First-year results of a new state assessment test for Dolores Schools have been released.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test measures student academics as part the Common Core initiative. This is the first year of the PARCC test.
Common Core principals were formed by higher education professionals and state governors because of a concern that high school graduates were not prepared enough for college or careers.
Last March, the Dolores secondary school, grades 6-12, were tested on social studies, English language arts, science and math.
In three out of four categories, the number of students who met or exceeded state standards was below the state average.
In math, 13 percent of Dolores secondary students met or exceeded expectations on the test. Statewide, an average of 27 percent of students met or exceeded expectations.
For the test in social studies, given to just seventh-graders, four percent of students showed strong and distinguished command, compared to 18 percent of students statewide who met that mark.
For English language arts, 35 percent of Dolores secondary students met or exceeded expectations. Statewide, 39 percent of students met or exceeded expectations.
Scores for the science exam, given to just eighth-graders this year, was the bright spot. Thirty-eight percent of Dolores students scored at strong and distinguished command of the topic, compared with 30 percent of students statewide who met that level.
The new state and federal testing standards are more comprehensive, said secondary school principal Jenifer Hufman, and are designed as a benchmark for students to be competitive wherever they go to college or begin careers.
School instruction is adjusting to focus more on academic writing skills in all content areas, more nonfiction reading, and more complex problem-solving in science and math.
“We’re focusing on application of skill, not just memorization,” Hufman said.
To bring up math skills, the school is combining expanded instruction with new recovery classes to capture those not quite grasping the concepts.
In addition to basic math, students can expect more story problems to solve, and additional investigation and deconstructing of problems. The improvement plan includes additional practice with math facts through project-based learning and academic writing in the subject.
Instruction approaches include assigning math concepts where students research it themselves, partner with other students, provide their own practice problems, and teach those to the rest of the class.
Recovery classes implemented last year are part of an intervention model considered key for successfully teaching math, Hufman said.
If a student is struggling, they will take a recovery class in addition to the regular math class in order to help them fill in knowledge gaps and keep up.
The plan is that those falling behind, “get a double dose,” of math instruction for their current grade level, Hufman said.
“We know from research they have to be exposed to grade-level content. Even if they might not be able to perform at that level, they still have to have exposure to it otherwise will not even recognize it when get to the state assessment.
Improvement is needed in social studies and English language arts as well.
In social studies, focus will be on more writing and better understanding of economics and historical eras, Hufman said.
For language arts, there will be more emphasis on improving vocabulary, and on reading and writing informative text.
Nonfiction reading will be boosted to 75 percent of the time. And research shows that more intense vocabulary instruction leads to improved comprehension.
“Our district-wide initiative is a writing emphasis in every classroom, not just literature class,” Hufman said. “We’re focusing on teaching students to write about what they read in math, social studies, and science, so they know what academic writing looks like in those subjects.”
Skewing the data somewhat are less than ideal participation rates for the new assement test. Parents can opt out their children from taking them.
The test participation rate at Dolores was 70 percent for grades 6-8, and between 48 percent and 56 percent for grades 9-11.
Concern for student privacy from data mining has led to parents opting their kids out of the state and federal testing. Hufman said Colorado is leading the way in legislation to protect student privacy.
She added that school data is only used to identify what areas need improving.
“It’s difficult to get reliable data if we don’t have all students participating,” Hufman said. “It is important for us to protect student privacy and only use data for the purpose intended – to drive instruction.”
It was noted that growth data for test scores is limited because this is the first year of the new testing standards. More discussion of the scores will be the topic of future school board meetings.
The state and federal testing for Spring, 2016 will be scaled back to three, 70 minute periods. Check out a practice test at www.parcc.pearson.com/practice-test