The Ignacio School District has been ranked near the bottom of state assessments over the past decade due to test scores. But Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto said state tests do not consider Native students’ thought processes and other enriching educational factors happening inside school walls.
“I can put my kids against any other kids in the United States,” he said. “They’re bright, but they didn’t have any self-confidence.”
The schools’ rankings have fluctuated, with some turmoil caused when the district built new schools in 2014 and kids were moved around into temporary buildings. This came after the district was put on the state’s radar in 2010 for their tier-five accreditation grade, which is the lowest raking.
Since then, scores have improved. This past year, the middle school and high school both entered into the Improvement rank (tier three), up one from Priority Improvement (tier four). The elementary school is still ranked as Priority Improvement.
Fuschetto said when he was first hired, the general philosophy around the district was contentment. There were no Advanced Placement classes, which were added three years ago. He said one of his main priorities was introducing rigor to the curriculum.
Fuschetto points to other areas of measurement that represent the schools’ successes. Of the 230 high school students, around 130 are taking post-secondary classes and earning college credit. Fuschetto said he is currently working on making more connections with other colleges to offer more opportunities as well.
Last year, seven Ignacio students went to the state science fair and one student won Best in Show. Another Ignacio student won a silver medal in the national consumer science competition in 2017. Fuschetto said each year, Ignacio students go to the state spelling bee. And last year, seven of 12 Ignacio students went to state in the SkillsUSA technical education competition.
Another success Fuschetto is proud of is the fact that there is just a minor difference in test scores across the schools’ demographics.
“I credit this to my teachers and my staff because they are reaching almost every kid no matter what their ethnicity or background is,” he said.
He is not as concerned with the standardized test scores.
“To me, when it comes to that test, it is not the full picture of the different programs and different opportunities (the schools offer),” he said.
He said there is a cultural disconnect between the way Native students think and the way the state measures performance through test scores.
The state measures students by their English language arts and math abilities. Jeremy Meyer is the director of communications for the Colorado Department of Education. Meyer said Colorado Academic Standards are designed to make sure all Colorado students are prepared to succeed in college and careers. He said the Colorado Measures of Academic Success assessment is intended to reflect a mastery of skills students should be engaged in on a day-to-day basis.
One criticism is that only measuring these two components of education flattens students into two-dimensional line drawings and places too much value on spotting misplaced modifiers and remembering Pythagorean theorem, Fuschetto said.
“(Western education) thinks in a timeline – in a straight line,” Fuschetto said. “If we were going to write a paragraph, we have a beginning, middle and an end. The Native American culture, they think in circles. There is never an ending to your story. ... Forty percent of the kids (in the district) are Native. The test is not geared to those kids.”
Fuschetto adds that there is historical mistrust in the Native community stemming from forced assimilation from the 1890s to the 1970s. Native American children were taken from their families and put into boarding schools where they were abused and molded to become more like white, Christian people. The shell of an old boarding school still stands near Ignacio.
“Parental involvement was another big issue because, up until the ’80s, they still had the boarding school and the building is still here on the tribe ground,” Fuschetto said. “We have some of those Native parents who went to the boarding school. There were still those negative feelings towards the school, so we had to fight those.”
Meyer said assessment measures foundational skills critical to making a living wage across cultures.
“While we can appreciate that different cultural groups have a variety of preferences, values, traditions, history, etc., the department does believe that educators have a responsibility to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn to read, write and do math,” Meyer said.
In the past, assessments were biased toward and against certain groups, but newer assessments have processes in place to minimize bias, with all CMAS items reviewed by Colorado educators, Meyer said.
“We have to acknowledge that participation from educators with a Native American background or working directly with Native American students in Colorado has been relatively minimal,” he said. He encourages interested educators to join their educator pool for assessment development activities.
Fuschetto said the biggest challenge for the district is hiring teachers and keeping them. This past year, six new middle school teachers, one-third of the staff, were hired.
“Right now, we have special education openings, I haven’t had one applicant from the United States. We have had nine applicants, believe it or not, from the Philippines,” Fuschetto said.