So, what happens when test results are so awful that even a crack public information office, focused on test scores and accountability, can’t figure out how to put a positive spin on standardized test numbers? Denver Public Schools and Superintendent Tom Boasberg faced this situation in late October when, after several delays, the Colorado Department of Education released its first Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) Social Studies (grades 4 and 7) and Science (grade 5 and 8) results. This is a somewhat ironic name since the academic success was nowhere to be found. The superintendent writes regularly about the wonders of “reform” in DPS and has historically been able to spin even the worst “gains.” This time, however, he was flummoxed.
CMAS results were released at noon on Monday, October 27, 2014. Boasberg’s email went out later that afternoon. His 11 paragraph epistle waxed on about these new standards, how helpful they will be, how they set higher standards for our students, and how they will help ensure “our students graduate high school ready for college and career in the 21st century.” In paragraph six he briefly shifts gears and half-heartedly bemoans “the overall number of state assessments and the time spent on them” and asks very quietly for the state to find a way to make assessments precise, targeted and SHORT “to lessen the amount of lost instructional time” This from the quintessential Broad trained superintendent. There is hardly a standardized test he hasn’t supported.
What did this data-driven “reformer” not cite in his email? You guessed it. The data! Of the six links in the email, none of them links to actual data and test results. Instead there are PowerPoints and generalities about CMAS and the like. Again, no test results or links to test results. The actual test results for the state and more importantly for Denver Public Schools are nowhere to be found. But do not fear. I am here to shed light on that missing piece and help ensure the truth be told.
The ratings names for standardized tests have now changed. Instead of TCAP and CSAP’s Unsatisfactory, Partially Proficient, Proficient and Advanced, we now have CMAS’ Limited Command, Moderate Command, Strong Command, and Distinguished Command. And we are warned repeatedly these scores cannot possibly be compared to TCAPs or CSAPs. The test moguls assure us this is because the bar has been set much higher. Higher expectations leading to higher “college and career readiness.”
So how DID Colorado and DPS do?
Statewide: Strong and Distinguished Command:
Social Studies: 4th grade 17% 7th grade 17%
Science: 5th grade 34% 8th grade 32%
Denver Public Schools? Not even that “well.” Is it possible Mr. Boasberg didn’t cite data because it is so appalling, and this time he couldn’t tout DPS’ growth or gains versus the state? His omission did not go unnoticed.
Social Studies: 4th grade 11% 7th grade 12%
Science 5th grade 25% 8th grade 22%
There are a lot of lessons here, the first one being students will not learn about a subject if teachers are not allowed to teach the subject. Here is a little quiz for you.
Why would you say Social Studies has been a long-ignored subject in Colorado public schools? If you answered, “because Social Studies has NOT been tested,” you would be correct. Which is pretty empirical evidence that our public schools are turning into test prep institutions, rather than incubators of curiosity and developers of life long learning. If the subject isn’t tested, educators are not allowed to teach it, even if it is truly important in preparing one not just for college and career readiness but for life readiness as well. How can we expect our students to be productive citizens if they don’t know and appreciate the history, socio-economics, geography, language, and cultures of the world’s population?
On to Science: Science scores were a tad bit better because science has been tested in earlier iterations of standardized tests, CSAP and TCAP, thus more attention was paid to it.
Here are some general observations after looking at the data:
Students cannot learn the subject if the subject is not allowed to be taught to them.
Schools with a lower percentage of Free and Reduced Lunch students (students in poverty) and schools with a lower English Language Learner population (non-native English speakers) do better than those with higher percentages, and lack of English language proficiency trumps poverty as a deterrent to scoring well on standardized tests.
As for our highly touted charter networks – Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST), Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and STRIVE:
Stapleton DSST did well in Science, but at a traditional neighborhood school, Slavens, 8th graders did better. (72% to 80%). The DSST at Green Valley Ranch (46%) and Cole (49%) did well in Science but no better than magnet schools Denver Center for International Studies (46%) and Morey Middle School (44%), and worse than magnet school Denver School of the Arts (62%). If you have the word “science” in the name of your charter school, you should have a Strong or Distinguished Command of Science.
As for the other two Charter Management Organizations – KIPP and STRIVE- Science scores were a very sorry mixed bag. KIPP Sunshine Peak scored 23% strong and distinguished while STRIVE Federal Campus scored 17% strong and distinguished, Sunnyside 11%, Westwood 28%, and Lake 12%.
As for Social Studies – 7th grade: Again, DSST at Stapleton did the best with 38% strong and distinguished, but the other DSSTs reflected the DPS failing Social Studies scores:
- DSST at GVR 2%, Cole 13%, and College View 12% strong and distinguished.
- KIPP Sunshine Peak 16%, KIPP Montbello 13%,
- STRIVE Federal 5%, STRIVE Sunnyside 4%, STRIVE Westwood 4% , STRIVE Lake 2%, STRIVE GVR 9%, and STRIVE Montbello 2%.
Social Studies results for neighborhood middle schools were all over the place; no school did particularly well. DCIS equaled the charter schools’ high score (38%) reached by DSST Stapleton. DSA scored 29%, Hamilton 28%, Hill 11%, Morey 32%, Slavens 36%, Grant Beacon 4%, Henry 7%, and Skinner 32%. One determining “success” factor appears to be the percentage of English Language Learners.
Fourth grade Social Studies scores reflected the socio-economics of the schools but the number of second language learners appeared to be even more important. The so-called turnaround schools – those mandated to follow all kinds of federal guidelines including firing teachers and principals, instituting longer school days and years, hiring only non-union employees – showed little command of either Science or Social Studies, giving credence to the belief that doing things basically the same way, expecting different results truly is insane. The 10 year old “reforms” are not working.
The superintendent is right about one thing: he always proclaims the kind of school – turnaround, innovation, charter, traditional – really doesn’t matter when it comes to academic outcomes. Whatever school is academically successful, he is all for it. In this situation he is right: no school has been successful in teaching Social Studies and Science. In this regard the kind of school is irrelevant. What he fails to understand is if you are not allowed to teach the subject, children in any kind of school will not learn the subject. And if you can’t speak, read and write English with fluency, you most likely won’t do well on a test in English.
This is all very puzzling to me. I truly cannot figure out how telling people they are failing is a good strategy. I truly cannot understand the long term purpose of testing all the time. Most of all I truly am saddened by how the education decision makers either never understood the purpose of public education or have lost sight of it. If you have solutions for stopping this madness, please share them.