Time is up for the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District on the state’s “accountability clock,” as the district has received a low accreditation rating for the sixth year in a row. District officials can appeal for a new rating, though, and administrators say they will make a strong case for a better rating.
Re-1 has been accredited at “priority improvement,” the second-lowest in the Colorado Department of Education’s five-tier rating system. According to Senate Bill 163, passed in 2009, districts and schools can spend five consecutive years at the two lowest tiers — “priority improvement” and “turnaround” — before they face consequences and intervention from the state. This countdown is referred to as the “accountability clock.”
District staffers must file for an appeal with the state Department of Education by Nov. 7. It’s the first time Re-1 has appealed, but Superintendent Lori Haukeness said she likes the chances.
“I feel very confident in our appeal to the state,” she said Tuesday.
Haukeness and Re-1 Director of School Improvement Carol Mehesy presented the accreditation ratings for the district and individual schools to the Re-1 Board of Education at a work session Tuesday. Mehesy also presented data that will be cited in the district’s appeal to the state.
Montezuma-Cortez High School was accredited at the “improvement” level last year, but regressed to “priority improvement” this year. Cortez Middle School was accredited with “performance” last year, the second-highest level, but has been rated at the lowest level, “turnaround,” this year.
Both those schools had high numbers of students who opted-out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test last year. Just 23 percent of M-CHS students took the PARCC algebra assessment during the 2015-16 school year, and only 26 percent took the English and language arts test.
Because of low participation rates at those schools, Mehesy said the district feels those PARCC results do not accurately represent the academic performance of M-CHS and CMS. The appeal will ask for a new state assessment for those schools at the “accredited with insufficient data” level, Mehesy said. If Re-1 is successful in securing that rating for those schools, the district would be off the accountability clock.
Mehesy said state data showed that M-CHS and CMS students who took the PARCC test are more likely to have academic growth and achievement gaps for a variety of reasons.
If the district’s appeal is unsuccessful, officials will have to propose a “pathways” plan for how they plan to get off the accountability clock to the state Board of Education in February. Mehesy said teachers and administrators have gotten a jump-start on that plan.
“There is lots of strong planning already in place,” she said.
Haukeness said state education officials have been working closely with the district and they are impressed with the work Re-1 is doing to plan for the future. The University of Virginia is working with district elementary schools to turn them around, and teachers have implemented 90-day academic plans. Those measures are important, and they’re getting schools on the right track, Haukeness said.
“The work we are doing in the buildings is the right work,” she said.
When SB 163 was passed seven years ago, districts across the state had far fewer students opting-out of the PARCC test, Haukeness said. Re-1 has higher opt-out rates than most districts in the state, she said.
CDE and the state board of education are doing their best to meet the requirements of the bill, but with such high opt-out rates, it is no longer the best fit, Haukeness said. There needs to be some sort of revision to the bill, she added.
Re-1 board President Jack Schuenemeyer said if the state wants PARCC to be a meaningful test with good results, all students need to take it. The current system is broken, and district staff members are spending too many work hours preparing accreditation appeals, he said.
“This clearly isn’t working,” Schuenemeyer said.