The Colorado Department of Education released results from last year’s Transitional Colorado Assessment Program tests in August, showing that the Ignacio School District gained ground in some areas and lost it in others.
In areas of reading, writing, math and science, students are graded and ultimately grouped into one of four categories: advanced, proficient, partially proficient or unsatisfactory. The data suggest some victories for the district: The proportion of third-graders scoring proficient or advanced in science nearly doubled over last year, and eighth- and ninth-graders saw similar improvements in math.
They also indicate areas of backward motion: In sixth grade, the number of students scoring at least proficient in reading fell by nearly a third. Overall, the district still lags behind the state in most areas.
But there is reason for hope, said Kathy Pokorney, the district’s curriculum and assessment director. A focused administration, a dedicated staff, and new ways of breaking down the data to realign what’s being taught have contributed to a sense of building momentum, she said.
“There are some places to really focus that could make a huge difference,” she said. “I’m not saying that we don’t have a ways to go. I’m not saying we don’t have things to do. But I’m here every day. … I know the kids know this stuff. I know they’re not getting these points where they deserve.”
Specifically, Pokorney points to a startling trend among Ignacio students’ answers to test questions. On so-called “constructed response” items, which award up to four points depending on a student’s grasp of material, execution, and explanation, data indicate a repeated phenomenon in which upward of 70 percent of students receive at least one point for grasping the content, yet very few receive full credit.
“We had some where 98 percent of the kids got the content, and 1 percent of the kids got the other point[s],” Pokorney said, a statistic the Drum confirmed.
The solution? Pokorney said the district is heightening its emphasis on written and oral communication, pushing the students to explain their work more often.
“They’re getting the one point,” she said, “they’re just not getting the other point[s]. And they should be.”
To shed light on trends in the Ignacio School District and add context to the big-picture numbers, Pokorney shared additional district data with the Drum — including figures that illuminate how its 101 Southern Ute students in the third-through-10th grades performed relative to their peers.
Reading scores were consistent across all grades at the state level, with approximately 70 percent of students scoring proficient or better. At the local district, approximately half of students in the third-through-eighth grades managed the same. Scores were better in the ninth and 10th grades, with more than 60 percent scoring in the top two categories.
Generally, more tribal-member students scored well in the reading section than in any other. Scores among tribal-member students varied broadly from grade to grade, but were mostly lower than the district’s or the state’s.
Eighth grade saw the lowest scores, with 86 percent of tribal-member students falling in the unsatisfactory category. On the other hand, 10th-graders actually surpassed both the district and state marks with 73 percent proficient or advanced.
Among students statewide, between 50 and 60 percent of students at most grade levels scored at least proficient. At the local district level, the best results came from the ninth grade, in which 42 percent of students did so, while just 20 percent managed the feat in the fourth grade.
Tribal-member students scored lower, with ninth-graders turning in the best performance at 29 percent proficient or advanced — but, it’s worth mentioning, no ninth-grader scored unsatisfactory, compared with 2 percent district-wide and 3 percent statewide. Meanwhile, no student scored better than partially proficient in one of the higher grades.
The vast majority of tribal-member students scored in the partially proficient range in writing. In fifth grade, fully 85 percent of students did so, while 15 percent scored proficient and none scored unsatisfactory. In the 10th grade, 82 percent scored partially proficient.
Interestingly, based on a longitudinal report that tracks individual classes of students over two years, scores tended to improve among students in higher grade levels and decrease among younger ones.
Statewide, the results show math scores were highest among the youngest students — with upwards of 70 percent earning proficient or advanced — and declined in older classes, with fewer than 40 percent in the ninth and 10th grades scoring similarly. The trend largely applied to the local school district as well, with its best performance among third-graders —63 percent scored in the top two categories — and just 15 percent doing so in the 10th grade.
Among tribal-member students, fourth-graders performed best, with 41 percent scoring at least proficient. In the eighth-through-10th grades, the highest-scoring class had just 14 percent of students scoring similarly.
Again, tribal-member students most commonly scored in the partially proficient range, with half or more doing so in the third-through-sixth grades.
Based on a longitudinal look, the greatest growth seems to be happening at the higher grade levels. More students in the fourth-through-sixth grades scored lower than better over last year; by contrast, each of the older classes saw more test scores increase than drop.
Science scores were the lowest of the four sections across the state, with approximately half of all students scoring proficient or better. In Ignacio, about 40 percent of students tended to score the same at each grade level.
Among Southern Ute students, 27 percent of students in the best-scoring class managed proficient or advanced, while one class had no students do so.
But when measuring the proportion of students who scored at least partially proficient — in other words, all but those who scored unsatisfactory — tribal-member numbers in most grades were in line with the state, with approximately three-quarters of students doing so.
La Titia Taylor, director of the Southern Ute Education Department, said she is encouraged. With years of subpar test scores in its history, the Ignacio School District won’t be able to turn things around immediately. But she’s seen more positive change over the past three years than in the several decades prior, she said.
“It’s going to be more of a battle for them to get higher scores to get caught up,” she said. “They’re doing that. They’ve changed the curriculum. They’re getting new teachers.”
Taylor said she’s seen the district make several positive moves, including bringing in a consultant and a teacher coach to identify and address the roots of the problem. Building new facilities will help students take pride in their schools and grow self-esteem, she said.
With the majority of Southern Ute students scoring partially proficient in most areas and relatively few scoring unsatisfactory, the gap might not be as big as some people think.
“They’re trying to change the scores, and change the way the rest of the county thinks about Ignacio schools,” she said.
Taylor urged parents to be involved in their students’ educations and to act as “positive advocates” for change.