Scott Stanford is general manager of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Call him at 970-871-4202 or email sstanford@SteamboatToday.com
Steamboat Springs The release of Colorado Student Assessment Program test scores for the Steamboat Springs School District put us in a quandary ever year.
How should we frame the story - that Steamboat scored better than 95 percent of the school districts in the state, or that Steamboat's scores weren't much better than the year before. What do readers care most about? What do we highlight?
Take one approach and we are accentuating the negative. Take another and we're spinning data to make the school district look better than it is.
The school district's performance is kind of like that of the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have won 14 division titles in the past 15 years, but only one World Series during that time. Is Atlanta a great franchise or a notorious underachiever? The answer, according to the media, is both.
So, too, is the Steamboat Springs School District.
Here is a brief analysis of Steamboat's CSAP scores this year, which were released Tuesday. There were 27 school grade-level tests in which Steamboat scores could be compared to the year before. In 13 of those categories, Steamboat schools showed improvement in the number of students who scored advanced or proficient. Thirteen showed a decrease, and one was the same. Steamboat got scores for four campuses involving 35 total categories. In every case, scores outpaced state averages by at least 5 percentage points. Our seventh-grade math scores were 36 points better than the state average.
CSAP test scores are the primary factor in determining School Accountability Report ratings, which will be released in the fall. Since the reports began in 2000, Steamboat schools have earned the highest or second-highest rating every time. No doubt, this year's scores will result in every school being rated high or excellent again.
In other words, Steamboat's going to win the division, but maybe not the World Series.
We debated internally about what the lead of Wednesday's front-page story should be - the lack of significant change in the scores, or the performance compared to the rest of the state. Ultimately, we settled on a combination of both in the first two sentences of the story: "The Steamboat Springs School District again outpaced state averages on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. However, district scores did not change significantly from previous years, and administrators said the district can still do better."
The headline was "CSAP scores strong." The subhead was "Steamboat students outpace state, but show little progress."
So far, I have received no feedback on the story or the headlines, and I haven't seen any comments on the Web site. I presume that means readers thought we presented the story fairly.
Remember the days before CSAP tests and School Accountability Reports, when what you knew about your public school was based largely upon subjective or anecdotal data?
Using standardized tests to measure and rate schools is a relatively new phenomenon - Colorado has been doing it only since 2000. School accountability has been a boon for education reporting for newspapers - we now have a wealth of test data to break down, analyze and, ultimately, use to judge our schools. Newspapers have even given such standardized tests to politicians and school board members to measure their performance.
But obviously, test scores alone don't tell the whole story. If they did, surely we would have more harmony in the Steamboat Springs School District.
If you've got feedback for me on test scores or the way we report them, call or e-mail me.
Scott Stanford's From the Editor column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Visit his Blog at steamboatpilot.com/stanford, call him at 871-4221 or e-mail email@example.com