The results from the first go-round of testing on Common Core standards have been issued, and Durango School District 9-R students consistently surpassed state averages on language arts. Math scores will be trickier to interpret.
The larger question is whether being above-average in Colorado will be enough for 9-R students to meet the higher 2021 graduation standards 9-R’s board has been setting.
What will it take to increase the learning for students who didn’t meet or only partially met the standards? Between 30 and 40 percent of students were close to hitting the mark in both subjects. What kind of additional help will bring them up to par?
Among the student population are kids studying English as a second language and students who are intellectually or developmentally disabled, who are unlikely to ever meet standards.
Those questions are part of a continuing discussion within 9-R.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers was administered in March to third- through 11th-graders. Durango School District 9-R made the decision to test students on English/language arts by grade level, but on math by course level.
“We made the decision to test the students on the classes they were actually taking,” 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said. “So if a seventh-grader was studying 10th-grade Math II, they took the Math II test. In the seventh grade last year, we had about 80 really bright students doing double-advanced math (ninth grade). If they had taken the seventh-grade test, they would have made us look really good.”
Many of the districts in the state had students take the math portion by grade level, he said, so in his example, averages may be skewed both on the seventh-grade and 10th-grade scores.
On language-arts, 9-R’s students exceeded state averages, often by significant levels. Durango and Big Picture high school students, in particular, outshone their statewide counterparts, with up to a 21 percentage-point difference.
“For the sixth-graders, we’re asking, ‘Is the bar in the classroom set as high as the bar PARCC has set?’” Snowberger said about the only cohort that came in below the state average, albeit by 1 percentage point. “Typically, the (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) does show a dip in sixth grade and ninth grade, when students are starting at a new school, but we didn’t see this with the ninth-graders in PARCC.”
The test results are limited in what they can tell the district.
“What we always want to measure is growth,” Snowberger said. “So while this sets a baseline, since it’s the first year, it doesn’t show us anything in that regard. But it will help us look at the resources, skills and strategies we’re applying.”
The results are being dialed down to the school and classroom level, he said. The district’s seven elementary schools will be seeing how their results compare with each other.
“This isn’t about this is a bad school and that is a good school,” Snowberger said. “If a third-grade classroom at Needham did particularly well at math, we’ll look at what that teacher is doing to get those results and share.”
There were gaps in performance at all levels for minorities and students who qualify for free or reduced lunches, he said, and the gap widens as they progress to middle and high school. That is a challenge for all school districts, and 9-R continues to work on methods to address that gap, such as bringing some social services into the schools.
The 2015-2016 school year PARCC test, which will take half the time, will be administered in April, closer to the end of the school year when students will have another month of learning under their belts.