State-level assessment data, released to the public today, quantitatively corroborates what educators, administrators, students and parents have known since March 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic has caused serious disruption to learning.
Much of the data shows gaps from 2019, when testing was last administered. Scores, as well as participation rates, dropped in most categories across testing type and grade level.
Standardized testing was suspended in spring 2020, when school districts across the world had to quickly pivot to remote instruction.
Some parents advocated that standardized testing should also be canceled in 2021. The state of Colorado petitioned the federal Department of Education to reduce standardized testing this spring, which was partially granted.
Instead of administering all third- through eighth-graders math and English language arts tests, only students in odd-numbered grades were required to take English tests and students in even-numbered grades were required to take math exams.
Students in third- through eighth-grade took the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessment, CMAS has been the state-administered assessment since 2014.
High school freshmen and sophomores take preliminary versions of the SAT targeted for their grade level and 11th grade students take the SAT, which replaced the ACT in 2017.
Most colleges and universities require applicants to submit an SAT or ACT score for admission, but thousands dropped the requirement because of the pandemic. Governor Polis signed a bill into law in May that allows public colleges in the state to drop the requirement in future years.
The state department of education’s chief assessment officer, Joyce Zurkowski, emphasized that the variety of student instructional experiences varied widely during the pandemic, but the relative difficulty of the CMAS assessments — and the state’s education standards — did not.
Despite the pandemic, students were not allowed to test remotely because the Colorado Department of Education determined that it would not be equitable: not all students had equal access to computers, internet and a feasible space to test. Zurkowski said that the CDE is unlikely to allow remote testing in the future as long as inequities remain.
Scores, as well as participation rates, for most of the CMAS and PSAT/SAT tests dropped significantly from 2019 and participation rates were significantly lower in rural areas and metropolitan parts of Denver.
For example, only two-thirds of rural and remote students took the SAT in 2021. The statewide average was nearly 80%.
This spring’s scores from the English/Language Arts assessments dropped one to four percentage points compared to 2019, while performance on the math assessment dropped by five to seven points.
While scores dropped fairly consistently across most racial demographics, a significant gap along racial and ethnic lines remains. This spring, white students scored approximately 25 to 33 percentage points higher than Black and Hispanic students on English/Language Arts tests and 21 to 26 percentage points higher on math exams.
Unlike the CMAS scores, the percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations on the language arts section of the PSAT and SAT improved slightly from 2019. On the other hand, average math scores dropped for freshman and juniors, with a one percent increase in students who met or exceeded the expectations for 10th grade students.
However, a gaping gap in performance on the assessments persisted along racial lines. While approximately three-quarters of white students met or exceeded expectations on the reading and writing sections of the SAT, only half of Black and Hispanic students did.
Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.