Summit High School teachers tried something new with standardized test results this year. They did a scavenger hunt through the school, using cell phones and tablets to scan strategically placed QR codes that helped them break down the data.
A code outside an English classroom, for example, might show them 10th grade reading scores, and a code on one of the bathroom doors gave them results separated by gender.
The Colorado Department of Education released data from the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP), the state-mandated test that measures students’ knowledge in reading, writing and math, to school staff last Thursday, Aug. 14.
Across Summit School District, students outperformed state averages, and the district is at a five-year high in third-, fourth- and fifth-grade reading and third- and fourth-grade writing.
Results from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), which tests fifth- and eighth-graders in science and fourth- and seventh-graders in social studies, will be available later this fall.
District Superintendent Heidi Pace said the biggest success of the TCAP results is the district’s high overall academic growth.
District spokeswoman Julie McCluskie said that growth, measured by tracking students’ achievement from year to year, is often a better indicator of student success than achievement measured solely by students’ scores.
“We were really pleased with the academic growth we saw in reading and writing and English language proficiency,” she said.
That overall growth was a driving factor in the district’s new performance rating as “accredited with distinction,” the highest rating available.
“This distinction thing is a huge deal,” McCluskie said, because last year fewer than 20 of the state’s roughly 170 districts were rated at that highest level.
District ratings are based on performance in four categories: academic achievement, academic growth, growth gaps and postsecondary and workforce readiness.
Last year the district was scored 73.7 out of 100 points and was rated as “accredited.” The rating has improved each year, and this year the district gained in all four categories, with the biggest gain in academic growth, pushing the district to 81.5 out of 100.
“It’s a huge jump in terms of our performance,” she said. “We’re thrilled to death.”
Pace attributed the district’s success to the community’s support of education and the hard work of teachers.
“It’s what the teachers are doing with every kid every day in the classroom that’s really making a difference,” she said.
School board member J Kent McHose recognized the dedication of everyone who works for the school district and said the district will keep working to improve.
“Our district is not striving to reach an academic summit; we are striving to raise the bar every year. Next year will be even better,” he said.
Administrators are especially proud of the higher-than-ever 10th-grade reading score and the two years in a row of higher scores for every test subject and every grade at Dillon Valley Elementary.
Pace said the district still has areas where it is trying to improve, including academic growth for certain segments of the school population in elementary reading and middle school math as well as graduation rates for students eligible for free and reduced lunch and English language learners.
At Summit Middle School, reading specialist Robyn Cornwell said while students have improved in reading and math, writing remains an area of concern. The district is trying to make writing instruction more consistent across the elementary schools, she said, so kids are more on the same page when they arrive at the middle school.
“We are working extremely hard to address the constantly changing standards and assessments” with a diverse student population, she said. “There’s always room for improvement, but I think we’re on the right path.”
Teachers and administrators repeatedly emphasized that while they are heavily invested in analyzing and tracking TCAP data, the test is just one part of a larger picture.
“We could look at mountains and mountains of data,” said Jeff Johnson, principal of Silverthorne Elementary, and everything seems to come down to a number. “We’re not numbers. We’re people.”
In general, the school’s staff looks at the results together, analyzes trends and tries to figure out where and how to change. Then teachers can drill down to individual student scores and break those down by exactly which state standards, like citing sources on the writing test, students might need more help with.
From the PE teacher using games to help students with math to the fifth-grade teacher giving other teachers advice, he said, “everybody has ownership,” Johnson said. “The fourth-grade scores aren’t just fourth-grade scores. They’re school scores.”
Fourth-grade teacher Kristi Hart said when results are released the first thing she wants to see is how her last class did. Then before the first day of school, she looks over the general results of her incoming class without the attached names.
She then forgets about the scores for a couple of weeks while getting to know her new students and digs deeper into the data later in the year.
“You don’t want kids to come in with a number,” said Karleigh Schurr, Hart’s fellow fourth-grade teacher at Silverthorne, adding that what teachers see in the classroom every day is the true indication of what the kids know.
The TCAP replaced the previous test, the Colorado Student Assessment Program, for the last three years while the state transitioned to new standards. This spring, students will take a new test called Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC.
Most Summit educators are looking forward to a test that better aligns with new standards the district has already adopted, though a test that’s different and no longer taken on paper causes some anxiety.
“We’ve been doing this test for years, so to get something new that’s going to be on the computer and digital, certainly that’s a challenge,” said Doug Blake, a 10th-grade English teacher and the coordinator for the IB Middle Years. However, he predicts positive results and said, “I don’t anticipate anything but growth.”
Johnson said while the TCAP seems more focused on the “what,” or factual recollection, the PARCC is more focused on the “why,” or students’ thinking processes. That’s a sign, he said, that the standardized tests are not only starting to catch up with what teachers are doing but also have recognized a long-term shift in education from giving information to guiding learning.
“It’s a huge jump in terms of our performance. We’re thrilled to death.”