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Colorado students improving but work still needed to reach pre-pandemic levels, study shows

Overall, the State Board of Education said the 2023 study shows student growth looks more like it did in 2019, but performance levels have not completely rebounded.

DENVER — The Colorado State Board of Education said results from last spring's assessments show improvements among student learning since the COVID-19 pandemic, but challenges remain.

Results from state assessments show gradual improvements in many grades and subject areas over the previous year, and in some areas, performances were better than pre-pandemic levels, according to a news release from the board. However, the board said scores also show continued deficits in many areas and among many student groups.

This is the second year Colorado has conducted its typical state assessment after they were canceled in 2020 and modified in 2021. To protect student privacy, results were not included for tests in schools or districts that had fewer than 16 students participate.

“At the state level, we are beginning to see small increases in performance, which gives me optimism,"  said Colorado Education Commissioner Susana Córdova. "It’s a reflection of how hard people are working, as well as how difficult it will be to regain momentum given the impact of the pandemic and the disruptions to learning it created."

Results from the study can be found on the Colorado Department of Education's website.

The study examined the results of the following spring tests:

  • Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) English language arts and math testing for students in third through eighth grades
  • CMAS science testing for students in fifth, eighth and 11th grades
  • PSAT testing for students in ninth and 10th grades
  • SAT testing for students in 11th grade

"I think the most important thing to say is, it's really clear that the effects of the pandemic are still impacting what's happening with students," Córdova said in an interview with 9NEWS. 

The report showed students are rebounding more consistently in math than in English. Boys are gaining ground on girls. In some grades, they scored better in math and English on the CMAS than in 2019. In comparison, fewer girls met or exceeded grade-level expectations than they did four years ago. 

The gap between boys and girls is getting smaller because girls are not performing as well. 

The State Department of Education is seeing scores get back to pre-pandemic levels, but gaps between different groups are still there post-COVID. This affects students of color, students with disabilities, and low-income households. 

The state is seeing the largest gaps with English learners. Gaps in the performance of some groups have been there for some time, but those gaps are persisting. 

"Those are the largest gaps that we're experiencing across the board, in both English Language Arts and for our youngest kids who take the Spanish language arts test in PSAT and LSAT," Córdova said. "So that's going to be an area of intensive focus, because we know that in the absence of doing that these are students who are very capable and are not going to be ready for the next grade, they're not going to be ready for a career, they're not going to be ready for post-secondary studies in college."

"Our students [are] a mirror reflection of our communities," said Oscar Juarez, spokesperson for Movimiento Poder, an advocacy group that focuses on education equity and justice, primarily serving a Latino population.

"Our priority is to close those gaps, the access and the quality of education for the students."

Juarez said many of the organization's members are bilingual families. In surveys that have been conducted, Movimiento Poder finds the challenges these families face at home will often impact kids in school.

"People are struggling to have stable housing, food, healthcare and just general conditions that are healthy for our communities," he said. "And in reality, it all trickles down to our schools."

Insights taken from the study include the following:

  • Students appear to be rebounding more consistently in math than in English language arts. Every grade had a higher percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations in CMS math compared to 2022. In addition, students in third through fifth grade almost matched or performed better than 2019.
  • A higher percentage of fifth-grade students met or exceeded CMAS math expectations in 2023 (36.5%) compared to 2019 (35.7%). That was the only grade that improved on any CMAS tests in 2023 compared to 2019.
  • The largest post-pandemic drop was on the seventh-grade CMAS math scores. 26.3% met or exceeded expectations, down from 31.6% in 2019.
  • A higher percentage of students in fifth through seventh grades met or exceeded expectations in CMAS English language arts compared to 2022.
  • One in three students met or exceeded expectations in CMAS science, and one in every four students in 11th grade met or exceeded expectations. This is the first time data based on the achievement of the 2020 science Colorado academic standards has been released.
  •  Boys gained ground on girls in nearly every CMAS grade and test subject. Girls still finished with higher percentages of students meeting or exceeding expectations, but their numbers were lower compared to 2019, while boys in three grades had more students at or above that benchmark.
  • Significant gaps remain between student groups based on race and ethnicity – historically higher and lower achieving groups – free and reduced lunch status, disability and English language proficiency. Scores ranged from about 20% to 46% for fifth-grade CMAS English language arts results.
  • Evidence-based reading and writing SAT scores were higher in 2023 (58.9%) compared to 2019 (58.6%). However, SAT math scores in 2023 were among the largest fallers – 35.2% of students were at or above the college readiness benchmark compared to 39% in 2019.
  • Participation in the 2023 assessments improved from 2022 but was still below 2019 participation levels, especially in higher grades.
  • Overall, the board said the 2023 study shows student growth looks more like it did in 2019, but performance levels have not completely rebounded.

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