NEWS FLASH: Students Will not Learn the Subject If Teachers Are not Allowed to Teach the Subject


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.


8 thoughts on “NEWS FLASH: Students Will not Learn the Subject If Teachers Are not Allowed to Teach the Subject

    • Unless teachers are very skilled in holistic teaching and not new to a school system, it is very difficult for newbie teachers to incorporate areas of learning such as social studies to their curriculum within other areas such as English language arts. Experience matters! Because of inexperience and time constaints placed on new teachers by administration to teach what will be tested, viable areas of study not on the test will most likely not be taught. If you consider that some large inner-city school districts have a turnover of 25% a year and may have a completely new teaching core every five years, you begin to understand the issue, that Kaplan is describing……Val Flores


  1. A few solutions: First, stop accepting the teaching by CASE that school boards must support their superintendents without question. School boards have forgotten that they are responsible to their constituents–the people that elected them–and have been lulled into submission by CASE, which has no respect for board members or the public that elected them.
    Second, remind school boards that they set the rules by which the administration is required to behave. If a superintendent is a PR machine instead of an educator, then why doesn’t the board reign him in? Tie a superintendent’s salary to the satisfaction survey of Citizens, Teachers, Parents, Students and other Staff and make the questions on the survey good ones–pointed and direct.

    Third, do away with school based budgeting and require the Board do what it is supposed to do–allocate funds to the betterment of the classroom, the support of students and the well being of staff. Stop acting like Wall Street: support those who are dedicated to education, not to their own pocketbooks and political careers in the future.
    Finally, remember the fable about the Emperor who had no clothes? Listen to the small voices–they are the ones most likely to tell the truth.


    • Cathy,

      You have proposed excellent solutions.

      The Broad Superintendents’ Program have made points one and two difficult to enforce. Both superintendents under whom I served – and to your point I served them, not the other way around and as a a minority of three for eight years that remained the dynamic – believed the Board of Education was there to rubber stamp all the great ideas that have produced the chaos, churn and educational failure we see in Denver. This model of governing, so-called policy governance, has been pushed by Messrs. Bennet and Boaberg because they are the quintessential “reformers,” coming from the business world with NO education background.

      The DPS board had and has in place metrics for evaluating the superintendent. Boasberg has met very, very few academic goals over his six years as superintendent. But when you have a paid for board – elections costing upwards of $250,000 per seat – to ensure “your” candidates get elected, there is no real accountability. In fact, the minority published its own evaluation in 2012 citing the educational failures of Boasberg. I highly doubt any private business CEO would still have his job given the results this superintendent has produced.

      There is so much more to the reform fraud that is occurring in Denver. The emperor has no clothes. It is incumbent on all of us who see this to expose the nakedness of “reform.”

      The ultimate solution is, of course, who gets elected to the Board of Education. In spite of policy governance, the board is still responsible for hiring and firing the superintendent.


  2. I’m not sure how many of you have actually looked at these CMAS tests which are showing such deplorable results. The practice tests, called the ePATs, are openly available for the public to try out. Here’s the link if you want to see them for yourselves:

    I teach 4th grade in DPS. I’m a smart, well-educated person who graduated from a highly ranked college. I grew up in Colorado and consider myself pretty well-versed in Colorado history. I was only confident about the answers to a third of the questions on the practice test. The test required nine-year-olds to read excerpts of primary source materials from the 1800s that read like this:

    “As a business point, St. Elmo is one of great promise. It now has four general stores, carrying…large stocks of general merchandise [goods], sufficient [enough] to satisfy the demands of the vicinity [area]…”

    The reason that second language learners did the worst on this test is that they are working on reading, writing and speaking MODERN English. We do not teach them archaic language like this yet. My students couldn’t make heads nor tails of this test.

    Also, keep in mind that these passing rates are based on a scoring system and arbitrary cut-off scores which are kept secret forever. We have no idea what constituted full credit for a question, nor how many questions a student had to get “right” in order to be judged as having “strong command.”

    I certainly agree that it is hard for a student to do well on a standardized test if they haven’t been taught the subject, and I agree that social studies should be emphasized a lot more in elementary school. It is engaging, fun, full of richly connected reading and writing activities, and important for developing responsible citizens. But I’m not sure that any amount of teaching could have resulted in good passing rates on the social studies tests.


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