Southwest Open School Director Charlotte Wolf announced Wednesday that SWOS is off the accreditation accountability clock after an overall improvement in state criteria for Alternative Education Campuses.
The school increased its score by about 8 percentage points, up from 42.81 percent in 2016 to 50.61 percent in 2017. SWOS spent one year “on the clock” after a dip in test scores last year.
SWOS is designated as an Alternative Education Campus, and takes different tests than other Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 schools.
“Because of AEC, we are allowed optional measures so we can report different tests, and they usually end up in the Northwestern Education Association testing to look into math and reading and language use, which is more like comprehension and writing, while all the other regular schools cannot do that,” Wolf said. “They have to use the state measures like the PARCC and CMAS,” she said.
SWOS test scores did not meet NWEA expectations in language usage and math but approached expectations in reading.
The school is rated in four areas: academic achievement, academic growth, student engagement and postsecondary and workforce readiness. In each of the four areas, performance is rated on four levels, from highest to lowest: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, approaching expectations and does not meet expectations.
Wolf said the school took a strategic approach to raise its test scores. SWOS’ biggest improvement was in academic growth, where it improved to “meets expectations” from a 2016 rating of “approaching expectation.”
“Our student growth is phenomenal,” Wolf said.
SWOS hopes to improve its score for postsecondary and workforce readiness, which was the only category in which the school did not meet or approach expectations.
“This is our first year (with AEC), and it is very strategic around getting kids into trades to have partnerships, apprenticeships or job shadows,” Wolf said. “We prepare kids through career math and consumer math and also let them work while they are here in school, so when they graduate they already know how to work.”
AEC also encourages students to participate in concurrent enrollment classes that allow them to earn college credit.
Wolf told the story of a student who chose to work at the Children’s Kiva Preschool while attending SWOS. After the apprenticeship, the student decided against an education career, and focused on automotive work.
“If you don’t know that ... you go out after school and start a program that costs you money, and this is much easier to pull back from than that,” Wolf said. “We want to increase concurrent enrollment, and we also want to increase students that can go into trades and work with someone out there.”
Wolf also wants to see more graduates attend college, noting that six graduates from the class of 2017 enrolled in postsecondary education.
“We want to be more strategic, maybe getting the kids out there to take a college tour, letting them see what is out there,” she said.
SWOS is also focused on continuing to improve student engagement – such as attendance and tardiness – which scored at “approaching expectations.”
Wolf plans to implement a peer program to encourage student attendance.
“Research says that if you use mindful peered coaching, peered tutoring is very successful instead of the adults always yapping at the kids,” she said.
As for the overall improvement, Wolf attributed SWOS’ success to more open interaction with students about testing and their own test scores.
“I think it is important to prepare the students for the test,” Wolf said. “That doesn’t mean to teach to the test, but there is research that if the kids know what type of questions that are being asked, if they have seen the way the questions are phrased, it helps them already achieve better.”
Teachers and administrators showed students their scores and asked them how they want to improve and grow and were given incentives to reach those goals.
“This is important because it shows the student that testing is good, and we say, ‘Let’s all do this together,’” Wolf said. “Improving the test climate was important.”