Steamboat students fare better than peers on state testing; math scores decline

Students in the Steamboat Springs School District generally did as good or better in English language arts last school year but struggled to keep pace in math, according to results of state standardized testing.

For all grades, district grade level score summaries from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success assessment show the district had better results than students in the state as a whole, something that district Director of Teaching and Learning Jay Hamric said was normal.

But compared with the district’s own test scores in 2019 and 2018 — there was no standardized testing in 2020 — there are signs the pandemic had a detrimental affect on students. This is true particularly in math, where students across the board had worse scores last year than in the two pre-pandemic years.

“Across the state, across the nation, this is typical,” Hamric said about the lower math scores. “I can tell you from my conversations with teachers it is not surprising. … Inherently, having kids practice reading, practice writing was an easier task or assignment for kids to manage, as opposed to practicing math on their own.”

The numbers are not a measurement of growth, rather a comparison of students currently in the grade to those in the same grade in prior years. Across Colorado, participation in standardized testing was down from previous years, but Hamric said Steamboat had stronger participation than the state.

How much the scores say about students and the districts teaching them is unclear, as students were in a learning environment unlike any the standardized testing has tried to measure before. Officials with Denver Public Schools already said they would essentially disregard this year’s scores.

“It is obviously not as reliable as a normal year,” said Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks. “Our feeling was that we need to get some feedback in some type of standardized way. … Give us some data that we can continue to work on.”

Hamric said these scores generally line up with in-term assessments the district uses to gauge student learning. After receiving those results earlier this year, the district said it would hire more interventionists.

“Interventionists that we’ve hired, bringing back instructional coaches, all of those things are designed to help where we see some of these (learning) gaps occuring,” Meeks said.

Normally, the district would have tested students between third and eighth grades with both the math and English exams, but last year, students only took one of the two. Students in third, fifth and seventh grades took the English language arts test, and students in fourth, sixth and eighth grades took the math assessment.

For the English language arts assessment, Steamboat students tested above state achievement numbers by about 20%, which Hamric said was typical. In third grade, 62% of students met grade level standards last school year — a higher mark than the district earned in 2019 or 2018. Seventh grade was better, too, with 81% of students meeting expectations, where it was about 76% in both 2019 and 2018.

But fifth-grade students saw a decrease in test scores from prior years, with 70% meeting grade level English language arts expectations compared with 79% in 2019 and 74% in 2018.

“On the most part, we did right on par,” Hamric said. “One grade level might have been a little bit lower, and in some cases, we actually had more achievement.”

Math scores were not as good, with each grade tested having lower achievement scores than in prior years. Only half of fourth-grade students met grade level expectations last year, compared with 61% in 2019 and 65% in 2018. Eighth-grade achievement dropped by a similar margin from 2019 to this year, from 64% to 52%. Sixth grade saw the smallest drop from 46% in 2019 to 41% last year.

“Our in-term reports were showing that we weren’t seeing as much performance in math, and that also rang true with our CMAS results,” Hamric said.

Similar trends can be seen at the high school level on pre-SAT testing results. While ninth-, 10th- and 11th grade-students beat overall state scores, district math scores were lower.

In addition to hiring more interventionists, Hamric said the district is also trying to identify additional education gaps, adding a benchmark assessment in the middle school and utilizing various software programs to get faster feedback on how students are mastering standards.

With math specifically, Hamric said the district would continue to improve implementation of the new math curriculum, which at elementary schools went into place during the pandemic. Even in a normal curriculum rollout, Hamric said he would expect to see lower scores in the first year.

“We’re going to do a lot of work with aligning our math curriculum,” Hamric said. “In years to come, I hope to see more progress.”

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