Summit School District outperforms the state on 2015 science and social studies tests |

Summit School District outperforms the state on 2015 science and social studies tests

Students across the Summit School District performed better than state averages in the first year of English language arts and math exams as part of Colorado's new testing standards, but there's still room to progress.
Getty Images / iStockphoto | iStockphoto

For the second year in a row, Summit School District outperformed state averages on science and social studies standardized tests in all grade levels and subjects.

Summit schools are in the process of giving individual results to students and families from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessments last spring. Fourth- and seventh-graders were tested in social studies, and fifth- and seventh-graders took the CMAS tests in science.

Bethany Massey, the district’s director of assessment and technology, said the district is proud of students’ academic growth and the improvements schools have made since receiving the first CMAS results about one year ago.


“My thoughts are ‘Yay, less testing.’ When we’re testing, we don’t get to do what we do, which is teach. I’m glad there’s less testing.”Crystal MillerSummit Cove Elementary principal

The biggest difference between CMAS and its predecessor tests — Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) and Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) — is that CMAS adheres to the recently-implemented, more rigorous set of standards known as the Colorado Academic Standards.

The science test measures students’ critical-thinking skills and understanding of life science, physical science, earth systems, scientific investigations and the nature of science. The social studies test covers economics, history, geography and civics.

CMAS divides student results into four categories: limited, moderate, strong and distinguished command. Schools aim for students to score in the strong and distinguished command categories, which means they are academically prepared and on track for college and career readiness.

In CMAS’ second year, most students across Colorado didn’t show more than moderate command, with only 34 percent of fifth-graders and 30 percent of eighth-graders scoring strong or distinguished on the science tests.

Students fared worse in social studies in the state, which had not been subject to a statewide assessment before 2014, with only 22 percent of fourth-graders and 18 percent of seventh-graders earning strong or distinguished scores. Elementary students also performed better on the tests than middle-schoolers.

Those trends hold true in Summit County, where those percentages are 10 to 15 points higher.

Broken down by elementary school, five of Summit’s six schools outperformed state averages, the exception being Silverthorne Elementary. Those results are consistent with last year.

Teachers will use the test results to find areas for curriculum improvement and to determine which students might benefit from academic interventions or extensions.

“We have, really, the perfect formula to make all this work and for kids to be successful. We just need to keep working at it,” said Kerry Buhler, principal of Upper Blue Elementary.


School districts, principals and teachers are still waiting on math and English language arts scores from the brand-new Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC tests, given at the same time as the spring CMAS assessments.

State officials have said they are working to compare PARCC results to those from its predecessor tests — CSAP and TCAP — and won’t release academic-growth scores if the comparisons aren’t valid with the more rigorous, Common-Core aligned test.

Summit Cove Elementary principal Crystal Miller said this is the first time in her 13 years as a principal that she’s started a school year without the previous year’s language and math test results to help shape instruction.

“Normally by now, I would have a lot more item analysis to go by,” she said.

She hopes the turnaround time shortens in the future, especially now that the tests are given electronically.

Like PARCC, CMAS is taken online, which allows the science test to incorporate interactive simulations along with more typical multiple-choice questions and written responses.

The digital transition presents challenges as some students are more comfortable with their devices and the simulations, while others who may have weak computer skills because they have lacked home access to devices might not perform as well.

The social studies test requires students to navigate between multiple screen tabs to view maps and other reference pieces necessary to answer questions.

“Adults would go print that” and write on or highlight the paper, Miller said. “Adults would not be able to tackle that.”

Summit schools are trying to close achievements gaps with students troubled by technology as well as those less comfortable reading, writing, analyzing and solving problems in English.

Just one in six Summit fifth-graders who are English-language learners scored in the strong or distinguished categories on the CMAS science test in 2015, and only one in eight fourth-graders achieved results at those levels in social studies. Summit middle school scores were even lower.

“We know that that’s one of our areas that we need to instructionally work on,” Massey said.


High school seniors also took the CMAS science and social studies tests last year for the first time, but the Colorado State Board of Education prohibited the Colorado Department of Education from releasing school and district-level science results to the public. The board also didn’t approve cut scores for the 12th-grade social studies test, so those results are unavailable.

Colorado legislators spent much of the spring debating standardized testing, and some compromises and changes will start this year.

The state reduced the amount of testing in the spring by shortening the testing window and cutting units and questions. Students will sit for 30 minutes less, on average, of testing.

“My thoughts are ‘Yay, less testing,’” Miller said. “When we’re testing, we don’t get to do what we do, which is teach. I’m glad there’s less testing.”

The state also eliminated standardized testing for high school seniors. The high school CMAS science test will instead be taken by 11th-graders, and high schoolers won’t take a CMAS social studies test until the 2016-17 year, Massey said.

State officials plan to announce in November which grade will take the social studies test, she said, and the state is moving to a sampling approach for the subject, with a portion of schools administering the test each year.

This year, 10th-graders will no longer take PARCC math and English-language arts tests. They will instead take a college-prep exam, Massey said, and the state will announce later this fall if the test will be the ACT, the college entrance exam commonly taken by 11th-graders, or a similar assessment.

The state put a one-year hold on performance frameworks — the school accountability and rating measurements based largely on test results. District accreditation will resume in 2016-17, and, in the meantime, Summit will continue to enjoy its status as “accredited with distinction,” the highest possible rating.

For more information about Colorado standardized testing, visit

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