Scores drop at Dolores schools
Flap over Confederate flag partly to blame, some say
Prolonged controversy about the temporary banning of the Confederate flag last year at the Dolores campus was such a distraction it brought down reading, writing and math scores measured by the state, school officials report.
Dolores schools performed well enough to obtain accredited status, but overall performance on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program tests dropped from the previous year. However, science scores were strong, and improved compared with last year.
"Everybody kind of regressed last year. We lost our focus, and it was reflected in the scores," said Sherri Maxwell, principal for Dolores Elementary. "But now it is water under the bridge, and we have regrouped."
Math, reading, and writing skills all dropped from 2012 levels for the Dolores elementary, middle and high school grades.
For math all three schools did not meet adequate proficiency levels required by the state during the 2013 spring testing. In the high school 56 percent of the students scored proficient overall. However, the state expects the overall student scores to be at the 88 percent proficiency level. In the middle school, 45 percent of students were proficient, short of the state required 64 percent proficiency standard. In the elementary, 42 percent of the students were proficient, short of the 48 percent state standard.
Reading and writing test scores for all three schools for 2013 were in the adequate category required by the state, although the high school came up a bit short for writing.
"There was so much happening outside the school that we really lost what we are so good at: focusing on kids and their education," Maxwell said. "It is not an excuse; it was our fault."
A plan has been formulated for the district to bring scores back up. There are more frequent staff meetings to go over progress and teachers are being tasked with aligning specific goals with the district's plan.
A cadre of primary teachers are being sent to an intensive reading instruction training this year. More focus on nonfiction material is one goal. Also, a renewed focus on writing, known is education parlance as the "ultimate cognitive," is a key part of the plan, officials said.
High school and middle school Principal Brandon Thurston said extra emphasis will be put on math and writing skills this year.
"We're doing more targeted intervention for struggling students," he said. "If a student can write well, it brings them up in every other area."
Proficiency in science is a bright spot for Dolores schools, Thurston said.
High school science scores came in at 73 percent proficient and advanced, outpacing the state requirement of 51 percent for 2013. Middle school students also made improvements, jumping from 35 percent proficient and advanced in 2012 to 53 percent proficient and advanced in 2013. Fifth-grade science students scored in the 53 percentile, above the state requirement of 48 percentile. However, the scores dropped for fifth-graders compared with 2012 when they scored in the 70th percentile.
"I attribute the good scores to a great science staff and really diving into the standards of what needs to be taught," Thurston said. "We were able to pull it off in a bumpy year."
A reason for the overall dip in scores may be attributed to an increase in students. The Dolores campus is at capacity with 784 students, up from 689 students two years ago. A $6 million school expansion project is expected to ease the space crunch.
"We have had an influx of kids, and it has resulted in larger class sizes," said Dolores Schools Superintendent Scott Cooper. "The expansion, new science classrooms and labs, and all the upgrades are expected to ease that situation."
A wave of teacher retirements has had an impact at Dolores schools, but the trend has tapered off. They are replaced by enthusiastic young teachers fresh out of college who don't have a lot of experience yet, officials said.
Dolores has strong testing scores in science year to year, Cooper said. He attributes it to an excellent staff and a district focus on the topic.
The success prompted the plans for building modern science labs and classrooms on campus. The expansion project is expected to be completed by next year.
"At graduation, we get a lot of students planning to go into biology and a lot of the sciences," Maxwell said. "It carries through into good jobs."