Achievement gaps narrow slightly, but statewide test scores stay mostly flat

Pencil on test paperColorado students’ performance on state standardized tests stalled for the second year in a row, according to new data released Wednesday.

And while some achievement gaps between the state’s white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts narrowed slightly, state officials estimated that the slow pace could mean three decades will pass before students in the demographic groups perform at similar levels.

“We can call this a glimmer of hope, but it’s a very faint glimmer,” State Board of Education chair Paul Lundeen said.

Nearly 70 percent of the state’s students are reading at grade level, essentially the same rate as last year. About 57 percent are proficient or above in math, an increase of about a percentage point from 2012. Exactly 55 percent of students tested are writing at grade level, also an increase of one point over last year.

The biggest statewide gains came on science tests, where scores rose 1.5 percentage points, with just over half of students achieving proficiency.

“Overall students are making gains. More students are showing growth,” testing director Joyce Zurkowski told the state board Wednesday morning. “But these gains are not sufficient if our students are to be college and career ready.”

State officials pointed out that since 2008, low-income students and those learning English have improved their performance on state exams at a faster rate than their more affluent and English-fluent peers, and black and Hispanic students have made more gains than white students. Between last year and this year, for example, the difference between white and Hispanic students’ scores in both reading and math narrowed by roughly one and a half percentage points.

However, test scores of black and Hispanic students still lag far behind those of their white peers.

“I hope this prompts a deep discussion of the gaps,” said board member Deb Scheffel. Among those questions, Scheffel said, should be whether providing extra funding to low-performing schools is having an impact.

But board member Angelika Schroeder pointed out that the state is just beginning to implement a broad slate of school-improvement efforts, including upgrades to early literacy programs and new content standards that are being introduced to classrooms this school year.

“I guess I’m not as pessimistic as everyone else,” Schroeder said.

Scores of Denver Public School students overall snuck upward in ranges from one percentage point on writing exams to three percentage points on math and science tests.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg lauded the sustained progress in scores, which have increased by double digits in all subjects since 2005. Schools in the Far Northeast neighborhood of Denver, where the district launched a concerted turnaround effort two years ago, have posted double-digit gains in proficiency at both the middle and high school level.

“Most strikingly, Denver Public Schools students for the second year in a row showed more growth than students in any of the biggest districts in the state,”  Boasberg said. “At the same time, we remain very concerned about our achievement gaps.”

Performance gaps between Hispanic and black students and their white peers in the district on reading tests, for example, have remained stagnant since 2011 with a a nine percentage point difference. And while 70 percent of the district’s more affluent students met the proficiency bar on math exams, just half of students on reduced-price lunch and just over a third of students who receive free lunch met that standard.

Those sustained gaps, along with low relative overall performance compared to other districts, fueled criticism from opponents of Boasberg’s reform efforts.

“The district will somehow find reasons to celebrate,” said DPS board member Jeannie Kaplan in a statement. “I can find no such thing.” Kaplan argued that progress remains too slow given the wide gaps in absolute performance between the district and the rest of the state. Overall, 54 percent of Denver students reached the proficiency bar in reading. In math, 46 percent of students in the district are proficient and 42 percent write on grade level.

Find your school and district’s TCAP scores as well as their growth rates in our searchable databases. And follow EdNews Colorado for more analysis and take-aways from the state scores soon.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”