Summit School District outperforms the state on new science and social studies tests | SummitDaily.com

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

Alli Langley
alangley@summitdaily.com

Last spring, Summit County fourth- and seventh-graders took the state's first mandatory assessment for social studies.

Different students, fifth- and eighth-graders, took a brand-new test for science, and educators say all those results will establish new baselines for Summit schools.

The Summit School District announced Tuesday, Oct. 28, that overall district results from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessments in science and social studies show the district outperformed state averages in all grade levels and subjects.

"We are proud of how our students performed on the new CMAS assessments and look forward to using these results to improve learning in the classroom," said superintendent Heidi Pace, in a written statement.

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

At a regular school board meeting Tuesday, Pace said five of Summit's six elementary schools outperformed the state, the exception being Silverthorne Elementary, and she highlighted the relatively higher scores of Frisco Elementary and Summit Cove Elementary.

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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 previous tests' result categories of proficient and advanced were replaced with limited command, moderate command, strong command and distinguished command. Students who achieve strong or distinguished results are on track to being college and career ready.

In CMAS' first year, most students across Colorado didn't show more than moderate command, with 34 percent of fifth-graders and 32 percent of eighth-graders scoring strong or distinguished on the science tests.

Students fared worse in social studies, which has never been subject to a statewide assessment, with 17 percent scoring strong and distinguished in both fourth and seventh grade.

That trend holds true in Summit County, where average science scores were higher than those for social studies.

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

Summit Middle School principal Joel Rivera said the social studies test would seem difficult to adults who were taught those subjects in a way that stressed more memorization over critical thinking.

"It's not really here's a multiple-choice question and who was the 16th president," he said. The test is more demanding, and a hypothetical question might ask students to compare ancient civilizations and explain the common theme that led to their downfall.

Because both tests were new, Rivera said, he and his staff wondered if all the results would fall to one extreme or the other.

"We really had no idea what it was going to look like," he said.

He expected high scores, however, because Summit students typically outperform state averages and because he has seen test results improve in his last four years at the middle school.

Besides comparing his school with the state, Rivera said, the middle school also looks at how its scores break down by demographics like gender, race/ethnicity, wealth and first language.

"We have a lot of high-performing students," he said, and the school is especially proud that 100 percent of its gifted and talented students in eighth grade showed strong or distinguished command on the science test.

Across the grades and content areas, significant achievement gaps were found statewide among race/ethnicity subgroups, with a smaller percentage of black and Hispanic students achieving strong or distinguished command.

The gap between English-proficient students and those with limited or no English proficiency was between 33 and 35 percentage points for science and between 18 and 19 percentage points for social studies.

Large gaps also showed up between students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and their ineligible peers, with between 28 and 32 percentage points in science and between 19 and 20 percentage points in social studies.

A slightly higher percentage of girls scored in the strong or distinguished command levels compared with boys, with a 1 percent difference in both fifth- and eighth-grade science, 2 percent in fourth-grade social studies and 5 percent in seventh-grade social studies.

In early November, high school seniors will take CMAS and be assessed on both subjects for the first time.

The CMAS tests were designed to complement the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests in English and math, which will debut in the spring.

Like PARCC, CMAS is taken online, which allowed the science portion to incorporate interactive simulations for the first time with more typical multiple-choice questions and written responses. Unlike PARCC, a national test based on the Common Core, CMAS was developed in Colorado.

PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS WHO SCORED STRONG OR DISTINGUISHED ON THE SPRING 2014 CMAS TESTS

Grade/Content Area State Average Summit School District

Fourth Grade/Social Studies 17 27

Seventh Grade/Social Studies 17 21

Fifth Grade/Science 34 42

Eighth Grade/Science 32 42