Summit School District addresses math, growth rates in annual improvement plans
November 20, 2016
The standardized tests have been taken, the data collected and the analysis completed. Now it's time to get to work.
At its board meeting this past Thursday, the Summit School District held its annual review of state-mandated improvement plans for the area's six elementary schools, middle school and Summit and Snowy Peaks high schools. After months of examination and strategic planning, the rollout and implementation at each school is ready to go.
"We've been talking about the plans with district leadership and what we're really happy about today is how really student focused all of the work is," said superintendent Kerry Buhler. "That is typically the focus, but to have it come through also in writing I think is sometimes difficult … and also knowing that that's the intent to the whole process."
The yearly, data-driven exercise is required by the Colorado Department of Education, but also helps schools to assess students and teachers to identify deficiencies in both skills and instruction. By taking an in-depth look at those Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) exam scores, as well as the educational techniques or lesson plans that led to the outcomes — and subsequently recorded with the state — adjustments are made. And those tactics that are working are shared among schools to spread the wealth.
Once the Summit School District acquired its district- and individual school-level results earlier this fall, administrative leadership went about meeting with schools individually to probe and discuss what the data showed. Across the board, as discussed at Thursday's meeting, almost every school in the district could improve with mathematics.
"That's when the math really came out," said Bethany Massey, district director of assessment and technology. "So we talked about that expectations of the PARCC assessment for students to do extensive justification of their answers. And we started to talk about what are other districts doing, and started calling around."
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'A' for Arithmetic
That led to the district-wide step of deploying a math improvement action plan by adding a supplemental instruction platform to the curriculum at the elementary level to increase rigor and ensure teachers are also touching on content geared to PARCC demands. The state is entering its third year administering the PARCC, but Summit schools are responsible for certifying that teachers are familiar with and applying the program to boost student mastery.
The district's use of Common Core-centric program Everyday Math continues, because it aligns to the standards and provides a solid instructional foundation. But now EngageNY, a resource created by the New York State Education Department, helps students to take these skills to a higher, day-to-day degree of learning. Theoretically it should lead to better scores this year, too.
"If you think about how those can fit nicely together," said Massey, "you've got Common Core doing that 'How do we teach division?' And now we've got EngageNY taking it to the next level — 'Now that they know how to divide, now what do they do?'"
Other areas of general district attention, from elementary through high school, are building appropriate test-taking stamina by having teachers mimic actual conditions of the computer-based PARCC rather than working toward its completion piecemeal. Previously tackling it one question at a time each day, Summit students have occasionally shown to be unprepared for the assessment's length, and sometimes lacking in keyboarding skills for the timed exam. Both can be notable hindrances for hitting peak scores.
Staying the Course
Over the next few years, the district also hopes to continue addressing growth rates for those on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and students who possess other learning disabilities. Although attaining high levels of achievement in certain categories can be difficult for these students — and those of other subgroups such as the free and reduced lunch and English as a second language populations — seeing consistent strides remains a top priority.
"We do want to see them make good growth gains, no matter where they are," said Massey. "(We want to) make sure that we're servicing everybody in the best way possible."
New this year is a state requirement that reading data also be included on the elementary school plans, no matter how the school is performing. That directive is an extension of the READ Act passed by the state's General Assembly in 2012, to improve literacy with a focus on Colorado's kindergarten through third grade students. As a result, the district will continue efforts by emphasizing vocabulary strategies, which studies have shown to benefit all students, especially those who are non- or limited English proficient.
Ultimately, the district's approach is one of steady and measured advancement, not of overnight miracles. Administrators at Thursday's meeting from across the county echoed goals of significant improvement being a three-to-five-year process.
"This is definitely not a quick fix," said Kendra Carpenter, principal of Dillon Valley Elementary. "This isn't a one-year, 'Wow, snap of your fingers, our PARCC scores are great' thing. But hopefully we're on the right track."
The intent of the proactive educational modifications throughout the district, however, is to not just meet state necessities, but also to take more of the guessing out of the overall process. In other words, proper instruction should lead to above-average test scores.
"I think that's what everybody is always searching for besides that feeling and intuition about how kids are doing," said Buhler. "Obviously every day when teachers are working with kids, they have a sense of how they're doing, but when they really have to perform, what does that look like, and how do we know before we get there? The tests and the scores shouldn't be a surprise."