Last spring’s SAT and PSAT test scores for high school students in Colorado fell from a year earlier, according to results released Wednesday.
In 2021, Colorado high school test scores improved from 2019, despite the learning disruptions students suffered, but the results released Wednesday were less encouraging.
Two of the three groups — ninth and eleventh graders — also scored lower than their counterparts in 2019, according to state results released Wednesday.
The bright spot was among the 10th graders. Although a lower proportion met or exceeded expectations than last year, their rates were still better than in 2019. In English for example, 67% of Grade 10 students met or exceeded expectations this spring, up from 69.3% in 2021, but higher than the 64.9% of 10th graders who did in 2019.
Colorado uses the PSAT for ninth and tenth graders, and the SAT for 11th graders as its annual state test.
Last year, when more high school test scores appeared to be improving, educators wondered if lower turnouts had skewed the results. The students who took the 2021 test were perhaps the most motivated and likely to do well.
High school participation in the PSAT and SAT this spring has increased to around 85%. That’s still lower than pre-pandemic attendance rates of about 92%, but state officials said the students who participated reflected the year’s diverse enrollment.
Some colleges use the SAT for admissions criteria, though many are now moving away from standardized test requirements.
SAT scores can range from 200 to 800 each on literacy and math tests, with a maximum composite score of 1600. The average statewide composite score in 2022 was 986, up from 1001 in 2019.
PSAT scores for 10th graders can range from 160 to 760 on individual tests, with a maximum total score of 1520. For ninth graders, the range is 120 to 720, with a maximum total score of 1440 .
For ninth graders, the average statewide total score was 885 in 2022, down from 906 in 2019. Ninth-grade math PSAT scores declined the most. Only 40.8% obtained at least one grade level, a drop of 8.8 percentage points compared to 2019.
Most achievement gaps have increased across various demographic groups, with the widest gaps this year between English language learners and other students. On the reading and writing tests, these differences exceeded 50 percentage points. Among racial and ethnic groups, the largest gap separated Hispanic students from white students.
Among school districts in the metropolitan area, Adams 14 and its neighbor, Brighton-based 27J, saw some of the largest drops in grade 11 student scores from 2019. Students meeting or exceeding expectations fell by 9 percentage points in 27J and 8.4 percentage points in Adam 14.
Ninth-graders in Adams 14, a district that may be losing control of its schools due to chronic low scores, also saw some of the largest three-year declines in math scores in the metro area. Only 7.8% met or exceeded expectations this spring.
The district also had turnout rates below the state average with 76.9% of students passing the test.
Adams’ 14 growth scores for high school students were also among the worst in the state.
SAT performance is strongly tied to demographic factors, with more affluent white and Asian students showing higher scores. Growth scores, which are meant to be a fairer way to look at results, compare student improvement against students who have a similar test performance history. Students who are below grade level need growth scores above 50 to progress to catch-up.
For math, Adams’ average growth score 14 of 32 was seventh worst in the state.
The school districts of Jeffco and Cherry Creek are among the districts in the metro area that have done well on the growth measures. For high school math, both districts had a growth score of 55, placing them both in the top 20 scores in the state.
Mica Buenning, principal of Ralston Valley High School in Jeffco, said she was not surprised by her school’s results. After seeing a sharp drop in math results last year, its staff have spent 2021-22 focusing on rewriting math units. Her school’s math scores have risen this year, though they still haven’t returned to 2019 levels.
Buenning said she made it a point to allow time for her math teachers to collaborate and plan together, especially for the Algebra 2 teachers, which is usually a class for juniors.
“I know my teachers make a difference when they have time to collaborate,” Buenning said. “We did it last year and we’re doing it again this year.”
Buenning said his school will now focus more on ninth-grade math classes. These scores are the farthest from 2019 levels. About 69% of ninth graders in Ralston Valley scored at least grade level in math, compared to 84% of freshmen in 2019.
Last year, ninth-graders had tougher challenges than other students, Buenning said.
“My freshmen came in today and they were 1,000 times different from freshmen last year,” Buenning said Tuesday. “They had a full year of college to work on their organizational skills and all those executive function skills, including moving from classroom to classroom. Last year we had a lot of kids who academically could have done well, but socially they struggled.
Teachers from across the country spoke about the challenges of supporting students with behavioral issues and greater social-emotional needs.
Other districts that showed positives were Englewood and Sheridan.
Tenth-grade students in Sheridan, where most students come from low-income families, saw greater improvements than those in the state or most metropolitan districts. In reading and writing, 46.3% of Grade 10 students met or exceeded expectations, up from 30.5% last year and 38.9% in 2019.
Maegan Daigler, executive director of assessment and technology for Sheridan, said district leaders were “delightfully surprised” by the scores. She said the high school has made investments to help students catch up.
These changes include the addition of a pre-Advanced Placement English course that helps push more students into rigorous coursework, the expansion of AVID programs, and the addition of a partnership with the University of Colorado. in Denver. Math professors in the university’s education department helped Sheridan create diagnostic tests to help teachers better understand how to help students progress.
Daigler said it appears students who made more progress were more likely to be involved in rigorous coursework, including new pre-AP classes.
“We think about how we push and support students, instead of just correcting,” Daigler said.
Now leaders are digging deeper to see how these different approaches have helped, to see where to expand the work.
Find out how your school’s students are performing in the searchable database below. You can also see the state’s full data release on its website here.
Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at [email protected]