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Cortez, Mancos students could benefit from new state test

State also seeks faster results

Just three years after selecting the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, the state board of education wants a new contractor in spring 2018 who will provide less testing and faster feedback.

At their meeting Dec. 15, board members directed Colorado Department of Education staff to prepare a request for proposals for a new testing contractor for English language arts and math exams for students in grades 3 through 8, according to a news release from the board. A separate request will be issued for ninth-grade English and math exams.

The board required that contractors provide individual student-level test results to districts within 30 days of testing and that testing be limited to eight hours.

Requests will be issued in spring with a decision before July, according to the release.

Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 District Superintendent Lori Haukeness and Mancos School Superintendent Brian Hanson said they support the proposed changes. Dolores Superintendent Scott Cooper wasn’t available for comment.

Haukeness said she receives results from the test, also known as Partnership for Academic Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), three or four months after testing, after the school year has ended.

She said she supports efforts to align assessment tests across Colorado.

“We want to make sure we’re educating our students, and make sure they’re getting a good education compared with the state and the country,” she said.

Cortez students below average

Though the district has seen improvement over the past several years, Cortez students still lag state averages in English and math at almost every grade level, according to Re-1 PARCC test results released in September.

Participation on the test was low at Cortez Middle School and Montezuma-Cortez High School. Parents may opt students out of the test, which is based on Common Core standards created to prepare students for college.

Haukeness said the testing changes might help as the district encourages more parents to have their students take the test over the next few years.

“That’s going to be the goal of the district, to start educating parents and asking their support in having students taking the test,” she said.

A public meeting will take place Jan. 24 to provide information about testing to district parents and address their concerns, Haukeness said. A time and place for the meeting hasn’t been announced.

Just 33 percent of Re-1 students participated in the PARCC algebra assessment test, including a participation rate of 23.4 percent at M-CHS. The statewide participation rate was 74.5 percent among all districts. About 18.3 percent of test-takers met or exceeded expectations on the algebra test, compared with 32.4 percent statewide.

Just under 26 percent of Re-1 ninth-graders took the English and language arts assessment test, compared with 74 percent statewide. About 13 percent of Re-1 test-takers met or exceeded expectations on the English test, which is an increase of less than 1 percentage point from 2015. Statewide, 37.2 percent of ninth-graders met or exceeded expectations on the English test.

In October, Re-1 was accredited at “priority improvement,” the second-lowest in CDE’s five-tier rating system, for the sixth year in a row. The district requested a higher rating, arguing that the rating was not an accurate assessment because of a high opt-out rate. The request was denied in December, and the district decided not to appeal. However, M-CHS and CMS were redesignated at the “insufficient data” rating.

Faster test results could benefit student learning, Haukeness said.

“If we get (results) back during that academic year, we can take that information and address our students’ strengths and weaknesses before the academic year ends,” she said.

Colorado schools have been administering the ACT college preparation test to high school juniors, but the state started shifting to the SAT in 2016. As part of the shift, sophomores will take the PSAT, which will help students prepare for the SAT, Haukeness said.

Mancos schools dissatisfied with testing

Superintendent Hanson said the revision could be a boon to his district. He said the current standardized tests take too much time away from instruction, and the results take too long to get back to teachers. Mancos schools have a 95 to 96 percent opt-out rate for the PARCC test.

“When parents learned they were allowed to opt out of the test, most of them decided they didn’t need it,” Hanson said. “We have no data, and we haven’t missed it.”

The district uses other metrics, like students’ scores on the Measures of Academic Progress tests and the ACT, to measure progress. Hanson said the ACT is much simpler for teachers than any of the state’s grade school tests, since it doesn’t come with as much paperwork or as many test security procedures.

“The ACT tests college readiness and determines whether kids will be accepted into different colleges,” Hanson said. “If that can be done so seamlessly, we should be able to do that for high school and elementary students too.”

He said local districts have been asking the state board of education for more efficient testing for years, and he’s hopeful that their voices will be heard this spring.

Stephanie Alderton contributed to this article.

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