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Cortez’s Unified Improvement Plans highlight low performance, morale in schools

The Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 listened as school officials presented their improvement plan reports Oct. 18. (Zoom screenshot)
Board members express confidence as schools work on action plans

Unified Improvement Plan reports presented to the Montezuma-Cortez school board Oct. 18 showed low performance, below-average test scores, teacher shortages and a decrease in student morale.

UIP reports, which are mandatory for all school districts in Colorado, help inform districts’ efforts to boost student performance and learning by creating achievable goals based on need. They also determines the kinds of support and resources to help achieve goals.

CMAS and PSAT/SAT scores: Behind state average

According to the Colorado Board of Education and Chalkbeat, most schools in the state have reported low performance since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted class time.

Normal testing has resumed for the first time since 2019. CMAS tests are given to students in grades three through eight, PSAT in grades nine and 10, and SAT in grades 10 and 11.

CMAS tests highlighted struggles in math throughout the district. In Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1, only 13.9% of students met or exceeded expectations in math, compared with 29% statewide. Before the pandemic, in 2019, 17.3% of students met or exceeded expectations in math.

PSAT/SAT tests showed more than 50% of Montezuma-Cortez High School students in grades nine through 11 – including 63.2% of freshmen – did not meet expectations in math. Mean PSAT scores for M-CHS were 397 and 408 for freshmen and sophomores, compared with 986 statewide. In the SAT, M-CHS averaged 440, compared with 528 statewide.

Montezuma-Cortez High School: Low performance and morale

The high school’s report listed increased student engagement, learning and postsecondary readiness as major goals, along with decreasing the dropout rate. To accomplish this, the school plans more rigorous Tier 1 instruction.

Emily Moreland, Montezuma-Cortez High School

Freshmen are struggling, and more than 60% are failing in math, English and science. Improvement plans include creating support classes for those struggling students, building a team to help freshmen with the transition and splitting up harder classes.

Students increasingly reported feelings of depression. The district plans to help students identify future goals to help increase motivation.

Following is a school-by-school summary of the improvement reports presented during the Oct. 18 meeting.

Cortez Middle School: Below grade level

CMS’ report showed 80% of students tested below their grade level. Out of this number, 50% need immediate intervention in math and reading.

Andrew Pearson, Cortez Middle School

The district plans to increase independent grade-level work during class and limit lost class time from behavioral disruptions.

According to the report, the majority of CMS staff has been in the school fewer than five years, and most are young teachers who haven’t established sustained amounts of time with “rigorous grade level materials, resulting in diminished student growth and achievement.”

Mesa Elementary: Inconsistent lessons and assessments
Robert Layman, Mesa Elementary

Mesa Elementary’s goals included encouraging students to engage with grade-level material and creating consistent and targeted lesson plans and assessments.

Lesson plans in math and vocabulary are not achieving the school’s goals.

Kemper Elementary: Accredited Priority Improvement

The report for Kemper noted the school has been accredited as Priority Improvement after scoring 41 points out of 100. Schools receive points based on the improvements seen in their reports, and points are given by the State Board of Education. The points determine a school’s public accreditation rating.

The school faces a significant challenge to cover necessary material with their four-day school week. Goals presented include increasing family engagement and fostering a culture of academic growth and building student social-emotional skills.

Students in third grade at Kemper are notably struggling, with 60% performing under grade level. Part of the weakness was attributed to a lack of qualified teachers; one is a long-term substitute with no teaching experience.

Lewis Arriola/Pleasant View: Emphasis on improving attendance
Angela Sauk, Lewis Arriola and Pleasant View

Lewis Arriola and Pleasant View schools are working on improving attendance. During the 2021-2022 school year, 36% of students were absent 10 or more days; and some, nearly 48 days.

They are implementing strategies to improve math for all grade levels and encourage students to work on grade-level assignments independently in class.

Southwest Open School: Change the culture

Southwest Open School is working to create better strategies to track scores, create lesson plans and determine student college and workforce readiness, along with adding midyear testing to determine student growth and areas of improvement.

Overall, the student population is categorized as “at-risk,” without “a culture of literacy.” Staff is creating a program to remedy that.

To motivate students, SWOS is planning on adding STEM-type classes and other opportunities for vocational training.

Battle Rock Charter: High number of teacher absences

At Battle Rock Charter School, teachers were absent an average of 18.8 days during the school year, a 425% increase.

The charter is making plans to create a system to limit lost instructional time and create a program for math intervention.

Kiva Montessori: Chronically understaffed

Kiva Montessori Charter School expressed a goal of adopting new English, Montessori, STEM and PBL curriculum.

The school also is chronically understaffed. They plan to increase accountability, saying that school leaders do not ensure teachers are delivering high-quality instruction.

Board Response: Beginning to see positive results

Board members who responded to the request for comment were positive about goals and the chance for improvement schools in the district.

RE-1 Board of Education member Ed Rice said new data is showing a turnaround in attendance and testing, and member Cody Wells pointed to Superintendent Tom Burris and other faculty working diligently to improve the state of the schools.

“I think it is very easy to become dismayed by this data, and I want to be clear about what I believe here,” Wells said. “That is that we have excellent people working diligently on this, and I have a lot of faith in them. Tom has provided excellent leadership, is extremely knowledgeable, and knows how to create a lasting impact. I trust him, and he has my support.”

Superintendent Tom Burris said the district was working to ensure lesson plans are on par with state standards and teachers are collaborating to create common lesson plans. Principals are observing classroom settings and instruction to help meet standards.

"Last year was a horrible year,“ Burris said. ”We were part of the year in school and part of the time out of school, and everyone played the same game in Colorado, but we really did pretty sad because we just had all of the same issues that the rest of the state did. But what that does is give us a good platform for moving forward. I'm very confident by the work that these teachers are doing in moving us forward."

Full UIP reports for each school can be found online at https://www.cde.state.co.us/schoolview/frameworks/welcome.