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FAQ: Early Literacy and the DPS SPF | Denver Public Schools
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FAQ: Early Literacy and the DPS SPF

Dec. 21, 2017

2017 School Performance Framework: Early Literacy Assessments
Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How many years has DPS used early literacy assessments in its schools and how long have those results been reflected in its School Performance Framework (SPF)?

DPS has administered early literacy assessments since the early 2000s. For most of those years, we used the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA). However, DRA was not one of the assessments approved by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) for use under the state’s READ Act, which seeks to ensure all children can read at grade level by the end of third grade. As a result, DPS transitioned to administering only state-approved READ ACT assessments. Early literacy has been part of the district’s SPF since its inception in 2008.

  1. Why does DPS include early literacy assessments in its SPF? They are not part of the state SPF.

DPS includes early literacy because research shows clearly that if students learn to read by the end of third grade, their chances of completing high school dramatically increase. Including early literacy on the SPF highlights the importance of early literacy for a student’s future academic success. Using only the state Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), as the state SPF does, would focus the entire elementary school SPF only on grades 3-5. It would render a less comprehensive view of a school’s performance and send the message that performance in earlier grades is less important.

  1. Do the early literacy or READ Act assessments tell us whether students are on track to meet the goal of reading at grade level by the end of third-grade?

Over time, it has become clear that the expectations or “cut points” the state uses under the Read Act to track early literacy are not aligned with the expectations or cut points the state uses to determine reading proficiency in third grade and above. This is a state and national issue; as Colorado and other states developed more rigorous assessments in grades 3-11 to match new standards, early literacy assessments have not kept pace. This gap in rigor between state-approved tests for early literacy and state tests for determining reading proficiency in grades 3-11 has resulted in confusion for some schools and families. Students across Colorado who scored well on the early literacy assessments did not score as well when they took the more rigorous CMAS reading exam.

  1. Did DPS set or approve the cut points or expectations for the READ Act exams?

No, the state worked directly with the test makers of the approved assessments to set cut points or expectations for early literacy. These cut points apply to all state-approved READ Act early literacy assessments used throughout the state, including in Denver.

  1. Now that DPS is aware of the gaps between the READ Act assessments and CMAS, how are you addressing this issue to ensure kids are learning the reading skills they need?

As we began receiving more data on this issue, DPS has asked the state to better align expectations on the tests so that early literacy results are better predictors of how students will do on the CMAS exams in grades 3 and above. At the same time, DPS has created a new tool for educators and families called the Early Literacy Aimlines. The aimlines are the targets in literacy skills our kids need to hit on the READ Act assessments to better demonstrate whether they are on track to be reading at grade level on the third-grade CMAS. Having this information helps our teachers better support students in achieving success on the third-grade CMAS.

  1. How did DPS create the Early Literacy Aimlines?

We set the aimlines by mapping backwards from the proficiency students need to demonstrate to perform at grade level on the third-grade CMAS. This allowed us to determine where our students need to be in literacy skills in kindergarten, grades 1, and 2 so they are on track for success in grade 3. We are sharing these aimlines with schools and teachers this year as a critical information resource.

  1. If DPS knew there were concerns about the rigor of the early literacy assessments, why didn’t the district use aimline data in the 2017 SPF instead of the READ Act results?

Schools use the SPF as a tool to understand the results of their work and to identify areas of future focus and improvement. The 2017 SPF provides a snapshot of those efforts during the 2016-17 school year. The goals or targets for the 2017 SPF were based on the READ Act and were the same ones we used in the 2015-16 school year. They were set before aimlines were developed for all state-approved early literacy assessments. We believe changing those targets retroactively would be unfair because it would be changing the targets after schools worked during 2016-17 to meet them.

We let our school leaders know in August that we will not be using READ Act results for the 2018-19 school year and the 2019 SPF because of this issue. We will be using the significantly more rigorous aimlines instead. We are sharing the aimline targets with schools, teachers and parents this year to help them understand these higher expectations and what needs to be done to help students meet them.

  1. How is DPS ensuring that families have accurate information about their student’s progress in reading?

School leaders and teachers are aware of the issue and are using the aimlines this year in talking with families. In addition, to raise awareness of this issue, DPS is sharing a letter with all families of students in grades K-3 so they understand the aimlines and how to use them to support their child’s reading progress. And at the end of January, early literacy reports with aimline data will be sent to all families of students in these grades.

  1. What early literacy assessments does DPS use and why?

DPS schools choose from a variety of state-approved assessments, including DIBELS/IDEL, iReady, Istation and STAR. The majority of DPS schools, or about 75%, used Istation in 2016-17; it is one of the few state-approved assessments that supports English language learners with authentic Spanish literacy tests rather than translated English assessments. Again, the Colorado READ Act requires school districts use state-approved assessments in early literacy.

  1. What skills or knowledge are tested on the state-approved early literacy assessments? 

The Colorado READ Act requires teachers to assess the literacy development of students in K-3 in the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development including oral skills, reading fluency and reading comprehension.

  1. What is different about how early literacy is reflected in this year’s DPS SPF as compared to prior years? 

Early literacy has been included in the district SPF since its inception in 2008. However, this past year, the weight of early literacy results on the SPF increased from about 10% to about 34% of an overall school score as a result of including disaggregated data for student sub-groups. DPS made this change to ensure that with early literacy, as we do with our other measures, we are looking specifically at the progress of our students of color, low-income students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

  1. Will aimlines affect whether students are on a READ Act plan?

No. According to the law, READ Act plans are only required for students who are reading significantly below grade level based on the READ Act standards.


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