Durango School District 9-R’s state test scores were a mix of strong academic growth and some points of concern, particularly among middle school students.
“We had points to celebrate. We had points that were a little disappointing,” said Superintendent Dan Snowberger.
The Colorado Measures of Academic Success tests showed that half of 9-R’s third through eighth grade students, or 47.2%, are performing at grade level or above in English and a third of those students, about 29.9%, are performing at grade level or above in math.
The district’s scores are in line with overall state scores, which showed about 45.8% of all students are performing at grade level or above in English and 34.7% are meeting or exceeding standards in math.
In three years, the district would like to see every child in the district performing at grade level, Snowberger said. Some students do not perform well on state tests and in those cases, he would like to see those students doing well on other school-level tests given throughout the year.
“We want to make sure we don’t put all our eggs in only this one basket,” he said.
However, the district would still like to see stronger academic growth among Miller and Escalante middle schools’ students, he said.
State growth scores track the same students over time and demonstrate how students’ understanding of subjects is improving.
Math and English growth scores declined across all grade levels at Miller Middle School, and improved, but did not reach the state average, at Escalante Middle School, according to state data.
Teachers and principals plan to examine test scores at the middle schools to determine how to improve scores, Snowberger said.
Middle school students may not be taking state tests as seriously as their elementary and high school peers, and that could be contributing to the low growth, Snowberger said. The district has also seen participation in state testing decline, which might be a factor in lower performance.
“I think we have really high-quality middle schools. ... We don’t believe the performance is indicative of what our kids are able to do,” he said.
Miller Principal Jenny McKenna said she plans to educate students and parents about state testing because students receive mixed messages about the importance and validity of state assessments.
“The more we know about what students know, the more we can tailor our support to help them grow in specific skill areas,” McKenna said, in an email to The Durango Herald.
All district schools, including Miller and Escalante, have one-time funding this year to purchase new supplementary curriculum to improve achievement, Snowberger said.
The district is also requiring students in kindergarten through 10th grade to take i-Ready tests at the beginning, middle and end of the year to give teachers immediate feedback on the skills students haven’t mastered, he said.
The district also plans to have teachers work on grading their students in a standardized and unbiased way to help improve achievement, Snowberger said.
Sometimes, teachers can grade students on the effort they are showing in the classroom, rather than the quality of their work, he said.
“It’s hard not to have that bias,” he said.
So the district will require teachers across the district to participate in blind grading exercises to help eliminate bias, he said.
He also expects teachers at schools with low growth to be learning from teachers at higher performing schools.
Some of the district’s high growth schools are Animas Valley, Riverview and Park elementary schools, data show.
“We want to begin opening up that conversation, so we are not in silos anymore,” he said.
Among Durango’s charter schools, Mountain Middle School, an independent school that serves fourth through eighth graders, stood out in the data.
The school far outperformed the state average for math with about 46% of students achieving grade-level proficiency or higher, the data show. The school also saw academic growth in math far above the state average, Head of School Shane Voss said.
The school nearly doubled the length of its math classes last year and changed its math curriculum to include a more real-world applications, he said. Elementary students spend 80 minutes in math class most days and middle school students spend 70 to 65 minutes in math class most days, he said.
The students are placed in math classes according to their ability rather than their grade level to help keep them engaged, he said.
“You don’t have kids that are bored. ... You don’t have kids that are struggling to move on,” he said.