"Accreditation with Distinction" has a nice ring to it. In the 2010-2011 school year, the Dolores school district earned that high mark under the testing standards of the Colorado Department of Education.
Now the school is aiming for it again, and this spring is the best opportunity, said superintendent Scott Cooper.
"It is really our last chance for a while because we will be going to a new testing standard in spring 2015 where there will be a learning curve," Cooper explained. "When we switch from TCAP to CMAS, all schools are expected to take a dip in testing performance as we adjust to the new format."
In the 2012-2013 school year, during the round of TCAP testing, Dolores achieved "accreditation" status, meaning that overall, the students performed well when compared with other schools, and on average earned acceptable marks in all the disciplines.
So where is the gap between 2010-11 school year and the 2012-2013 school year?
First, it is the category. "Accreditation" is achieving 64-80 points out of 100 performance points. "Accreditation with distinction" is measured at 80 points or above.
Schools with accrued points below 64 out of 100 are "accredited" but must put in place "improvement plans"; below 52 out of 100, they are required to implement "priority improvement plans"; and for struggling schools below 42 points out of 100, a "turnaround plan" is required to detail recovery strategies.
In the 2010-2011 school year Dolores schools earned an accreditation score of 83.6 percent out of 100. The four categories were "academic achievement" (11.3/15), "academic growth" (29.2/35), "academic growth gaps" (11/15), "post-secondary workforce readiness" (32.1/35).
The school met all the standards, and exceeded the standards for "post secondary workforce readiness."
The 2012-13 school year saw a drop in all categories, but the school performed at the "accreditation" level, scoring 67.1 percent. "Academic achievement" dropped to 10.9/15, "academic growth" to 21.4/35, "academic growth gaps" to 7.9/15, and "post secondary workforce readiness" to 26.9/35.
The school met CDE percentile expectations for "academic achievement" (72.9 percent) and for "post secondary workforce readiness" (76.9 percent). They are in the "approaching" CDE percentile expectations category for "academic growth gaps" (52.4 percent) and for "academic growth" (61.1 percent) although the latter missed the "meets" CDE expectations of 62.5 percent by not much.
"We did well in some categories and need work in others," Cooper said. "We have implemented our own improvement strategies targeting specific areas that were not where we want them to be."
Areas that need improvement are reading and math in the elementary, especially for students eligible for a free and reduced lunch. In the middle school, improvement is needed in reading and math for the academic growth category.
At the high school level, scores need improvement for students needing to catch up in reading and writing. Student performance on ACT college entrance exams also need more attention. Science scores for the high school exceeded state expectations.
Dolores and other rural schools are hopeful that a bill by state Rep. James Wilson, (District 60-Salida) will give them some relief from state education initiatives seen by some as cumbersome.
The "Flexibility Act" that Wilson plans to introduce next session will offer exemptions to certain state-education initiatives if the school is performing at an appropriate level.
"Rural schools who are doing well would like to see some relief from filling out needless reports when they could be in the classroom," Wilson said in an interview. "We're still working out what exactly could be left out for schools that meet the requirements."
The bill is scheduled for later in the year, Wilson said.
The idea of the flexibility act came out of the Colorado Rural Education Caucus, which represents 170 schools.
Wilson, who was the superintendent of the Mancos school district until 2007, is familiar with the challenge of unfunded mandates from the state Capitol coming to rural schools.
"I've looked at this in my professional career, and it comes down to filing out page after page of reports of how are they doing when they are doing well. The problem has really compounded with Senate Bill 191 and the (Colorado) READ Act. That is what is motivating it - we're saying if they are doing well, then back off."
Cooper pointed out that bigger school districts have curriculum staff and assistants whose job is to keep up with the ever-growing state initiatives.
"That is something we don't have. So it really does take teachers out of the classroom to fill out state-mandated reports," Cooper said. "It is scary and worrisome because it takes time away from students who need extra instruction."