Ouray Middle Schoolers Excel in Math on TCAPs
by Samantha Wright
Aug 23, 2012 | 1800 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print

OURAY - Ouray School begins a new academic year next Monday, Aug. 27, flush with the news that its seventh graders earned some of the highest math scores in the state on the 2012 TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) standardized test.

As the name of the test implies, the TCAP is the standardized assessment test which Colorado students are taking as the state transitions from an old test model, the Colorado Student Assessment Program to a new one, which will be released in 2014. Scores were released to the public earlier this month.

A full 75 percent of Ouray seventh graders earned math scores that were in the “advanced” range, and the remaining 25 percent landed in the “proficient” range. Thus, the cohort as a whole won the rare designation of “100 percent proficient to advanced.”

Ouray School’s eighth graders had math scores that were similarly impressive; 67 percent of them were in the “advanced” range.

According to Ouray School Superintendent Scott Pankow, there were only two other schools in the state that outperformed the Ouray Middle School (seventh and eighth grade) in terms of longitudinal growth as reflected by TCAP scores.

This continues a trend of the past two years, when Ouray Middle School has received the Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award from the Colorado Department of Education. The award is distributed annually to the top eight percent of schools in the state with the highest rate of longitudinal growth on statewide assessments. They recognize growth in both math and language arts and are based upon the previous three years of performance of a cohort of students now in the ninth grade.

Ouray School’s efforts to bolster math instruction and offer a customized curriculum are clearly paying dividends at the elementary and middle school levels. But there is still room for improvement at the high school level, as reflected by mediocre TCAP math scores there. Thus, the school has hired a new part-time math teacher to join the high school math faculty this year. John Ferguson, a member of the Ouray City Council, president of the Mt. Sneffels Education Foundation and local marathon enthusiast, spent his career teaching high school math in Texas prior to moving to Ouray with his wife several years ago. He will be teaching Algebra I and Geometry to Ouray students starting this fall.

With Ferguson picking up these lower-level classes, math teacher Sandy Kern will now be able to focus more on advanced courses, Pankow said.

A few additional faculty changes lie in wait for students when they return to school next week. Former middle school/high school band and chorus teacher Andre Wilkins accepted a new position in Salida in late July. A hastily formed hiring committee vetted a field of seven applicants and found Wilkins’ replacement in the person of Mary Elisabeth MacPhail, who recently earned her Bachelor in Music at Houghton College in New York state. MacPhail moved to Ouray earlier this summer with her husband Gordon, the new pastor at the Ouray Christian Fellowship church (formerly the Presbyterian Church).

Erica Jones joins the school’s support staff as health clerk, lunchroom and playground supervisor. Diane Todd is the school’s new special education paraprofessional.

French teacher and Gifted and Talented coordinator Taylor Chase spent the summer in Costa Rica participating in a Spanish immersion program, and will add beginning Spanish to her teaching load this year.

And in the elementary school, second and third graders will combine in one classroom with teacher Melissa Cervone and paraprofessional Jo Shields.

The multi-age classroom is a response to low enrollment levels in these two grades, each of which has about eight kids. But overall, Pankow said, he expects school-wide enrollment to go up this year, with about 10 to 12 new students having recently moved to town. Last year, the school’s enrollment dipped to its lowest level in several years, with an official student count of about 175. “This year we’ll be in the 180s,” Pankow predicted.

In other back-to-school news, nine teachers from Ouray School joined colleagues from Ridgway and Telluride last week to participate in a highly regarded writing curriculum training called “The Write Tools” with Denver-based instructor Carolyn Simmons. The goal of the training was to give the teachers a common toolbox of strategies to help their students become better writers.

Pankow, always an innovator, plans to start implementing something called the “flip classroom” at Ouray School this year. In this model of instruction, students watch lectures at home which their teachers have pre-recorded, freeing up classroom time for more interactive learning.

“Front-loading your instruction gives students more time to demonstrate knowledge and do higher level thinking in the classroom,” Pankow said. “It’s kind of a buzz word right now.”

A few teachers including Chase and middle school math/social studies teacher Greg Foy have already taken steps to adopt the methodology.

In response to Colorado’s new Bullyproofing Safe School Initiative (HB 11-1254), Pankow participated in training over the summer to learn how to better bullyproof the Ouray School and help teachers learn how to differentiate between conflict and bullying. Ultimately, the goal is to infuse the school culture with a sense of respect and compassion.

“There is a cool term, Ubuntu,” Pankow said. “It means, ‘I see you.’”

The word has its origins in the Bantu languages of southern Africa. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has described it, “Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

Pankow is eager to introduce the concept at the Ouray School. It dovetails nicely with Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, Ouray’s School’s official strategy for establishing a positive, supportive and safe learning environment.

Colorado Department of Education employee and PBIS guru Carol Pandorf will be based in the Ouray School this year, helping the school implement the “three R’s” (Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Ready) and make them pervasive throughout school culture.

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