Dan Snowberger frustrated that parents, students fail to see value of standardized tests

Sunday, March 27, 2016 3:22 PM
Sixth-grader Quincy Stover practices for the 2015 Partnerhip for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests at Fort Logan Northgate School in Sheridan. Durango and Ignacio students have been taking the 2016 tests over the last couple of weeks, with Bayfield scheduled to take them during the second week in April.

Standardized testing is a hot button for many parents, but Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger is frustrated more parents and students don’t see the benefits of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers tests the district administered last week.

“It shows what you know and compares your progress against other schools in the state and against 10 other states,” he told the 9-R school board at its meeting Tuesday. “Yes, it’s only one data point, and not the most important data point, but it shows how our kids are doing in a larger context.”

PARCC tests were created by classroom teachers, principals, curriculum directors and other educators to measure students’ progress in math and English/language arts for grades 3 through 10, although 9-R students are taking it only through the ninth grade since the Colorado Department of Education adopted the Practice SAT for 10th-graders this year.

PARCC is aligned with the more demanding high school graduation standards many districts, including 9-R, are adopting to better prepare students for life after high school in the 21st century.

“They’re definitely more rigorous than the TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) and aren’t just focused on background knowledge,” said Christy Bloomquist, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the district. “They measure critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.”

The test scores from last year’s PARCC tests, both by individual student and school, have led to professional development and program reviews in District 9-R.

“We’ve had district grade-level PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) to see where the performance highs and lows were,” she said, “where we needed to increase professional development, who was doing really well in an area. The schools have continued using the data in their individual instructional leadership teams.”

It will be a few months until the results of the 2016 tests are available, but what 9-R does know is the number of students whose parents opted them out of the test.

“It ranged from 10 percent at Needham (Elementary School),” Snowberger said about the overall opt-out rate of 4.7 percent, “to zero at Florida Mesa (Elementary School.) The opt-outs in ninth grade at Durango High School were almost as many as all of DHS last year.”

In addition to DHS, which had an opt-out rate of 6 percent, Miller Middle School and Sunnyside Elementary School also had 6 percent opt-out rates. Big Picture High School was at 7 percent, although it’s such a small school, the 7 percent was just one student.

Snowberger also noted another difference from last year. In 2015, parents notified schools a week before the testing they were opting their children out of the PARCC tests. This year, he said, it was the day before or the day of the test, making planning for students who opted out a bit more difficult.

“I think some thought their children would be in class learning instead of testing,” he said, “but the teachers were busy testing the rest of the class, so they essentially spent the time in the library.”

The district needs to be better at educating parents at why the tests matter, he said. This year, instead of a face-to-face meeting between administrators and parents who wanted to opt their children out, parents were asked to write a note. That may have been a lost opportunity to explain the value, Snowberger said.

Bloomquist has taken a preliminary look at all the opt-out notes, but nothing stood out as to a particular demographic that made up the opt-out population or a particular reason for opting out, she said.

“There was no one thing,” she said. “We’ve talked to several parents who said they would probably reconsider next year.”

At the school board meeting, the ex-officio student representative to the board, Kenna Willis, said she had to tell her siblings and other high school students why the tests mattered because they didn’t see a reason to take them or try to do well.

“Maybe you can tie it to performance next year,” she said, “so that students can’t take honors classes if they don’t take the PARCC tests.”

Durango and Ignacio took advantage of the early testing window to administer the PARCC tests before spring break, which began Saturday. The Ignacio district’s director of curriculum could not be reached Friday afternoon to find out what their opt-out rate was. The Bayfield School District isn’t administering the PARCC tests until the second week in April and will have a better idea of its opt-out rate at that time, Superintendent Troy Zabel said.

“I think overall engagement with the tests has been high by students,” Bloomquist said. “It’s not paper or pencils, it’s on computers, and that’s what they’re more used to these days.”