Steamboat school district looks to clarify state testing scores
Steamboat Springs School District administrators reviewed student test scores received on last spring’s state standardized testing Monday — scores that have often been mentioned ahead of next week’s Board of Education election.
Candidates Ken Mauldin and Chris Waters have often pointed to the scores — specifically results that show around 50% of some grade levels are not meeting expectations in math — as a sign of the district’s recent decline.
But district officials told school board members — including Katy Lee and Chresta Brinkman, who are both running for reelection to the board — the decrease in scores the district saw last year match nationwide trends, are still well above state averages and are something they have been working to address since before the test results were released.
“I just wanted to take the opportunity to circle back to these district assessment results,” said Superintendent Brad Meeks in introducing the topic. “Just kind of make sure everybody is clear about what the data says and what it doesn’t say.”
The state standardized testing, called the Colorado Measures of Academic Success assessment, was limited last spring, with grades only taking the math or the English language arts tests, rather than both — a change prompted by the pandemic.
The credibility of the data has been questioned because of the learning environment students experienced last year, and some school districts, like Denver Public Schools, are ignoring it entirely.
But when results were released in September, Meeks said he saw value in them as another piece of data to use in addition to other assessments during the school year that indicated some decline, particularly in math, last spring.
Meeks and district Director of Teaching and Learning Jay Hamric also told the board about what they have been doing to address learning loss for students, something that has been talked about at several board meetings since May, well before state testing results were known.
“Based on the data, based on what we were seeing play out in our district, state and country, we built into our budget discussions, as you are aware, some different staffing supports,” Meeks said.
Math is where students saw the greatest decline in test scores. Hamric has previously said math is a more difficult subject to teach in a remote or hybrid setting than English, and that is a partly why those scores fell more.
In Steamboat, 50.3% of fourth-graders met or exceeded state metrics for their grade level in math compared to 28.5% when comparing them to peers across the state, according to the Colorado Department of Education. For sixth-graders, that number was 40.6% in Steamboat, compared to the state average of 24.1%. In eighth grade, it was 52.2% in Steamboat and 29.5% across the state.
In math, Steamboat ranked eighth in the state for fourth grade, 15th in the state for sixth grade and sixth for eighth grade, each of those out of 178 districts.
“We are exceeding our state peers when it comes to proficiency scores,” Hamric said, adding that even before this year, the district generally outperformed the state by about 20% to 25% in both math and English. “Our rankings are close to the top compared to other districts.”
Hamric said the district has a large bubble group of students who nearly met expectations, and students who did not meet expectations should not be viewed as failing. In math, 18.5%, 19.4% and 15.9% of fourth, sixth and eighth graders partially met expectations, respectively.
“Our misconception is that 30% are failing, and that is just not the case,” Hamric said.
For English language arts in Steamboat, 62.3% of third graders met or exceeded state metrics for their grade level compared to 39.1% when comparing them to peers across the state. For fifth graders, that number was 69.9% in Steamboat, compared to the 47.2% state average. The district ranked third and eighth in the state for third and fifth grade, respectively.
Steamboat seventh graders had the highest English language arts scores of any district in the state, with 81.2% of students meeting or exceeding, compared to 42.6% across the state.
“The state doesn’t expect you to hit 100%,” Lee said. “I think the average person assumes that every child should be hitting meets or exceeds by the end of the school year of the grade they are in when that is not really how the state is writing the test.”
Hamric also discussed how the district has been working to address the decline in scores from previous years — a conversation that dates back to last school year when the district budgeted to hire extra staff for more individualized help for struggling students.
The district also revamped its calendar last year, adding days to allow staff to better communicate about interventions with particular students and create a more cohesive plan. These staff days and the time they provide for those conversations is really important to making up any lost ground, Hamric said.
“We have put a lot of energy, a lot of resources, a lot of training in our math instruction and our math learning, as well as other areas,” Hamric said. “I want to thank the board for the additional staffing that we have for our interventions because that is the number one thing that we can do.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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