For the fourth straight year, Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 schools did not meet state performance expectations during the 2012-2013 academic year.
According to a Colorado Department of Education report released this month, the local school district received a total accreditation score of 43.7 percent, again requiring school officials to adopt a priority improvement plan. In 2010, the district received a score of 50 percent, and the scores have steadily declined to last year's low.
Accredited with a priority improvement plan for the fourth consecutive year, the school district received less than 40 percentage points for academic achievement in the state's annual preliminary performance report. For overall academic growth, the district received 52 percentage points. Test participation, safety and finance scores, all of which met state requirements, helped keep the district above a 41 percent turnaround status.
If the district again underperforms for a fifth consecutive year, the state would place area schools in turnaround status, meaning district schools could be forced to restructure or be closed entirely.
District officials say they have identified a major root cause of continued underachievement. It simply boils down to reading.
“The majority of our kindergartners are coming in at a much lower benchmark than where they should be,” said chief academic officer Lori Haukeness. “We have to have them reading at grade level so we don't have the achievement gaps.”
Schools at the elementary level did worse in academic achievement and growth when compared with the middle and high schools. As assistant superintendent of Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 schools, Haukeness says that incoming students at the elementary level who are not proficient in reading ultimately leads to lower scores.
The inability to read at grade level then serves a domino effect, Haukeness said. Students must be able to read in order to perform other school assignments, including math and science problems, she said.
According to the 2013 Kids Count in Colorado report, at-risk children who attend high-quality preschool and full-day kindergarten are less likely to fall behind more affluent peers later in school. However, only a fraction of Colorado children – 15 percent of 3-year-olds and 35 percent of 4-year-olds – enroll in early learning programs.
“It is challenging, but it's our responsibility to get the kindergartens reading at grade level,” Haukeness said.
To help close the gap, the district employed Success for All, a proven reading intervention program at the elementary level last school year. With individual and small group assessments throughout the school year, the comprehensive classroom instruction aims to ensure all students read at grade level.
“We made a very large systemic change in our reading program,” Haukeness said. “It was a huge reform.”
With the low accreditation-performance report, the district was again ordered to complete a required priority improvement plan under Colorado's Educational Accountability Act of 2009. Based on low performance in the areas of academic achievement and growth, the unified improvement plan is expected to specifically address additional literacy and math programs.
School administrators planned to meet Friday, Dec. 27, to finalize the next unified improvement plan that outlines targets for performance outcomes and strategies the school will implement to achieve academic improvement. The report is due to state officials by Jan. 16.
The unified improvement plan serves not only to guide the district with data analysis on student performance, but also to hold leaders accountable for detailed improvements, Haukeness said.
District officials are expected to hold a public meeting to gather input from parents concerning the development of the plan next month.
The state accreditation scores are calculated using standardized test scores, ACT scores, the improvement of scores and graduation rates.
Of the state's 179 school districts, 19 were accredited with a priority improvement plan during the past academic year.
For fiscal year 2011-2012, the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 district had a $13.2 million instructional budget, spending $4,678 per pupil, according to state records.