Craig Mayor Don Jones said he followed his own advice when he helped coordinate a Craig City Council visit to the Moffat County School Board retreat.
“I’ve had a lot of community members ask me, ‘Why are our test scores low? What are we doing about it?’ I say, ‘Well, you’re asking the wrong people,’” Jones said. “‘You need to ask your school board.’”
The school board hosted a six-hour retreat Friday.
Topics included a forum to discuss the district’s strengths and weaknesses, a report from the Swim Pool Task Force, a discussion on the implications of Senate Bill 191 and budget projections for the 2011–12 school year.
However, the city council was there for a presentation on school scores and the school district’s plans to improve.
Assistant superintendent Christine Villard began her presentation with an overview of www.schoolview.org, a website maintained by the Colorado Department of Education.
The website published its 2010 Performance Framework Reports late last year. The Department of Education reported that many of the district’s schools need improvement.
As such, the schools are required to file varying degrees of unified improvement plans.
East Elementary School is required to submit a performance plan; Craig Middle School and Moffat County High School must submit improvement plans; and Ridgeview, Sunset and Sandrock elementary schools must submit priority improvement plans.
The school district as a whole must also submit an improvement plan.
Retreat attendees were given a copy of the school district’s plan — a 45-page document containing statistics, tables, and written narratives.
Villard said the improvement plans are compiled in three steps.
First, administrators gather data from Schoolview and other sources.
Second, administrators analyze trends in the data and identify priority needs.
Third, administrators and teachers collaborate to determine the root causes of those trends.
From there, the information can be added to a table within the improvement plan.
“Then we put all this into a story — a data narrative,” Villard said.
Villard said all of the improvement plans from the district would be submitted to the state over the next few months, and they would eventually be published on Schoolview for public viewing.
Villard said the process is worthwhile.
“Looking at data shifts us from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning,” Villard said. “It keeps us from teaching in isolation, to teaching as a collaborative practice. It focuses us from accountability to responsibility, from being a culture of blame to a culture of inquiry.”
Villard said one of the steps the schools will take toward improvement will be to add more testing than the once-per-year Colorado State Assessment Program.
“But, we know we have to do something in the middle, and that’s called benchmarking, or progress monitoring,” Villard said. “It’s just like losing weight. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you don’t get on the scale once a year. You have to get on the scale frequently, periodically, consistently, to see if you are meeting your targets.”
City councilor Jennifer Riley questioned Villard’s position.
“Is there ever a point where there’s just too much testing?” Riley asked. “You don’t get on the scale once a year, but you don’t get on the scale every day, either.”
Villard defended the increased testing.
“Well, there’s a difference between summative assessments and formative assessments,” she said.
Summative assessments provide data to the Department of Education, but formative assessments provide diagnostic information to teachers.
“They’re smaller, they have more specific targets,” Villard said of the formative assessments. “You try an instructional approach or intervention, and then you test to see if that worked.
“If that didn’t work, you change the intervention and you test again.”
Craig City Manager Jim Ferree asked how the schools’ curriculum was determined.
Villard said the state’s handling of the curriculum has changed over the years.
“The old standards were grade-level benchmarks,” Villard said of the state’s position. “So, they’d say all (kindergarten) through fourth graders had to learn this. So, school districts took that and parceled it out between kindergarten, first, second, third and fourth.
“You can see how that would result in a lot of variability and inconsistency.
“Now, with the new standards, they’ve changed that focus. The state of Colorado called in experts and they said all kindergartners must know this, all first graders must know this, and so on.
“So, there’s much more consistency in what is being taught.”
Councilor Ray Beck wanted to know why the state standards for achievement and growth appeared so low.
“I’m looking at some of your math expectations,” Beck said. “They’re at 53, 54 percent.”
Sandrock Elementary Principal Kamisha Siminoe replied.
“There’s losers in this game, and there always will be,” she said. “In order to be at that 50th percentile, there always has to be a group that falls below that. So even though, let’s say, in a wonderful, perfect world, every school makes growth, there’s still going to be … losers.”
Villard drew a bell curve on a nearby whiteboard to explain. She drew a dot at the center of the curve.
“The best thing that can happen is the state of Colorado is one big black dot in the middle, and everybody is performing equally in all those quadrants,” she said. “But, there will always be winners or losers.”
City councilor Terry Carwile said he appreciated Villard’s presentation. He said he had a better understanding of the complexities involved in school scores.
“Statistics, for a lot of folks, are prone to generate a dichotomy — an either or situation,” he said. “We had succeeded, or we had failed.
“And, it’s much more complicated than that.”
He also praised the improvement plans.
“They look to me like a way to move to a more expanded view than black and white, success or failure,” he said.
Jones said he also had a better appreciation for the work of teachers and administrators.
“The general public does not know what you’re going through,” he said.
Jones also questioned the wisdom of the legislation that created the work.
“Teachers are overworked and underpaid,” Jones said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. And now you have to focus more on stats than you do on reading, writing and arithmetic, and that’s not fair to the kids.
“There’s not enough hours in the day.”
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