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Jeffco Schools targets improved test scores after 2019 CMAS results

Additional lesson planning support and curriculum resources are part of a plan Jeffco Schools staff are implementing to improve student achievement after receiving 2019 CMAS results. The new supports are part of a plan to improve outcomes on mandatory statewide testing, including the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) for grades 3-8 and the PSAT and SAT at the high school level.

Support added for targeted, engaging classroom learning

“Last year, educators were asked to transform the task through deeper learning,” Heather MacGillivary, director of assessment and research, told Jeffco School Board members at the Sept. 5 meeting. “Transforming the task” is part of the Jeffco Generations vision to make learning more authentic and to better engage students, she explained.

However, recent test scores indicate that the lessons may not have always connected to the learning target as effectively as hoped. In response, district staff surveyed educators about what could be changed. MacGillivary said educators “felt that they lacked the guidance, the definitions, the expectations, and the leadership structure, supports and resources” needed to make lessons more engaging and simultaneously prepare students to demonstrate that learning on state tests.

For example, Jeffco students struggle with the written, open-ended constructed response portions of CMAS testing. Those questions account for approximately 40 percent of the overall CMAS score, said Matt Flores, chief academic officer.

To boost achievement on CMAS and other standardized tests, teachers asked for more time to work with instructional coaches to plan engaging lessons that directly connect to the Colorado Academic Standards. Those resources will also help support struggling students by helping educators identify resources to get them back on track.

Community superintendents met with principals in September to review how the school day is currently structured, and identified opportunities to provide more supported, collaborative planning time.

This year, educators have at least 45 minutes for collaborative planning each week, Flores said.

Jeffco Learning Model to guide approach

The district is using the Jeffco Learning Model to guide teaching this year, MacGillivary said. The model uses four steps — plan, teach, assess, and reflect — to guide educators as they plan engaging lessons and assess effectiveness of content mastery. It also includes resources and training modules to provide the supports needed for deeper learning in classrooms.

These resources parallel the training provided to district leaders and principals to support teaching and student achievement, Flores said. The supports for each of the Jeffco Learning Model areas are currently being developed by Jeffco’s Educational Research and Design Department. Some of those resources have already been presented to Jeffco’s teacher advisory committee and received positive feedback, he said.

The model focuses on helping students build foundational knowledge through content mastery utilizing careful planning and teaching. In addition, it guides educators on how to effectively assess whether targets have been achieved and to reflect on what worked and didn’t work, and why.

The learning model also acknowledges the importance of building students’ ability to generate original thought and communicate that thought clearly in writing, MacGillivary said. That skill ties directly into the CMAS constructed response questions.

This year, students will have more opportunities to practice translating what they know into a written essay tied to the work they’re already doing in class. Educators will have four opportunities to incorporate constructed response essay items that align to portions of the grade-level curriculum, Flores said.

Monitoring student achievement progress across the district

At the meeting, Jeffco School Board members asked how the district will monitor progress and keep them updated as the year progresses.

Flores said his staff will partner with community superintendents to check that processes, expectations, tools and resources are being understood and used in schools.

In addition, community superintendents will solicit feedback from instructional coaches, teacher focus groups, and advisory groups to continue to refine tools and tackle issues throughout the year. The mission is to ensure the Jeffco Learning Model is implemented in a way that improves student learning.

Flores also acknowledged that students demonstrate learning in a variety of ways outside of state standardized testing. In-class quizzes, presentations, tests and seminar discussions are also important ways to evaluate content mastery and student success.

District leadership will also work with implementation data, ask educators how the tools are helping, and evaluate MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) scores and other assessment data to see how the changes affect schools.

Jeffco exceeds state 2019 CMAS scores

Jeffco’s 2018-19 CMAS achievement scores continue to outpace state averages. Jeffco exceeded overall state scores by at least five percentage points in English Language Arts (ELA), math and science in the 2018-2019 school year.

In ELA, Jeffco students’ scores overall were essentially flat, with 51.7% of students meeting or exceeding expectations in 2019.

However, there were strong gains in fourth grade ELA scores. The percent of fourth graders meeting or exceeding expectations increased 4.8 percentage points between 2018 and 2019. Grade 6 ELA scores also maintained growth percentiles above the 50th percentile in 2019.

In math, Jeffco students showed slight declines in overall scores from 2018 to 2019, with 40.2% of students meeting or exceeding expectations. Sixth grade math scores showed a decline overall and in most subgroups. From 2018 to 2019, 3.9 percent fewer sixth grade students met or exceeded expectations.

Eighth grade math scores increased 18 percentage points, with 42.1 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations. However, Carol Eaton, executive director of Instructional Data Services, pointed out that the 2019 data is not comparable to prior years.

In previous years, approximately one-third of eighth grade students were enrolled in algebra or geometry and then took the CMAS assessment aligned to their specific course. In 2019, all eighth graders took the CMAS grade 8 math assessment, whether or not they were enrolled in higher-level math courses.

Colorado’s third through eighth graders have been taking the CMAS exams each year since spring 2015 when the CMAS exam replaced the TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program). High school freshman and sophomores take the PSAT, and juniors take the SAT and the CMAS science assessment.

Tina Gurdikian

Tina Gurdikian has been a Jeffco resident since 2008, and is the parent of two Jeffco Schools students. She has a BS in Environmental Analysis and Planning with a minor in Biology. In her not-so-spare time, she enjoys fostering dogs, scuba diving, backpacking, hiking, biking, and kayaking with her family. Please visit our "About Us" page to learn more about Tina and our other writers.

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