Our View: Making, and not making, the grade
January 22, 2013
School rating systems aren't perfect, often skewing results toward standardized test scores while overlooking the harder-to-measure things many schools and districts do to create better learning environments for their students. But when taken in aggregate, those rating systems often reveal trends that are difficult to ignore.
Here in Routt County, school ratings and test scores during the past several years point to some inescapable conclusions, highlighted by the recent release of Colorado public school grades from the website http://www.coloradoschoolgrades.com. The website, whose grading project is funded by 18 private organizations, calculated letter grades for every state public school using a complicated grading formula developed by the Center for Education Policy at the University of Colorado Denver.
What the grades reveal should sound familiar to Routt County residents. The Steamboat Springs School District, led by Steamboat Springs Middle School, scored well. The middle school was ranked seventh of 491 middle schools in the state and received an A+ grade. Strawberry Park Elementary School got a B+, and Steamboat Springs High School, North Routt Community Charter School, and Soda Creek Elementary School each earned B's.
Soroco High School in Oak Creek also earned a B, while Soroco Middle School and South Routt Elementary School received C's.
It didn't get any better than C's for the Hayden School District, whose middle school was rated lowest among all schools in Routt County and was pegged with a C- — placing it 406th out of 491 middle schools in Colorado.
As with any good family whose child brings home a report card that reveals plenty of room for improvement, the community's expectation should be that its school districts use grading systems such as the Department of Education's accreditation scores and http://www.coloradoschoolgrades.com's most recent grade report as barometers of their performance and as motivators for growth in achievement.
The biggest concern should be in Hayden, where students there continue to struggle to keep up with their peers from across the state, as evidenced by TCAP test scores. This Editorial Board previously has been critical of the district's inability — or is it lack of desire? — to push forward with wholesale changes to the status quo. A recent example has been the twice-rebuffed effort of a group of Hayden secondary school teachers to get the district to increase the number of classroom instructional days in the academic year. As it stands, Hayden students spent fewer days in class than is mandated by state law — and significantly fewer days than students in the Soroco and Steamboat districts spend in the classroom each year. Because Hayden extended its school day a few years ago to allow for four-day school weeks, the number of instructional hours satisfies the state requirement.
Hayden's most significant educational achievement in the past decade was the completion of the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center, which has provided wonderful real-world technical skills to a certain niche of high school students. But what about the needs of all students at all grade levels? The poor performance of Hayden schools impacts not only the students, but the entire community. Economic development there, despite the worthwhile and dedicated efforts of some town residents, will continue to be slowed by the performance of a school district that will struggle to attract new families.
The onus falls on Superintendent Mike Luppes and the Hayden School Board to take a stand on behalf of their students. It's past time for widespread systematic changes. Fortunately, the district won't have to look far for relevant examples — the South Routt and Steamboat public school systems are just a short drive away.