Test scores below state average

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 9:00 PM

In a new state assessment test, Dolores elementary students scored below the state-wide average in math and language arts.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) measures student academic performance as part of the Common Core initiative.

Common Core principals were formed by higher education professional and state governors because of a concern that high school graduates were not prepared enough for college or careers.

In March 2015, Dolores students in grades three through six were tested for English language arts and math. The first PARCC test results were released in December.

In math, 22 percent of Dolores third-grade students met or exceeded expectations, compared with 37 percent who met that mark statewide. Of students in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, 13 percent met or exceeded expectations in math. Statewide, 30 percent of fourth- and fifth-graders met or exceeded expectations for math, as did 32 percent of sixth-graders.

In English language arts, 28 percent of Dolores third-graders, and 27 percent of fourth-graders, met or exceeded expectations. Statewide, 38 percent of third-grade students met that mark, as well as 42 percent of fourth-grade students.

Of fifth-grade scores in language arts, 15 percent met or exceeded expectations, compared with 40 percent statewide. Of sixth-grade scores, 22 percent met or exceeded the standard, compared with 39 percent statewide.

Gary Livick, first year elementary principal at Dolores, has implemented new programs and approaches to help boost scores for 2016.

This year in math, fifth-grade students, and parents are benefiting from the Kahn Academy online math instruction as part of a pilot program. The intensive tutorial was created by engineers in Silicon Valley with backing from the Bill Gates Foundation.

The format features assigned problem solving on a computer that the student tries to master over several days, before moving on to the next level. They system uses incentive rewards and skill tracking for instructors and parents to identify successes or areas needing more instruction.

“The kids love it,” Livick said. “There is a lot of game mechanics, badges and points, and they get to level-up as they master material. ‘Leveling up’ is a language kids understand more than a letter grade, and there’s an element of competition that is also motivating.”

The Kahn Academy allows instructors to see areas where a student is struggling, then teachers can assign a small group lesson. Accelerated students are identified as well under Kahn and move on to more rigourous assignments. Parents can also participate in the program and track their children’s progress, then address instruction as needed at home.

In language arts, Livick said students performed best on vocabulary and language, but still need improvement. Better comprehension of text is also a focus this year, as well as persuasive writing using evidence.

“More and more of these tests are moving toward informational text, versus just stories,” Livick said.

Professional development for teachers is ongoing at all schools. But Livick has added a twist, requiring that all elementary instructors sit in on a colleague’s class as least once per month, then write a report on the experience.

“Peer observation is a good way to spread best practices in the classroom,” he said. “They watch each other teach, learn what works, and then have conversations about that. It prunes out less effective classroom strategies, and replaces them with more effective ones.”

The shared experience is especially effective with so many new teachers this year.

The PARCC test is new, so there is no growth data yet, and results don’t come in for at least five months.

Principals, instructors and parents rely more on the NWEA testing, which has been tracking academic performance for individual students since they entered school. The test is given several times per year, and results come back within a week.

Participation for the PARCC test at Dolores was mostly in the mid to upper 80 percentile range, compared with statewide participation levels in the mid 90 percentile range. Students can opt out of the PARCC test with parent permission.

Check out a practice test at