Test-score trauma

It ‘s nice that average third-grade reading scores in School District 51 topped the state average — by one percentage point. But a reading proficiency rate among third-graders that would be barely above a low C — 74 percent — if it were being graded in the classroom is hardly cause to break out the champagne.

In fact, across the board, District 51 average scores on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program tests that were administered last spring are generally lackluster, and in some cases, downright awful.

These are hardly the sorts of test scores that indicate District 51 is on its way to becoming one of the top academic school districts in the state, as we and many others hope it will eventually become.

There are items in the just-released test scores that make any District 51 supporter groan, along with a number of bright spots.

For one thing, test results at schools that deal with large numbers of low-income students are, not unexpectedly, well below state and district averages in many categories. That was true for third-grade reading scores at Clifton, Chatfield, Loma and Rocky Mountain Elementary schools, to name a few. Several of those schools fell even further behind in the reading proficiency rates for their fourth- and fifth-grade students. Math proficiency for the bulk of the district’s elementary schools was abysmal, and science scores were only marginally better.

Bright spots include the fact that low-income students improved their scores from year to year at a more rapid rate than the state average in every subject. Additionally, there are the schools that continually boost the average for the district with their solid test scores in nearly every subject — schools like Scenic, Taylor and Broadway. The best overall scores in several categories came from charter schools in the district, indicating a sound reason to continue offering as many choices of educational programs as possible for District 51 families.

We have never believed that more money is the answer to all of education’s problems. However, the fact that for decades District 51 has been at or near the bottom among school districts statewide when it comes to per-pupil funding — this in a state that has one of the lowest per-pupil funding rates in the country — certainly makes improving educational performance more difficult. To cite just one example, the district has had to reduce its cadre of reading assistants in recent years.

Additionally, District 51’s percentage of low-income students is higher than many other school districts in the state, as is its population of special-needs students. All these combine to make the district’s improvement goals more challenging. But they shouldn’t be seen as excuses to allow the district to remain mired in mediocrity.

A good school district that has a solid academic record is one of the factors that attract new businesses and new residents to a community. That’s why we have long stumped in support of more resources for District 51, both financial resources and human volunteers who can help boost the district’s academic performance.


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