School District ahead of state in school assessments

Still room for improvement in mathematics 

[  By Kendra Walker  ]

Superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols presented a student assessment report to the school board during an August 22 work session, reviewing how Gunnison Watershed School District students fared in last year’s state tests compared to previous years and state averages. 

Spring 2022 saw a return to a full slate of state assessments, including the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) for grades 3-8 in English and math, and grades 5, 8 and 11 in science. Grades 9 and 10 took the PSAT and Grade 11 took the SAT, both in reading and math. 

Nichols noted that CMAS testing was modified in 2021 due to the pandemic, and both CMAS and PSAT/SAT were cancelled in 2020. 


Looking at CMAS achievement, 45% of GWSD students met or exceeded expectations in English language arts compared to 43.2% of the state. However, 29% of GWSD students met or exceeded expectations in mathematics, compared to 31.5% of the state. 

For PSAT/SAT achievement, grades 9, 10 and 11 ranked better than the state in evidence based reading and writing, with 73.8% (9), 82.4% (10) and 66.2% (11) meeting or exceeding expectations. While all three grades ranked better than the state in mathematics, grades 10 and 11 dropped 4.2% and 6.2% respectively from 2019.


For CMAS, GWSD participation was higher than the state at approximately 92% for both English and math, however, district participation has dropped from 2019. 

PSAT/SAT participation across GWSD ranked better than the state, however, participation dropped 8.1% from 2019.

“We did have greater drops in our participation than the state did,” said Nichols. “I really anticipate that getting back closer to where it was.” She noted that there was lower participation from the Pathways online program students, because the students have to come to school to take the tests. 


When looking at growth, Nichols explained that the numbers show how students grew over the 2019 baseline. For CMAS English, students achieved 50% growth from 2019, compared to 48% in the state. For CMAS math, GWSD achieved 67% growth compared to 56% in the state. 

For PSAT/SAT reading and writing, GWSD had a 55% growth compared to 52% in the state, and 55% growth in math compared to 52% in the state. 

“That’s phenomenal,” said Nichols of both CMAS and PSAT/SAT growth. “This indicates that we are on the right track. They’re making movement, that means our program is taking kids in the right direction.”


Nichols noted that the data indicates that GWSD’s in-person learning made a difference for students and the learning loss experienced during the pandemic was not as significant as the state’s. 

The growth data exceeded expectations and the math growth indicates that the district math department is moving in the right direction, she said. However, Nichols noted that the math drops still warrant careful consideration. 

“We’ve had incredible turnover in our math department at the secondary level in the last three years,” she said. “We are piloting math programs right now and bringing consistency among our elementaries and secondaries. There are updates in how we’ve taught math in the last three decades. We don’t teach math the same way you were taught math or I was taught math,” she told the board. “The standards are set high on purpose.”

“How do we advocate for public education with these kinds of numbers?” asked board treasurer Dave Taylor, referring to the drops in match achievement. 

“We own it and say how can we improve to get better,” said Nichols. “It’s not public vs. private, because they’re not doing any better. Across the board, America is struggling in math.”

“Academics should be the only focus in the classroom,” said board member Mandy Roberts. 

“It would be nice if they just showed up fed and emotionally regulated and warm and clean and all the things that get you really ready for learning, but that’s not how they’re walking into our buildings,” said Nichols. “The social/emotional piece, that mental health piece that we teach in this district remains critical. We have to meet the kids at some point to have them ready to learn.”

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