Schools in the Moffat County District are considered average compared to Colorado schools according to the recently released 2002-03 state accountability reports.
The tests, which were released to the public last week, score individual schools' improvement with measurements of significant improvement, improvement, stable, decline or significant decline.
Maybell Elementary School and Ridgeview Elementary School are the district's only two schools that charted a dip in improvement.
Maybell was rated with a "decline" in improvement, although the school's overall academic performance was rated the highest available mark of "excellent" this year and last year.
On a similar note, Ridgeview received a "significant decline" in improvement though the school's overall academic rating received one of the district's only "high" ratings in the 2001-02 school year.
Accountability tests are measured according to the results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program or CSAP tests that students usually take in the spring.
While a majority of Moffat County Schools ranked "average" showing "stable" improvement, Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan said one district-wide goal is to earn more "high" and "excellent" scores.
But Sheridan added the accountability scores are just one way the district measures each school's effectiveness.
We're paying attention to results, but we're not going to get too excited if the scores sound too good or bad," he said.
"What we don't want is average and that's what we have for the most part 'average' and 'stable' growth. I think we have a lot of goals that will take us to the high level."
Behind the Scores
This year's decrease in improvement was a surprise for Ridgeview Elementary School.
Last year, the school increased to a "high" from an "average" rating in the 2000-2001 school year in third and fourth grade reading and writing tests. According to state figures, 100 students were enrolled last year in those two grades at the school. This year's results brought a surprise
None of Moffat County Elementary Schools are tested for math skills.
"A significant decrease sounds like things falling apart but anyone in statistics will tell you not to place too much weight on that," Sheridan said.
Indeed, 75 percent of Ridgeview third and fourth grade students who took the CSAP tests last year earned "proficient and advanced" scores -- which is seven percent above the state average. And in the previous year, 80 percent of third and fourth grade students secured top scores in reading.
However, writing proficiency levels this year didn't match the same highs of reading levels, yet they also didn't fall below the scores of a couple years ago.
Last year, 46 percent of third and fourth grade students were rated proficient and advanced in writing -- which marks an 11 percent dip from the prior year, but is constant with 2001 figures.
But some discrepancies may be explained through the very nature of the testing process. The outcome of one test on a rotating student body with varying levels of academic development is bound to cause fluctuations, said parent Vicki Wade.
"I don't really think the tests are fair to the schools," said Wade, a parent with children enrolled in three district schools. "I think it's a good idea to evaluate students' skills, but every child is on a different level. "
State accountability results from the Maybell Elementary School are also difficult to decipher. Last year the school's third and fourth grade classes consisted of a total of five students--not enough data for the state to chart reading and writing proficiency levels for the school. Still the Maybell school earned excellent ratings for two years in a row, the only district school to garner that distinction.
"With the smaller schools these kinds of results can really fluctuate," said Maybell's Head Teacher Ken Olinger. "These are high stakes exams and they're basing performance on one piece of evidence. That's the only thing that's considered when they're doing those reports."
Learning from the Results
According to Sunset Elementary Principal Jim Rugh, the yearly CSAP tests that have been required in Colorado since 1997 are good tests.
"I couldn't find anything in there that I wouldn't want kids to know," he said.
But Rugh questioned the validity of the tests, which compares students of varying socioeconomic circles and other varying backgrounds with various levels of mental development. Roughly 151 district students speak a first language other than English and about 13 percent or 340 students are enrolled in district special education classes.
These numbers may be higher than the other public school districts, Rugh said.
"There are many students rated in accountability reports. The formulas that are used are very complex," he said. "(Sunset) showed improvement last year, so I'm surprised we didn't earn a high rating."
Reading and writing scores at the school this year are well above state and district averages, yet Sunset received an "average" rating with "stable" improvement.
School board member Jo Ann Baxter said the accountability tests are like "comparing apples to oranges." Baxter is part of a three-member team that accredited Craig Intermediate School, a district-required process for each of its' schools.
The results from the school review report Baxter helped complete didn't match with the state's school accountability reports, she said.
Craig Intermediate School, which the state lists as Craig Junior High School, is rated with an "average" overall academic performance and "stable" improvement.
Baxter believes an education should be rated on how well students know a variety of subjects not solely reading, writing and math, the basics tested by the CSAP.
"I try not to take the tests too seriously," she said. "I'd love to see all our children above average, but I don't want that to be at the expense of other subjects."
But district officials plan to use the accountability reports as a tool to gauge progress well into the future. It may be too soon to locate educational trends with limited data from the three-year-old accountability reports, Sheridan said.
"Here's where labels come in. It's real good stuff but it's not good when you're only comparing one year. It's going to be another couple of years until we start making statements," he said. "You have to look at growth over the years and that's the same way we're looking at this."
After the district noted a trend in low math scores, it created a math specialist position.
Tenth grade math scores are 11 percent lower than the state average, according to last year's CSAP scores. Math scores in other grade levels fall below the state level -- a point that district officials want to bring up to match higher levels that students are experiencing in other areas.
"We do want to take our schools to the high level," Sheridan said. "We have a heads up about the accountability reports and don't want to make light of it but we also want to look at the reports over time."
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.