Data dive

Here’s a closer look at how students performed on Colorado’s 2017 tests — in nine graphics

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fifth-grade teacher Tasha Hittle leads a class at the James Irwin Charter Elementary School in Colorado Springs.

When Colorado officials released a trove of test results last week, it showed the continuation of a sobering trend line: historically underserved students are lagging behind other students, and the gaps are not closing.

This is due in part, they said, to all students doing slightly better during the last three years on the state’s English and math test.

In the graphics below, we take a closer look at how those gaps are playing out across the state. That includes a look at how students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds scored on the SAT, which for the first time high school juniors across the state were required to take.

How achievement gaps on the PARCC tests changed in 2017

Looking at a sample of tests, you can see how racial and ethnic groups grew between 2016 and 2017. When most groups raise test scores, it does little to cut into achievement gaps.

A baseline for the SAT

Last spring, Colorado juniors were required to take the SAT. Previously, juniors took the ACT. This graph represents how different racial and ethnic populations scored on the inaugural exam. Asian, white and biracial students all outperformed their black, Hispanic and Native American peers.

Where students are growing the most

One way the state can close the achievement gap is by accelerating the learning of at-risk students. The state tracks this by measuring student growth.

Growth is measured by comparing how much students learn each year compared to students who have a similar score history on standardized tests. If a group of students hits the 50th percentile, that means they’ve learned about a year’s worth of material. The higher the percentile over 50, the more and faster students are learning.

These graphics show where historically underserved students are learning the most and the quickest based on the state’s student growth measurement. Noticeably missing from many of these graphics are the state’s largest school districts. That said, just because you’re small doesn’t mean growth comes easier. Several small districts also posted some of the worst growth scores in the state, as well.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.