The Mancos School District received the second-highest accreditation rating possible from the Colorado Department of Education for its 2012-2013 school year.
"Because we are small, we can keep track of an individual, and our teachers know where everyone of their students is at," said Brian Hanson, district superintendent and high school principal.
There are 395 students in the district this year.
The scores, released in December, are based on Transitional Colorado Assessment Program scores, ACT scores, the improvement of scores and graduation rates.
The district received an "exceeds" rating for postsecondary and workforce readiness and met the state expectations for overall academic achievement.
Postsecondary and workforce readiness is measured by graduation rates and ACT scores.
The district struggled with academic growth, writing and math at some grade levels.
"We've got to address writing. We've been talking about that for the last 15 years," said Hanson.
Hanson said middle school and high school language arts teachers were recently sent to a six-day training course on writing curriculum to address the problem.
The elementary school met state expectations for overall academic achievement, but students did not meet state standards for academic growth in writing.
Academic growth is measured by comparing local students with students across the state who received the same scores last year to see whether they kept pace with their academic peers.
Elementary school principal Mike Lister said that he planned to meet with teachers and make the writing curriculum more consistent across grade levels because several different approaches are currently being used.
Lister started at the school four months ago to provide more administrative support to the elementary school. Previously, one principal had been overseeing all three schools.
"Teachers are asked to do a lot. Schools need to provide the support so that they can get that done," Lister said.
The district only has one target demographic of students that need extra help, identified as those who receive free and reduced lunch. The state scores these students separately as an academic growth gap. Many districts have four other growth gaps to target including English learners, minority students, students with disabilities, and students needing to catch up.
The district most have 20 students in a category for the state analyze it.
Mancos elementary and middle school students receiving free and reduced lunch fell short of the state's expectations in almost every category.
Hanson said at the December school board meeting teachers were told who those students are so they can receive more attention.
Next year, the state will be administering a new test called the Colorado Measures of Academic Success. The new test is based on Common Core Standards, which have been adopted by 45 other states. The standards as a whole are meant to be more rigorous, and new subjects are being added.
Students in fourth, seventh and 12th grades will be tested in social studies, and students in fifth, eighth and 12th grades will be tested in science.
"I think we are going to see a slight dip in achievement, which is OK, and to be expected," Hanson said.
The TCAP was meant to prepare students for this transition, and the state plans to measure schools on academic growth even though the tests will be different, said Dan Jorgensen, who works as a data consulted for the department of education.
In addition to new tests the state is also introducing teacher evaluations that will start counting toward teacher tenure next year. If teachers do not meet the new standards after two years they will be placed on probation.
Teachers evaluations will be split 50-50 between professional practice and student achievement.
In Mancos, the student acheivement portion of teacher evaluations will be broken into two categories. Collective state standardized scores will count for 15 percent, and tests that the teachers administer throughout the year will count to 35 percent, Hanson said.
As part of the new system, the district introduced peer-to-peer coaching that will not count toward the evaluations, but will help teachers learn from each other.
"It's support that you can't really buy," said Jim Parr who is working to develop the program.
Teachers in Mancos are working with their peers in Dove Creek, Rico and Cortez to share ideas and improve.
A FINAL NOTE
Standardized tests can't be looked at in isolation; they need to be one of multiple measures of student and school achievement, said Donna Snyder, of ASCD, formerly called the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Curriculum should be looked at in addition to school climate. The climate should provide a safe, engaging and supportive environment focused on creating well-rounded students in addition to test scores, she said.