‘Still way behind where we need to be’: Officials express concern about Summit School District test scores

Summit Middle School is pictured on the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. CMAS test scores from the 2021-2022 school year revealed a massive disparity between test performance of Summit Middle School English Language Learners and non-English Language Learners.
Tripp Fay/For Summit Daily News

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series looking into Summit School District’s 2021-22 test data.

Test scores from the 2021-22 school year have been released, and officials from the school district say scores aren’t where they should be — even though they’ve improved.

For the first time in over 10 years, the school district went from accredited to accredited with an improvement plan, according to the 2022 Colorado Department of Education’s performance framework rating. From 2021 to 2022, the school district dropped 11 percentage points in its performance rating, from 66% to 55%.

“We want to be clear: when you look at our numbers, we’re not satisfied with where our students currently are,” Summit School District data and assessment coordinator Ross Morgan said.

Students in the Summit School District take standardized tests about three times per year, according to Morgan. 

The tests measure math and English comprehension of students in grades four through eight, as well as measuring test performance, which can inform the school of how well students have met expectations. 

Students meeting or exceeding expectations in math improved from 24% in 2021 to about 28% in 2022, while English language arts improved from 39% in 2021 to about 41% in 2022. Yet still, they were below the state’s average. 

For 2022, the state average of all students meeting or exceeding expectations in math was 31.5%, 3.5 percentage points higher than Summit County, while English language arts was 43.2%, 2.2 percentage points higher than Summit County.


Though Morgan said these numbers are unsatisfactory, a further look into demographic breakup reveals more. 

“We’re still way behind where we need to be — particularly for our Spanish student body,” said Summit School District Superintendent Tony Byrd.

This year, a disparity was discovered in this year’s test scores between English language learners and those who are not learning English. 

“The test scores in and of themselves are not something to be proud about,” said Deborah Romero, a professor who specializes in teacher education at the University of Northern Colorado. “It is what it is.” 

However, Romero added, “It’s an indicator of a rapidly diversifying school district.”

Romero clarified that just because the district is diverse doesn’t mean they are going to have low test scores. 

It does mean that “the more diverse learners there are in a school, the higher the chances (are) of lower test scores,” Romero said, ”because the diverse learners don’t have English as their first language. That’s the underlying factor here.”

Summit School District Board of Education President Kate Hudnut said the school’s diversity may be underestimated by people in the area. 

“I would struggle to think that the average Summit County resident understands that the better part of 40% of our student body is not white,” Hudnut said.

In fact, Hispanic students make up about 40% of the overall Summit student population. 

English language learner performance

The Colorado Department of Education labels students who are learning English as “English Learners,” otherwise known as ELL students.

Within Summit Middle School, about 282 ELL students took the CMAS English Language Arts test. About 494 non-ELL students took the same test. 

Non-ELL students overall “Met and Exceeded” expectations and fell within the 78th percentile in comparison to all other students throughout the state of Colorado. This means only 22% of students throughout the state achieved higher than Summit Middle School’s non-ELL students. 

ELL students, on the other hand, scored much lower. They fell within the 2nd percentile in comparison to all other students throughout the state of Colorado as compared to non-ELL student’s 78th percentile mark. 

This means only 2% of students throughout Colorado performed worse than Summit Middle School’s ELL students. 

They also did not reach the “approached expectations” performance framework category. 

“I think we all felt that kind of a punch to our gut when we saw these numbers,” Morgan said. “I’m worried about not meeting the students’ needs.”

In comparison to all other ELL students across the state, Summit Middle School ELL students fell within the 10th percentile. 

That means only 10% of ELL students across the state performed lower than Summit Middle School’s English learners. 

Data from another district

Eagle County’s test performance numbers are much higher for ELL students in both categories. According to both Morgan and Byrd, Eagle County School District is the best comparison to use because of their similar demographic ratios. 

Eagle’s middle school ELL students not only reached the “approached expectations,” criteria in language arts testing, but they also scored within the 17th percentile in comparison to all other students across the state, 15 percentile points higher than Summit Middle School’s 2nd percentile results. 

In comparison to all other ELL students across the state, Eagle’s ELL middle schoolers scored within the 47th percentile, 37 percentile points higher than Summit ELL middle schooler’s 10th percentile achievement. 

Colorado’s District Dashboard showed how different demographics of students compared to all other student scores across the state of Colorado. At Eagle Valley Middle School, non-English language learner students (students who already speak and understand English fluently) scored within the 82nd percentile. Students who were English language learners scored within the 17th percentile. In comparison, at Summit Middle School, non-English language learner students (students who already speak and comprehend English fluently) scored within the 78th percentile. Students who were English language learners only scored within the 2nd percentile. That means only 2% of all other students in the state did worse than Summit Middle School students who are English Language Learners.
Jenna deJong/Summit Daily News

Barriers to learning

Romero said to approach these numbers with caution, however. 

The reason is just because culturally and linguistically diverse students are scoring low on tests does not mean they are not smart. Their scores may actually be an indication of their competency testing in a secondary language.

“Research shows that there’s an interrelationship between students’ proficiency and competencies in their first language and their ability to perform academically in their second language,” Romero said. 

She added that a test that preceded CMAS, called CSAT, allowed students to test in Spanish. Through those tests, Romero said teachers saw that students were performing “as well or even stronger if Spanish is their dominant language.”

Romero added that research shows students who are culturally or linguistically diverse also thrive when schools represent and celebrate their background. However, even though the school is 40% Hispanic or Latino, the district’s website doesn’t reflect that data. 

“I’m still stunned as to why I can’t see anything,” Romero said, after searching the school district’s website using the key words, “demographic,” and “diversity.” 

Furthermore, out of the approximately 300 teachers within the Summit School District, only about 25 are listed as Hispanic or Latino. In other words, only 8% of teachers.  

The school district did not have information on how many teachers are bilingual. 

Milena Quiros is a Summit School District Accountability Committee co-chair and a mother to four children who have all attended Summit schools. Quiros is also from Costa Rica, and taught her children to speak both Spanish and English.

Right now, Quiros said one of her children’s teachers have excelled in recognizing the strengths of her child. 

“One of my kid’s teachers is recognizing the small things that my kids have, the strengths that my kids have and showing them, ‘Oh my God, you’re so good at this. I can keep asking you for more.’ It’s so exciting for them,” Quiros said. 

She said her children have recently been inspired to do more because “that gives them that energy that they need to be a success.”

Quiros recognized, however, that some students — especially those who have just arrived in the school district from another country — don’t have the ability to show their strengths because of a language barrier. 

“Oh my God, kids are amazing,” Quiros said. “The brain of kids, it’s like a sponge, they can absorb anything that you teach them.”

Unfortunately, Quiros added, if students aren’t able to communicate in their own language, they may miss out on opportunities to show their strengths.

“You need to feel proud of yourself. You need to feel proud of your culture,” Quiros said. “You need to carry that with pride. For kids, it’s a huge piece. And when they go to a system where they don’t recognize (their) culture or (their) differences, (their) traditions, it’s hard to adapt.”

Romero said these test scores boil down to a multi-lingual approach to education, and support for teachers within the school district. 

“Teaching is truly a vocation,” Romero said. “It’s a passion that individuals have to make a difference in the lives of other individuals. And that starts with love and respect for who those students are and how they show up in the classroom. … Yes, this is cause for concern, these statistics. But how we act on those, and what we do, is going to be the determining factor.”

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