Opt-outs sink school ratings

Low participation rates skew data in District 51

Palisade was rated as a performance school in 2014, the highest rating. The school did not receive a rating this year. Palisade High School Principal Dan Bollinger said he’s frustrated by not having results that can help his school. “I’m a big believer in state tests and I’m a big believer that schools need to have measures,” he said. “I was more frustrated by the lack of participation than by ratings. For the last several years, Palisade has done very well and I’m proud of what we’ve done, so for us to have parents opt out is frustrating.”



Low student participation in standardized testing last year affected the majority of School District 51 school performance ratings for 2016, with nearly 84 percent of schools labeled as low participation and 35 percent of schools receiving no rating at all because of insufficient data.

The nationwide movement to opt out of standardized tests, which peaked in Colorado in 2015, is lingering in Mesa County.

Of the 43 schools evaluated in District 51, 36 schools had low participation and 15 schools did not receive a rating, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Education last week.

Palisade High School Principal Dan Bollinger said he’s frustrated by not having results that can help his school.

“I’m a big believer in state tests and I’m a big believer that schools need to have measures,” he said. “I was more frustrated by the lack of participation than by ratings. For the last several years, Palisade has done very well and I’m proud of what we’ve done, so for us to have parents opt out is frustrating.”

Palisade was rated as a performance school in 2014, the highest rating. The school did not receive a rating this year.

School ratings are based on a variety of performance measures, mainly test scores, graduation rates and college entrance exams. Schools are given a rating based on what percent of those standards they meet.

Schools and school districts in the bottom two categories, priority improvement and turnaround, are on a five-year clock to improve scores or be subject to closure, restructuring or conversion to a charter school.

Four schools in District 51 were labeled priority improvement or turnaround in 2016, three for the first time.

Dos Rios Elementary was rated as turnaround, the lowest rating. Chatfield and Lincoln Orchard Mesa elementary schools were rated priority improvement.

Juniper Ridge Community School, a charter school, received a turnaround rating for the second year.

All four schools were given a low participation label by the state.

R-5 High School, which was a priority improvement school for two years, was rated as an improvement school, which means the school is no longer on the state’s accountability clock.

Tony Giurado, chief academic officer at District 51, said the school district is looking for new ways to measure student achievement.

“The issue of participation rates have clouded the ability of parents and communities to see how districts are performing,” he said. “We want information about how our district is performing on those common indicators so we know how we’re doing, so we can continue to grow and improve. I think this whole situation has made it very challenging to have a sense of where we are as a district and where we need to improve.”

Bollinger said he doesn’t know how the lack of a rating will impact Palisade High School, but he is going to continue to communicate with parents about the importance of standardized tests.

“I think there’s been a misperception about why we test. It’s not necessarily for the sake of the kid, but for the sake of the school,” he said. “People want accountability, and this is accountability. I hope parents trust us and when they hear why it’s important, they’ll be on the same page.”

Giurado said the district started using new assessments to evaluate student growth this year, like literacy tests for students in kindergarten through third grade, and math and reading tests for middle school students.

“We’re not waiting for the state to develop or make changes. That’s why we’re developing rubrics and implementing internal assessments,” he said.

Giurado said the schools given a priority improvement or turnaround rating will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

“Each case is unique,” he said. “We know the state increased rigor, but we also know we need to make some changes to improve the rate at which students learn in those schools. We will work with central leaders and school leaders to develop improvement plans and provide resources.”

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