Falling Summit School District test scores lead to parent concern about academics

Summit Middle School is pictured Nov. 12, 2020. Eighth grade Colorado Measure of Academic Success science scores have been continuously dropping since 2016. That and other test scores have some parents concerned about the district’s focus on academics.
Liz Copan/For the Summit Daily News

Summit School District’s test scores dropped during the pandemic, but even before the shutdown, data shows the district frequently falls below statewide averages, particularly in math.

Comparing past testing data with 2021 isn’t necessarily apples to apples since Colorado waived some of its testing requirements, meaning not all grade levels took the same exams as in the past.

This year, the state administered the Colorado Measure of Academic Success English language arts exam to grades three, five and seven and the mathematics exam to grades four, six and eight.

In 2021, 36.6% of third graders met or exceeded expectations on the English language arts exam. Prior to this year, third graders had been consistently improving for three straight years but have fallen below statewide averages since 2017.

Prior to this year, fifth graders had performed above state averages in language arts but fell below that mark in 2021, with 42.1% meeting or exceeding expectations.

The language arts picture is a bit worse for seventh graders. In 2019, 53% met or exceeded expectations, exceeding the state average, but that dropped over 15% in 2021, with 37.8% of seventh graders meeting or exceeding expectations.

Historically, math performance across the district is even worse, falling below the statewide average nearly half of the time since 2017.

The percent of fourth graders who met or exceeded expectations in 2021 dropped almost 10% from 2019 to 23.8% in 2021. Eighth graders had a similar experience, dropping from 36.9% meeting or exceeding expectations in 2019 to 26.5% in 2021.

Despite falling test scores across grade levels in 2021, students scored above statewide averages in math this year.

Also this year, eighth graders were the only students to take the science exam. This grade level traditionally exceeds state averages, but 2021 was the first year since at least 2016 that Summit dropped below the average.

This year, 25.6% of eight graders met or exceeded expectations on the science exam, while 40.6% did in 2019. Performance also dropped, but less significantly, in years prior: from 45.8% in 2017 to 42.8% in 2018.

Nicole Miller/Summit Daily News

The testing data has some parents concerned, and several community survey responses regarding the strategic plan suggested the district has a lack of academic focus.

Summit School District Chief Academic Officer Mary Kay Doré wrote in an email that the district appreciates the “reaction data from the community” and added that the feedback will “help direct how the district communicates.”

She also wrote that the district is working to determine how to implement the strategic plan, which prioritizes academics.

“As it is a five-year plan, we are currently in the information-sharing phase,” Doré wrote. “We will quickly move into work groups that will begin to address and plan for each of the focus areas. We will be asking for stakeholders to partner with us in this work to make the strategic plan come alive in our district.”

Retired Summit High School teacher Cheryl Newey — a representative of Summit School District Watch, a group that formed in the spring over concerns about the equity policy — said the strategic plan is worded for folks within academia and isn’t clearly comprehensible to parents and families. She said parents want to see tangible goals and benchmarks that will show how student performance is improving.

“When students reach their senior year, what benchmarks or actual tangible scores should they have to present that they’re college ready or workforce ready?” Newey said.

Coming out of the pandemic, Newey said she thinks the strategic plan should focus on mental health and getting students back to a good place in learning. She said she thinks equity-seeking systems could take a back seat while students adjust back to school.

“We really need to support them with career planning and counseling to really make them feel like … they’re on track now and they feel confident that they’re going to be OK, that they’re going to make up any lost time,” Newey said about seniors preparing to take their next steps after high school. “To me, it seems very evident that we’ve got to really focus on getting our kids’ confidence back and focusing on those core skills of reading, writing and math.”

School board President Kate Hudnut said there will be additional conversations about the district’s academic goals at its upcoming board meeting Sept. 16.

“I would lean back to our strategic plan pillar No. 1, which I really boil down to teaching and learning and mental health,” Hudnut said. “Certainly, leaning in after the pandemic to support our kids in the way that they need to be supported. I mean we’ve all been through varying degrees of trauma; let’s not sugar coat it.”

Hudnut said this is a huge focus for Superintendent Roy Crawford to determine the best systems of support needed to help kids thrive.

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