Eagleside Elementary is seen on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, in Fountain. Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 in El Paso County serves over 8,000 students in 13 schools. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

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Colorado has released district- and school-level results from spring standardized tests known as CMAS that give a more detailed picture of student achievement during a deeply disrupted school year, but with participation rates varying widely and little information on how much time students spent in the classroom, that picture is hard to bring into focus.

One thing is clear: Many students struggled academically last year. Statewide, scores were down for most grades and subjects, especially for students from low-income families, Hispanic students, and those learning English. Similar patterns are evident in many districts’ test data.

Officials with the Colorado Department of Education said this year’s CMAS results should not be used to compare schools and districts to each other and should be interpreted cautiously.

“I would encourage folks to be very focused on their local communities,” said Joyce Zurkowski, chief assessment officer for the Colorado Department of Education.

Scores declined in districts that spent much of the fall in remote learning, but also in ones that prioritized in-person learning. Students in some districts and schools posted gains despite the challenges, with school leaders saying they were able to use federal dollars to provide extra instruction.

In communities where participation was high, the results should give a reasonably accurate picture of how well students grasp grade-level concepts. Where participation was lower, it matters whether the students who took the tests are representative. If scores went up but participation went down, did students benefit from smaller class sizes or better instruction? Or did only the best test-takers take the test?

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat Colorado covering early childhood education. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the Denver Post. She holds a master’s degree in education policy from the University...

Melanie Asmar has covered Denver Public Schools for Chalkbeat Colorado since 2015. Asmar previously worked at Westword newspaper in Denver and for a daily newspaper in New Hampshire, where she covered education. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit...

Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...