By Dan Lacey
Jeffco’s internal academic measuring stick points to a largely positive trend in core subject areas. Even so, a closer look at the results from individual school and grade-level tests points both to some significant bright spots and some pockets of weakness to be addressed.
Acuity is the name of the internal software assessment system Jeffco has used for nearly a decade to provide information to teachers about the academic progress of their students. Students in third through eighth grade typically take these assessments at the beginning, middle, and near the end of the school year. Assessments are given in English language arts and math. Scores should show improvement as a result of the learning that happens throughout the year.
In addition to helping teachers clarify which students need reinforcement in which topics, the assessments also provide the district with broader data on how much information is being learned. Results allow the district to compare achievement across schools.
At both June school board meetings district staff presented data on Acuity results for the 2014–15 school year. Results showed significant student achievement gains across the district. While staff cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from one set of results, there were a number of lessons learned. Some of the biggest successes and some of the prominent areas in need of improvement are highlighted to the right.
Two types of outliers are identified for the purposes of this evaluation: Bright spots are defined as positive average score changes of 50 points or more on the assessments taken over the course of a school year. Areas of weakness are defined as average score changes of 9 points or less.
Math and English language arts scores from the assessments taken in elementary and middle schools during the 2014–15 school year were analyzed for this report. Outlying scores occurred at 59, or roughly half, of Jeffco’s elementary and middle schools. This analysis revealed a very strong pattern: Most areas of weakness were identified in math, while bright spots tended to be found in English language arts.
Improvements in English Language Arts
Out of 42 English language arts outliers observed, only two were unusually low; on 40 tests, students showed great learning, improving their scores by an average of 50 points or more. At Fairmount Elementary, Marshdale Elementary, Ralston Elementary, and West Jefferson Middle, students achieved very positive improvement on multiple English tests.
Foster and Swanson, both elementary schools, are the only two in the district that showed unusually low achievement in at least one grade on the English language arts assessment.
Improvements in English Language Arts and Math
At 20 schools there was an outlying level of improvement on multiple English language arts and/or math tests. Meanwhile, students at 11 schools achieved bright spots on English tests, while also registering areas of weakness on math tests. At Ute Meadows Elementary, students achieved abnormally high improvement levels on both English and math tests.
At Foothills Elementary, Pleasant View Elementary, and Vivian Elementary, students achieved abnormally low improvement levels on math tests in at least one grade. At Foster Elementary, students achieved abnormally low improvement levels on both math and English language arts tests.
Math tests taken in two grade levels at Arvada K–8, as well as an English test and a math test taken at Foster Elementary yielded a total score change of zero or less during the 2014-15 school year. This suggests a net loss of knowledge, or at the very least, the acquisition of no new skills.
The data used in this report was shared online on BoardDocs. A number of Jefferson County Public Schools are not represented in this data, despite the fact that these schools administer the Acuity test. The middle schools lacking data are Arvada, Bell, Drake, Mandalay, North Arvada, O’Connell, Summit Ridge, Wayne Carle, and Wheat Ridge 5–8. The elementary schools are Bear Creek K–8, Bergen Valley, Kendallvue, Leawood, and Westgate.
If fewer than 16 students took a test, the data was not included. In addition, some schools which had reportable data either didn’t administer two rounds of the assessments, or didn’t enter data in the system in time for the analysis.
Some abnormal score changes were attributed to “inconsistent beginning and end counts,” which “may be due to administration and/or reporting anomalies.” As such, some of the positive and negative outliers described in this report may be larger than expected due to invalidated tests, reporting errors, or other external issues.
For example, at the end of 2014–15, Arvada K–8 seventh graders achieved an average score on the math test that was 12 points lower than the average test score from the beginning of 2014–15. However, while 105 students took the test at the beginning of the year, only 65 took it at the end.
Additionally, Foster Elementary sixth graders achieved average change in scores between the English and math Acuity A and C tests equal to -9 and 0, respectively. However, Foster’s student counts for the Acuity tests show that 16 more 6th grade students took the English Acuity C test than took the A test, and that 23 more 6th grade students took the math Acuity C test than took the A test.
The Acuity data presented to the board at the June meeting was one of a number of sources teachers and the district use to evaluate the progress of student learning. Certainly, multiple indicators are needed to tell the complete story of what is working in Jeffco and what needs improvement.
The board’s focus on using data to understand what is working in Jeffco, how success can be spread, and where challenges remain will help the community get a clearer picture of the student learning achieved in our schools. In turn, this information should help leaders identify how best to select and allocate resources.