Colorado school districts recently received their first ratings under the state’s new performance standards approved last year, and on Dec. 9 Gov. Bill Ritter and Colorado Department of Education Commissioner Dwight Jones honored the 14 schools rated as “Accredited With Distinction” at a ceremony in Denver.
“Congratulations to the schools and districts who are successfully preparing your students to meet the state’s new, higher standards,” said Gov. Ritter. “We have been striving to raise the bar in our education system and you have stepped up to the plate and demonstrated a strong commitment to helping all of our students succeed.”
The 14 high-performing districts – out of 183 total school districts and school organizations that were rated – were identified under the new accountability system, which uses an expanded set of indicators and places emphasis on academic growth and success in preparing students for college and career readiness. These indicators in the new scoring formula include graduation rates and dropout rates as well as the number of free and reduced meal accounts, achievement gaps, and college/workforce readiness. The system previously relied on Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, test scores only as the state’s rating system.
While this is the first year the state is using the rating system with new standards, it is the second year in a row the Ouray School District has been given “Accredited With Distinction” honors.
“There are a lot of things working really well right now but the biggest reason we are doing well is that our teachers are so concerned with each individual kid,” Ouray School District Superintendent Nick Schafer said in an interview on Monday. “We formed a strategic plan three years ago and one of the goals was that the Ouray School District rank in the top 10th percentile in the state. We have achieved that and we are now reorganizing our plan with a goal of maintaining the Accreditation With Distinction as well as becoming a model for new schools.”
In Telluride, Superintendent Mary Rubadeau believes a big reason the district scored so well is due the implementation of its educational improvement process called the Individual Mission and Assessment Plan (IMAP). Individual or cohort groups of students who are not demonstrating proficiency in a category like reading or math have an IMAP developed by a team of teachers with collaborative interventions and focused learning strategies to support learning.
“IMAP is driven by teacher leadership,” Rubadeau said. “Teachers meet every week and analyze where the kids are and what groups of kids have problems in certain areas like reading, writing and math. The teachers then find a way to focus on those areas. It’s a system of not letting kids fall through the cracks.”
Because the performance standards now look at a variety of variables, Ridgway Schools Superintendent Cheryl Gomez said she believes there are a number of factors that figured into Ridgway’s “Accredited With Distinction” ranking, but the concurrent enrollment program, where high school students can earn college credit, is possibly the largest.
“We got points because we do well in areas of content but the points that took us over is the concurrent enrollment classes we have going on at the high school,” Gomez said. "I would say that is one of the biggest factors in our score. We also have a great community here and people are invested in education. They invest their energy on how they can be a part of a child’s growth and development.”
For all three superintendents, the new set of performance standards by which schools and school districts are ranked is a step in the right direction.
“It is an evolving accountability system,” Gomez said. In her tenure as an educator in Colorado, Gomez was part of the educator pool that was involved with creating CSAP questions. “This is the next step to have a good, clean accountability system.”
For Shafer, using more than just CSAP scores to rank a school district’s educational effectiveness is not only better for the district but for the student as well.
“With just a CSAP score, a teacher or class can be penalized if a kid does badly on the test,” Shafer said. “Using a growth model, if a kid grows ten points, for example, that is a good thing. There is a lot more data used and it allows teachers to work with individual students.
“You can have a kid that does poorly on a CSAP test but he or she may have shown considerable growth and that is an improvement.”
“Test scores are just once piece of a whole puzzle. It’s one snapshot,” she said. “Test scores go up when kids are engaged. Drilling on testing alone does not create a learner. What creates a learner is the excitement to learn. The new system is a vast improvement.”
The Colorado Department of Education has also launched its SchoolView Data Center, an online tool that delivers school district and state performance data.
The Data Center includes a state-level overview of performance on assessments, demographics, district and school performance and a host of other data previously reported on the printed School Accountability Reports. It also serves as a resource through which users can access district and school performance frameworks, the reports used to determine districts’ accreditation ratings and school improvement plan types.
For more information on results from the first implementation cycle of the Education Accountability Act and more background about how districts “Accredited with Distinction” were selected, visit the SchoolView page at schoolview.org/performance.asp.