Colorado sees ‘significant decreases’ in standardized test scores during pandemic

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DENVER (KDVR) – Colorado students showed “significant decreases” in achievement for standardized tests from 2019 to 2021, according to statewide assessment results released Thursday from the Colorado Department of Education.

Results of the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessments taken last spring are across all tested grades and subject areas.

“The biggest challenge is that we just had such inconsistent experiences for our students,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association.

Although the global pandemic had a major impact, Baca-Oehlert said she is not content blaming it all on the virus.

“It would be short-sighted of us if we said, ‘Oh, this is just because of the pandemic,” she said, adding that schools need more resources: “adequate mental health supports for our students and our educators, frankly.”

Participation rates fall 20-30%

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) said that participation rates in test-taking could make it hard to interpret results. Overall, participation on all the required tests fell by about 20% to 30% from the previous year in all grades across the state.

CDE said fewer students tested than in typical years, and that CMAS, PSAT and SAT were the only common measurements of students’ learning across Colorado last year. Therefore, participation rates should be closely reviewed when interpreting school-, district- and state-level results as the rates varied greatly across the state this year.

Last spring, Colorado administered CMAS English language arts and math tests to students in alternating grades. Third-, fifth- and seventh-grade students were required to take the English language arts tests. Fourth, sixth and eighth graders were required to take the math tests. Parents could opt their children in to take both tests.

CDE said, as expected, CMAS assessments that were not required had extremely low levels of participation, ranging from just 7% to 10%.

Ninth and 10th graders took the PSAT and 11th graders took the SAT.

The department said some students were not able to take the tests due to family concerns about safety or other issues. What’s more, the wide availability of different learning settings – in-person, remote learning or hybrid – meant students had varying access to take state tests.

As a result, some student groups are overrepresented in the results and others may be underrepresented, according to the department.

Grade – Required Test 2021 Participation2019 Participation
Third – English language arts76.2%96.9%
Fourth – Math
75.7%
96.9%
Fifth – ELA74.4%96.2%
Sixth – Math68.6%94.9%
Seventh – ELA63.7%92.4%
Eighth – Math57.9%88.8%

Participation in metro-area schools on CMAS tests was between 51% and 72%. In urban and suburban schools, participation was between 64% and 81%. In outlying cities and towns, the participation was between 77% and 88%. And in rural or remote schools, participation was between 60% and 73%. Participation rates also varied by student groups. 

Results on CMAS

Grade – Test2021 Met or Exceeded2019 Met or Exceeded
Third – ELA
39.1%
41.3%
Fourth – Math28.5%33.6%
Fifth – ELA47.2%48.4%
Sixth – Math24.1%
29.5%
Seventh – ELA42.6%46.5%
Eighth – Math29.5%36.9%

Students of all races and ethnicities who tested in each grade and subject area on CMAS saw decreased performance, with Black and Hispanic students tending to be more impacted across all grades than their peers from other race/ethnicity backgrounds.

Results for students with disabilities and English learners continue to be significantly lower than other subgroups, with the gap actually increasing in some cases. Male and female scores decreased in math and English language arts CMAS tests, with females showing greater drops in performance than males. 

“These CMAS results indicate that the demonstrated performance in math has dropped to the lowest it has ever been and in English language arts has dropped to 2017 levels,” said Chief Assessment Officer Joyce Zurkowski in a media statement. 

PSAT/SAT participation and results

Test2021 Participation2019 Participation
PSAT 972.6%93.4%
PSAT 1073%92.3%
SAT79.5%92.6%

On the PSAT/SAT tests, Black students participated at a rate between 58% to 72%, Hispanic students’ participation rate was 65% to 73%, white students had a 79% to 84% participation rate and Asian students had a 81% to 89% participation rate.

Students with an Individualized Education Program were underrepresented with a 58% to 63% representation compared to 74% to 81% for students not on an IEP.

About 69% of students met or exceeded expectations on the evidence-based reading and writing portion of both the PSAT-9 and the PSAT-10. In the math portion, 43% of students who took the PSAT-9 met or exceeded expectations and 40.1% of students who took the PSAT-10 met or exceeded expectations. 

For the SAT, 60% of students met or exceeded expectations in the evidence-based reading and writing, meaning they met the College Board benchmark for college and career readiness. In the math section, 36.4% of students met or exceeded expectations.

Scoring gaps stayed large between races and ethnicities who met or exceeded expectations on the PSAT and SAT in both the reading and writing tests and the math tests. The gap was about 30 points between White students and their Black and Hispanic peers. 

CMAS matched scores

Due to the varying participation rates among different groups of students, the demographics of students who took the tests last spring did not match demographics of students who typically take Colorado’s statewide assessments.

To provide a better representation of the overall statewide academic picture, CDE conducted an analysis by matching scores with groups who usually take the tests. These “matched scores” produced even lower statewide results. In other words, if everyone who usually takes the assessments participated in last spring’s administration, the overall results would probably have been even lower.

Individual score reports

District-level and school-level results are expected to be released by CDE by the end of August.

Families will receive an individual report that will show the subject areas where their child is excelling as well as where they may need more support. Families are encouraged to consider their child’s results within the context of the variety of learning disruptions they may have encountered. Because the spring 2021 tests and expectations were consistent with tests from previous years, results can continue to give families information about whether their child is meeting grade-level expectations of the Colorado Academic Standards.

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