The final grade on CSAPs
By Norma Engelberg
Pikes Peak Courier View
School districts across the state have been administering the Colorado Student Assessment Program test every spring for 15 years and, while student performance is generally improving, it isn't improving at the same rate for all students.
That's the verdict of the latest report from The Bell Policy Center. For the past decade, the center has been tracking what it calls Colorado's "wide and persistent achievement gap" between minority and low-income students and their white and higher-income peers.
The report, "Final Grade on CSAPs," is just that, the final grade – the 2011 CSAPs were the last. In 2012 and 2013 a Transitional Colorado Assessment Program test will be administered and new standards should be in place for the 2013-14 school year.
The center summarized its findings in an email dated Sept. 8. The gap narrowed by an average of 4.6 points from 2001-2003 to 2011; the highest gains were made on the eighth-grade math exam while the lowest average gains were made on the fourth-grade reading exam; and the gap narrowed by 10 points between whites and Hispanics in eighth- and ninth-grade reading.
"We don't have significant numbers of students in the lower income or minority groups," said Woodland Park RE-2 School District Assistant Superintendent Linda Murray.
The state school accreditation report bears this out, showing no statistical differences in median growth between students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches - the standard for determining income – and ineligible students.
Murray presented the district's 2011 CSAP results at the Sept. 14 board of education meeting. She noted that the district's biggest gaps are related to gender.
"The gender gaps continue to be significant," she said, referring to results from previous assessments.
In reading, the 2011 test scores between boys and girls differed by 10-25 points, depending on grade. In writing the average gender difference was 20 points.
In reading and writing the gap favors girls but in math the 3-14 point gap favors boys. Murray didn't report a gender gap in science.
She is not optimistic about improvements during the transition years.
"For two years we've been told the TCAP would assess only those standards common to both the old standards and the new standards to allow time for districts to move toward the new standards," she said. "Last week, on Sept. 9, we were told that this is not what the CDE plans to assess next spring. Instead many items from the old standards are included in the assessment. Unfortunately, the CDE is unable to tell us exactly what standards we should be addressing this year in preparation for (next spring's) TCAP."
Cripple Creek-Victor RE-1 School District is similar to RE-2 in that it has few minority students and similar gender gaps.
However, CC-V does have a much larger number of lower income students. Among grade-school children, free lunch eligibility hits about 70 percent. The numbers drop to between 13 and 50 percent for middle and high school students, depending on the grade level.
That said, the state accreditation report shows only a 6 point difference in median growth between low-income students and their higher income peers in reading and math and a 5-point difference in writing.
Both districts have been working to address some of their achievement issues through extra tutoring, learning clinics and summer school but both have been hit hard by state education budget cuts.
"We have programs to help any child who is behind for any reason," Murray said.
Searchable accreditation information for all school districts is available at www.schoolview.org.
Colorado's Education Funding (sidebar)
According to the Colorado School Finance Project Report, at www.cosfp.org, the state's per pupil funding continues to lag behind the national average.
It was $2,408 below the national average in 2009-10 compared to $2,321 in 2008-09. Of that funding, 48.9 percent is the state's share, 44 percent is the local share and 9 percent, the federal share.
Student enrollment has increased by 8.2 percent but only in 78 of the state's 178 school districts. The number of special education students remained stable at lower than the national average.
Students eligible for free lunch has risen from 30.1 percent in 2008-09 to 33.2 percent in 2009-10. According to information from the Hunger Free Colorado Campaign, of the 235,000 Colorado students eligible for free or reduced lunches, 90,000 are not taking advantage of their eligibility for free or reduced breakfasts.
While the number of teachers in Colorado has increased, Colorado has fewer teachers per 1,000 students than the national average and their average annual salary is $6,019 below the U.S. average teacher salary.
School finance indicators for 2012 point to more budget cuts – $50-$60 million for K-12. RE-2 has been forced to cut more than $3 million from its budget over the past three years. RE-1 budget cuts have been proportional.