Bayfield and several other small rural school districts in Colorado will move ahead on their proposed alternative to mandated school accountability testing.
Superintendent Troy Zabel described the pilot prograam to the school board on May 12, as reported in the Times, and attended the State Board of Education meeting in Denver on May 14 to support the proposal.
"We still have some details to work through, but the state board was very supportive," he told the Times. "We'll meet with them again in June." He advised that the draft pilot plan will need some tweaking to align with state or federal law.
The state board meets again on June 10, "We are taking (the proposal) back, hopefully for their endorsement," Zabel said this week.
"The (Bayfield) board is excited about it, to have more flexibility," he said. "The nice thing about our proposal is it recognizes one size doesn't fit all."
It's called the Student Centered Accountability Project, and the 13 participating districts call themselves the Rural Innovation Alliance. Besides Bayfield, they are Mancos, Dove Creek, Steamboat Springs, S. Routt County, Buena Vista, Monte Vista, Windsor, Elizabeth, Walsenburg, Julesburg, Burlington, and Merino.
The May 14 State Board of Education meeting was the first step in the project timeline. Actual implementation will happen in phases over the next four school years. In the coming school year, according to the project narrative, the districts will work with the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) "to identify the specific assessments and adopt local indicators for the alternative accountability system."
The assessments created by the district will have to align with the Colorado Academic Standards, technical compliance expectations from the U.S. Department of Education, and the Opportunity Gap project with 12 indicators of high performing schools.
The draft proposal cites growing public opposition to mandated assessment tests, and parents opting their kids out of taking those tests. It also cites the time lag before districts get state test results.
"The current system falls far short of the legislative intent and community expectations, the draft states. "Instead of complaining or disengaging from the current system, the educators and advocates who lead the Rural Innovation Alliance are inviting state support to develop an alternative system combining statewide and local assessments into a coherent and meaningful system of acccountability."
The project narrative lists seven commitments:
.to be student-centered, based on surveys and interviews of students, parents, and teachers;
.to create valuable and meaningful assessment data that focuses on student outcomes in terms of readiness for college or career;
.to improve instruction by reducing the time teachers and administrators in small districts spend on preparing for and administering accountability tests;
.to use a body of evidence instead of scores from one test to evaluate student performance;
.to restore time for classroom instruction;
.to model collaboration among project districts, with each district creating an accountability review team and sharing what they are doing with the other districts;
.and to comply with all state and federal requirements.
The draft plan doesn't renounce Common Core standards. Under Commitment 1 to build the plan around students, it says, "Pilot districts will continue to teach to the Colorado Academic Standards, within which definitions of college and career readiness are embedded that have been derived from the Common Core, and which are in the 'anchor standards' for English Language Arts and the Mathematics Practice standards. These were intentionally designed to define 'College & Career' readiness and are the academic destinations the entire system of standards is vectored toward."
Commitment 2, local accountability, includes "a thorough consideration of demographic, resource, and other disparities that differentiate our districts."
Commitment 3 to improve instruction cites the time teachers spend on testing, and the time lag to get state test results. The draft says, "It might be arguable that the testing results are worth the resources if they provided instructional benefit, but the lag between testing and results is so long that most teachers are no longer teaching the cohort of students when they receive the scores." Test results are valuable if they are available soon enough that teachers can adjust what they are doing with individual students, the draft says.
The coming school year is expected to be about half over by the time districts get results from the PARCC tests students took back in March. Results in previous years were released in the summer. Districts and individual schools are rated based on these results.
Under Commitment 4 to use a "body of evidence" instead of results from a single annual test, the draft cites the National Education Policy Center Schools of Opportunity Project, which has 12 unifying indicators of high performing schools.
Like Commitment 3, Commitment 5 focusses on restoring classroom instruction time, and quick turnaround on getting assessment results. The draft says, "Under the current system, teachers and schools are responsible for student performance on assessments. This responsibility can be frustrating because teachers do not fully control the performance of students on those assessments. So in the Student Centered Accountability Project, the participating districts commit to shift the focus of accountability from assessment performance to instructional performance."
Commitment 6 cites the limited resources and small pool of commuity and parent volunteers in small rural districts. Creating district accountability review teams and collaborating among project districts can be a lot cheaper than each district hiring outside consultants to review their assessment systems, the draft says.