School District 51 students showed improved test scores across all grade levels, economic backgrounds and ethnicities last school year, according to new Colorado Department of Education data, though academic disparities among those groups persist.

The results released Thursday are based on spring assessments in reading, math and science taken by elementary and middle school students, known as Colorado Measures of Academic Success.

The data includes achievement, which is how students performed on the tests, as well as growth, which compares student scores to show how much they have grown in a year.

On average, District 51 students scored below the state across all grade levels and subjects.

But Superintendent Diana Sirko said she was encouraged that every group of students grew academically compared to last year.

"Student growth for us is the bottom line," Sirko said. "We saw a lot of positives from student growth measured from spring to spring."

Twenty-four schools in District 51 saw growth that mirrored or outpaced the state median. In all categories broken down by the state — grade, gender, English language learners, free and reduced lunch, gifted and talented, individualized education plans, migrant, minority, performance level and race/ethnicity — District 51 students grew academically.

But across the state and in District 51, those groups also have significant gaps in academic achievement. Black and Hispanic students, students on free and reduced lunch and students with individualized education plans scored significantly lower than their peers.

Sirko acknowledged that state data shows there's room to grow.

"I feel like until every child is reaching all of their own academic goals and individual goals, our job's not done," she said.

Sirko attributed student growth to the school district's learning model, more professional development for teachers and more resources in classrooms.

"This should encourage staff that we're on the track and parents that we're on the right track," she said. "We're making progress."

State tests are one part of the picture when evaluating students and schools, said Jennifer Marsh, executive director of curriculum and learning design. "One data source is not the end all be all or the true story," Marsh said. "Sometimes we need to go out and find other information."

But student test scores can reveal where district leaders need to dispatch extra support for schools and classrooms, Marsh said.

Test scores and growth factor in to whether state education officials rate schools as performance, improvement, priority improvement or turnaround. Schools and districts with the lowest ratings for five consecutive years can face state intervention.

Those ratings are expected to be announced next week, Sirko said.

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