The latest round of yearly scholastic standards test results show some good news and some not so good news for Garfield School District Re-2, as is always the case.
However, when scores from the last six years are compared, elementary school students in grade three in Rifle, Silt and New Castle show improvement in reading, writing and math by the time they reach grade eight, according to just-released figures from the district and the state of Colorado.
Now district officials hope to see similar improvements at the middle school levels, where those same subjects saw student scores drop from 5 to 10 percent over the same period in grades seven through 10.
This year's scores were in the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program tests given last school year. The program is a bridge between the Colorado Standard Assessment Program and a Colorado Academic Standards program scheduled for the 2013-14 school year.
"We believe we have an issue of curriculum and resource alignment at the middle school level," said Julie Knowles, director of assessment and special programs for the district. "The instruction by our teachers is good; we need to look at our resources [textbooks and materials] and how they relate to academic standards."
Knowles said more in-district training is part of the planned approach at the middle school level.
"We know our teachers teach well, but what they're teaching needs to be brought into better alignment," she added. "As our teachers go through their resources, they need to understand how it addresses standards."
Director of Districtwide Services Theresa Hamilton said the success in the elementary grades shows the effectiveness of the Success For All curriculum, a uniform reading program adopted four years ago. At the same time, a middle school component, Reading Edge, was adopted.
"We definitely attribute the growth we've had K-8 to having the same [reading] curriculum," Hamilton said. "Teachers get the same training, the staff collaborates and shares what works best."
Knowles said four times a year, students are taught at a level slightly above their ability, to help encourage them to try harder.
Hamilton said the Reading Edge program calls upon teachers of other subjects to incorporate reading in their classes.
A grant is allowing a district-wide reading coach to get specialized training at an advanced level, Knowles added.
Five to eight times a year, the district is visited by Success For All experts, Knowles said, who talk to district teachers and share what works well in other districts.
Knowles said the low scores at the middle school level were not due to yearly teacher turnover.
"We really haven't had a high level of teacher turnover year to year in recent years," she said. "All teachers get the training, we have ongoing coaching from reading facilitators."
This year, the district is switching to a four-day school week due to state budget cuts, but Knowles said that hasn't been shown to impact standards test scores in other districts that made the switch.
"In our district, some schools have even found time to offer special help to students who need it," Knowles said. "But we'll be keeping a close eye on it."
Knowles said it hasn't been due to a lack of effort by teachers, motivation or other such factors that led to the drop in middle school scores.
"It's a systems issue," Knowles stated. "We know that behind every number is a child. If we want them to be competitive in the 21st century, we need to make sure we get tighter on teaching to the standards."