2021 Student Assessment Scores Reveal Significant Learning Loss

Earlier this month the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) released the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) scores from 2021, revealing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning for all students, and growing inequalities for students of color and low-income students.

Colorado Succeeds, along with other advocacy leaders, strongly supported the state administering CMAS assessments to understand the learning needs of students and gain the information needed to leverage stimulus funding and other state resources. A compromise was reached to pass HB21-1161, which required the state to administer assessments in English language arts to students in grades 3, 5, and 7 and math assessments to students in grades 4, 6, and 8.

The 2021 CMAS results reveal:

  • Performance in math has dropped to the lowest it has ever been, and in English language arts it has dropped to 2017 levels.
  • Students of all races and ethnicities saw decreased performance, with Black and Hispanic students tending to be more impacted across all grades than their peers from other racial/ethnic backgrounds.
  • Results for students with disabilities and English learners continue to be significantly lower than other subgroups, with inequalities increasing in some cases.

For Denver Public Schools (DPS), 36% of students who took the test scored at or above grade level in literacy (decreasing from 43% in 2019), and 22% of those taking the math test scored at or above grade level (decreasing from 33% in 2019). This tracks with results for students statewide, which show a larger drop in mathematics than literacy.

As reported in Chalkbeat, “the numbers for Black and Hispanic students were more than 20 percentage points lower, reflecting longstanding gaps in test performance that predate the pandemic. On many of the tests, Hispanic students and students from low-income households saw steeper declines than white students or more affluent ones.”

Looking back to 2018 state data, Colorado students were already facing some of the largest inequalities in achievement in the country along racial and socio-economic lines. There was a 31-point gap in 5th-grade language arts proficiency rates between students in poverty and their more affluent peers.

It is important to note that significant learning disruptions occurred in 2020 and 2021, and almost all school districts had lower participation rates on assessments than previous years. However, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) noted that if more students took the assessments, the results would likely have been even lower. Just this week, DPS reported at its board meeting that only half of eligible students participated.

District-level and school-level results for 2021 are expected to be officially released by the end of August. Families will receive an individual report for their children.

Colorado Succeeds believes that significant re-engagement and academic accelerations strategies are needed to help students not only get back on track, but to ensure all students – regardless of race or income – can achieve long-term success. We will continue to advocate for federal stimulus funding at the state and local level for supports like high dosage tutoring, experiential learning, and summer enrichment opportunities for students that need it most.

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Colorado Succeeds