents are allowed to opt their children out of any state test, Turner said, and few see the value in the high school science test, because it has no bearing on college applications.

The LPS scores on the SAT and PSAT were above state averages. The LPS average on the SAT was 1092 points, higher than the state average of 1001. PSAT scores in ninth and 10th grades showed similar margins.

While the tests are an important metric to measure student success, Turner said they don’t come close to offering a comprehensive picture.

“This is one set of data on a set of students on a particular day,” Turner said. “They’re only a piece of the puzzle. We triangulate them with other data points to help us understand how our kids are doing.”

While it’s nice to be above average, Turner said the district would like to see the scores climb even higher.

“Our goal is to have 100% of our kids ready for post-secondary options,” Turner said. “There’s no one answer to what would bring these scores up into the 90s. More institutional support, maybe, or a longer school year. We do the best we can for every student.”

It wasn’t uncommon to see whole districts scoring in the 90s back in the days of the Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP tests, said Jeremy Meyer, the director of communications for the Colorado Department of Education.

Colorado quit administering the CSAP test in 2011, partly because the scores were so high, Meyer said.

“The legislature saw that kids were scoring really well on the CSAP, but then they’d get to college and need to take remedial classes,” Meyer said. “The CMAS is better aligned to what kids should know in the 21st century.”

While CMAS tests are a narrow window into student performance, Meyer said they’re useful because they’re the only common measurement used to compare districts statewide.

“We can also parse the data a lot of ways,” Meyer said. “How kids from low-income families or kids of different races are doing, for instance.”

The tests are administered as part of a federal mandate, Meyer said, and schools with low scores may be eligible for additional funding.

The first CMAS tests were given in 2014, Meyer said, meaning only now are trends beginning to emerge.

“We want to see kids graduating with college and career-ready skills and knowledge,” Meyer said. “Statewide trends are showing increases.”

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