Our View: Good shouldn’t be good enough

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Editorial Board, August through January 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Shannon Lukens, community representative
  • Scott Ford, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

Last week, as it does every year, the state Department of Education made a big to-do about the release of 2012 TCAP standardized test results. And, as they do every year, media outlets across the state — including this one — gave significant coverage to the highs and lows of the test scores.

Student scores in Routt County’s three public school districts also have become rather predictable. The Steamboat Springs School District continues to perform well above state averages across all subject areas and grade levels. The Soroco School District sees more of a mixed bag, performing at or above state averages in the lower grades but struggling to keep up when students hit middle school and high school. And the Hayden School District simply continues to struggle, with students there barely keeping up with their peers across the state in most subject categories and grade levels.

So if the test scores have become predictable, what does that say about the test and how districts respond to it?

Standardized tests, as school administrators are apt to point out, provide simply one snapshot in time of student achievement relative to specific standards. Marty Lamansky, the Steamboat Springs School District’s new director of curriculum, said there’s value to the tests and the data they provide but that TCAPs aren’t a be all, end all.

Lamansky said district teachers will spend much of their first few instructional days next week digging into TCAP data to identify areas for instructional focus. That seems appropriate, but it also sounds like what districts say they’ve been doing for years.

Perhaps that’s why it’s so frustrating that districts have been compiling test data but seem unable to use it to make a real difference in student achievement. Nowhere is the lack of progress seemingly more evident than in math scores on the TCAP and its predecessor, the CSAP. In Steamboat, for example, only 60 percent of ninth-graders tested proficient or advanced on the math portion of the TCAP test last year. Steamboat’s results sound a lot better when compared to the state average of 37 percent. It also makes Hayden’s ninth-grade results (28 percent) sound that much worse.

As a community, we should not be satisfied with only 6 out of 10 ninth-graders being proficient or advanced in math. Worse, the perception that our scores are “good enough,” especially when compared to the state average, could be standing directly in the path of better achievement.

Standardized test math scores, particularly for students in middle school and high school, have been much lower than reading and writing results since the origin of the CSAP. Lamansky said it points to the larger and ongoing national debate about math curriculum at the high school level and whether there should be “algebra for all, as an example, or should you allow students to go their own path — have enough math skills for whatever they’re going to do in life.” It also speaks to the specialization of math courses at the upper levels, which in turn makes it more challenging to devise standardized tests that measure standardized expectations, Lamansky says.

Whatever the reasons, we don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect our school districts to be able to show improvement throughout time, especially when armed with this data. The Steamboat Springs School District, by hiring a director of curriculum last year, has created the expectation that such improvement is possible. That’s a good thing, because if schools aren’t fixing the weaknesses the tests are designed to expose, why are we wasting our time and energy on them?

Comments

Scott Wedel 2 years, 4 months ago

Nice attempt to gloss over a truly awful situation. That adjacent school districts could have such radically different results is simply an injustice to Hayden's students. Hayden high school students are not struggling to keep up with their peers across the state. They are struggling to not being lapped by their peers.

The high school scores show the problem of setting a demanding standard because SB scoring 60% proficient for 9th when state average is 37% is so far above average and that is backed up by 63% of 10th graders being math proficient when the state average drops to 33% that we should simply applaud the school district for doing an excellent job even though it if not 100%. It would appear that for a demanding standard that SB is at least giving every kid a chance if the student is willing to work to meet it. The challenge from here is probably less the curriculum, but finding a way to get some of the otherwise disinterested students willing to work to meet the proficiency standards.

But to have neighboring Hayden score 28% for ninth graders and then only 19% for 10th graders is the sort of miserable school performance typically associated with failing inner city schools. Hayden has high school books that require more instructional days than Hayden has instructional days because, for whatever reason, Hayden School district insists upon having few instructional days than either SB or Soroco and even declined to add days despite the high school's teachers request for additional instructional days.. I think most would consider failure to be a reason to change, not to continue with the same policies.

Hayden school district should forget about doing it differently since it isn't working and should copy SSSD's curriculum and academic schedule and whatever else. And make sure teachers stick to it and that they are progressing through lessons at the same rate as SSSD Maybe if Hayden made it a community thing to not be so badly trounced by SB and even being well behind Soroco then they'd find the way to make serious improvements.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 4 months ago

Brent, So why does another editorial, four months later, after another set of unsatisfactory high school test results, lump Hayden's results with SSSD's excellent results into a general call to do ever better under an editorial titled "Good isn't Good Enough".

That is like having a swimming competition and saying "try for gold next time" after Steamboat won the bronze and Hayden struggled to get across the pool without drowning. Sure, SSSD should not be complacent and should go for gold. But Hayden shows signs of being fundamentally broken by yet again showing up unprepared and performing well below state average.

Editorial should have been written to have been titled "Good is not Good Enough and Bad is Unacceptable". Worst part about Hayden high schools is that by having comparatively so few instructional days that they are not even giving their students a fair chance to do well.

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George Fargo 2 years, 4 months ago

It would seem to me that just looking at pass/fail is not enough to determine "good enough". If all 60% had perfect scores that might be "good enough". If all 60% just barely passed then you have a big problem. I am sure that neither is the case, but my point is that the shape of the curve of grades will tell you more about where the problems may be than just the pass/fail line.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 4 months ago

George, There is granularity available within the numbers. There is "advanced" and "proficient" which are commonly merged together to count how many passed. There are also 2 categories of not passing that gives an idea on how many were close to passing.

For 10th grade math, Hayden had 23% unsatisfactory, 57% partially proficient, 20% proficient and 0 advanced. Steamboat had 16% unsatisfactory, 28% partially, 48% proficient and 8% advanced. (The data on the state's website appears to have Soroco's data in error since it doesn't match what is reported by this paper or by Soroco so I don't have an accurate source of more specific data for Soroco.)

That would suggest that Hayden is not in a hopeless situation or is failing to make an attempt to educate students. It does suggest that adding instructional days to match SB or Soroco would have a noticeable impact on their test scores. It also suggests that Hayden's students are likely to be experiencing declining results for 11th and 12th graders as well due to the lack of instruction days.


In terms of curves, it appears that SB and Hayden both have similarly shaped curves where SB's efforts put the bulk of their students past the proficient line and some past the advanced line. While Hayden's curve is shifted to put most students below the proficient line.

Maybe data guru Scott Ford should help this editorial board to go deeper into the numbers. :)

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Mary Davenport 2 years, 4 months ago

I sure wish that people that were commenting on the Hayden School situation would stop unless you have a student in the district. You have no idea the family dynamics and other life situations that relate to students and test taking abilities. Not everybody is a test taker that will score high. I work in a university setting and see that students that fail on the first or second attempt on a national licensure exam would be EXCELLENT at what they are testing for but just freeze up on the test. Does that stem from not having enough learning days or good enough instructors - NO.

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

Unfortunately, John Deere aptitude doesn't carry much weight with Yale.

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

To expound -- I refuse to believe Hayden students are inherently stupider than Steamboat or elsewhere. Mary is quite correct in that "family dynamics and other life situations" affect test-taking abilities, especially when the ranch is as or more important than school, which is exactly why both quantity and quality of education are critical factors in standardized testing.

Then again, if you already have a ranch, what are you worried about?

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jerry carlton 2 years, 4 months ago

Rhys Why would anyone want to go to Yale? We already have a surplus of crooked lawyers and politicians in this country!

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

Jerry -- My cousin got his architecture degree there. And he didn't attend school in Hayden. I tried to sell him on tractors, but he wasn't buying. Your turn.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 4 months ago

So the students that are not good at taking tests mostly live in Hayden and the kids that are good at taking tests mostly live in Steamboat?

Apparently a good enough of an excuse for the Hayden school administration, school board and parents to accept the current situation. Apparently, Hayden thinks their kids are basically hopeless at passing tests and so something like copying Steamboat's academic calendar and curriculum would be expected to make no differencel for their students.

Sure Hayden has reasons to explain why SB schools are expected to do better than Hayden. But Hayden for 9th and 10th grade math are well below state average. Worse than Craig, Meeker, and Soroco among others.

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

Scott -- That's exactly my point -- Hayden's excuses are simply a cop-out, poor rationalizations for poor performance. Their results are based on statewide averages, and the results are too statistically significant, the sampling size much too large, to write it off to coincidence -- and this even considering that of the top 1000 high schools in America, NOT ONE is on Colorado's Western Slope.

If I were a student in the Hayden system -- who wasn't in line to inherit the ranch -- I'd be damn upset that my school was cheating me out of the education that I might receive elsewhere, and shooting me in the foot for the rest of my life.

They can always pray for the casino, and a bright future dealing blackjack.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 4 months ago

Rhys, Well, the casino would not have to worry about local card counters.

Not many school districts can say that secondary school teachers came to the school board seeking more instructional days, without pay increases, and were not able to overcome the response that below average performance is not enough of a problem to consider changing anything.

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