Colorado high school students experience significant decline in math scores possibly due to new digital SAT exam.

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A majority of students in Colorado are showing improvement on state assessments, nearing a recovery from the previous decline due to the pandemic. These insights were shared through initial data highlighted in June for the State Board of Education.

However, concerns arise regarding the lower high school math scores, specifically after the state’s shift to a new digital PSAT and SAT format.

Of particular worry are the ninth-grade scores. In 2019, 49.6% of ninth graders met or exceeded math standards on the PSAT. By 2024, only 39.5% achieved the same, marking a decline of more than 10 percentage points. This also reflects a decrease from 2023 when 46.5% of students were meeting the standards.

The ninth graders were navigating their academic journey during the pandemic’s onset, experiencing the shift to online learning, leading to potential learning disruptions.

State authorities are engaged in a thorough analysis of the data over the summer to determine its suitability for annual school assessments. The board’s decision allows for the possibility of setting new performance level targets based on this year’s score distribution instead of adhering to the previous benchmarks.

Lisa Medler, the executive director of accountability and continuous improvement for the state, stated, “What we’re observing is essentially a novel evaluation.”

The state utilized the PSAT/SAT to assess ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders alongside demonstrating proficiency in English and math for graduation requirements. The spring of 2024 marked the test’s initial transition to a fully online format, coupled with formatting modifications.

Initially, officials believed that the alterations wouldn’t impact score interpretation compared to previous years. However, the substantial decline in math standard achievement raised suspicions about the test’s impact. The reasons behind the reduced scores, whether test complexity or student proficiency, remain unclear.

Joyce Zurkowski, the chief assessment officer at the Colorado Department of Education, expressed, “I cannot discern the specific reasons for the changes in performance levels. Some factors may stem from fluctuations in student performance, whereas others could be related to test modifications.”

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For younger students undergoing the state’s CMAS assessment, results demonstrate less struggle. Across third to sixth grade levels, the percentage meeting or surpassing math standards now equals or exceeds pre-pandemic rates from 2019.

However, eighth-grade CMAS math scores are lagging. In 2019, 36.9% of eighth graders met or exceeded math standards. Preliminary data for 2024 indicates only 32.9% achieved the same, a marginal increase compared to 32.7% in 2023.

Apart from the PSAT/SAT modifications, officials are exploring the potential impact of an influx of new immigrant students on average scores.

During the recent testing period, a higher number of students received exemptions, but newly arrived immigrant students underwent math and science assessments with accommodations. While these scores won’t influence school ratings, they could influence the overall state score averages.

An audit of the data and its finalization is underway by state officials to assess its usability in growth calculations and other grading aspects. An update regarding these findings may be forthcoming later this month.

Additionally, state officials point out that other states are encountering significant score drops with the new PSAT/SAT format. Nevertheless, not all states utilize the test for all students or for evaluation purposes.

In light of these developments, state officials aim to inform students and families that alterations in the test format might contribute to score discrepancies.

Zurkowski remarked, “So, 11th-grade students: if your older sibling outperforms you in math, encourage them to take the recent assessment for a fair comparison.”

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