Jefferson County’s fourth grade initiative boosts student test scores

After a 2018 decrease, fourth graders’ 2019 CMAS scores improve

Posted 9/4/19

After seeing a decrease in the percentage of fourth graders who passed the standardized test CMAS in 2018, district executives felt compelled to make a change. “We targeted support specifically for …

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Jefferson County’s fourth grade initiative boosts student test scores

After a 2018 decrease, fourth graders’ 2019 CMAS scores improve

Posted

After seeing a decrease in the percentage of fourth graders who passed the standardized test CMAS in 2018, district executives felt compelled to make a change.

“We targeted support specifically for fourth grade” as one of several district goals, Chief Academic Officer Matt Flores said. “Fourth grade is always interesting because the learning becomes a little more complex,” including that, as opposed to learning general concepts, “they’re required to compare and contrast.”

When Jefferson County's 2019 CMAS results came in on Aug. 15, the district saw the results of its efforts: a 4.8% increase in the percentage of fourth graders who passed English and a 0.5% increase in math. The percentage of students who met or exceeded standards in fourth grade English (56%) was the highest passing percentage out of any subject at any grade level in the district. 

For fourth graders, Jeffco achieved higher increases than all other surrounding districts, with Clear Creek School District matching the 4.8% increase in English.

However, the third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades saw slight decreases in the percentages of students who passed both subjects, as opposed to the increases seen by a number of surrounding districts, including Douglas County, which saw improvement in every subject for every grade.

Jeffco exceeded the state average changes for fourth graders, which weighed in at a 1.9% increase in English and a 0.3% decrease in math. For other grades, the district’s change was lower than the state average changes, except for in eighth grade math.

How fourth grade improved

To improve the fourth grade scores specifically, one of the main strategies the district employed was to collaborate with teachers in some schools during the planning process, Flores said. The change encouraged teachers to “take into consideration Colorado Department of Education (standards) and creating relevant and engaging opportunities,” he said.

Representatives from the district also provided help with interpreting test scores, said Principal Karla Hankins of Mortensen Elementary in Ken Caryl. During the school’s fourth-grade-level meetings, teachers learned how to study the previous year’s CMAS scores, as well as 2018-2019 Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test scores, to determine which concepts students struggled with.

One other change was the introduction of one-to-one devices – laptops or tablets issued to students for school use – for Mortensen students in the 2018-2019 school year.

“CMAS is totally online, but students did not always have access to technology in years past,” she said. As a result, some students struggled with “using the scrollbar, clicking and dragging – all those computer skills.”

The dedication and new techniques showed in the school’s scores: Mortensen saw an increase in the percentage of fourth graders who passed English and math, which achieved higher rates of improvement than any other grade at the school.

Golden’s Free Horizon Montessori likewise saw its highest increases with fourth graders. Though the charter school does not participate in district-wide trainings, the school takes advantage of “many of the resources available to us as a mechanism for assuring our ends align” with the district’s, said Principal Kresta Vuolo.

Determined to improve test scores alongside the district, Free Horizon Montessori also put a special emphasis on preparing students for the online aspect of the test.

“Our teachers (took) online sample tests so they could better understand the expectations of students, specifically related to navigating the online system,” Vuolo said. “From there, teachers provided students the opportunity to take a portion of the practice tests where they were able to ask questions about navigation.”

In addition to preparing students for the online aspects of the test, the district also advised focusing on and the application aspect, which asks students not only to recall general formulas, but to understand how to approach word problems.

At Stott Elementary, students especially focused on application after the school received a grant from the district to build a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) lab. In the lab, students have used technology for a variety of projects: they’ve created weather reports with a 9NEWS reporter and Skyped with Superintendent Jason Glass, said Principal Caryn Jehn-McCormick.

“We’ve been asking, ‘what is that different way we can teach material to our kiddos who didn’t grasp it the first time?’ Looking at that very quickly made a big difference,” she said. “The lab lets our kids see how all subjects come together for a common purpose. It’s got our kids excited to learn, and it’s got our teachers excited to teach.”

While the district has not announced whether it will continue to target the fourth grade or focus on another group this year, principals have been told the new goals will be announced soon, she said.

As new strategies emerge to promote learning, fourth grade teachers have become “very eager to continue” their progress, Hankins said.

“We got really clear on what the state standards mean,” Hankins said. “We’re (figuring out) what our children need to learn, how we’ll know they’ve learned it and what we’ll do to intervene if we see somebody’s struggling.”

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