Ignacio students struggle on new standardized tests

The Ignacio school district learned it has serious work to do after seeing its Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test results.

The district’s single best score – 10th-grade English and language arts – showed 26 percent of Ignacio students met or exceeded expectations. Sixth graders in math scored the lowest, with just 6 percent meeting or exceeding expectations.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Ignacio Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto said. “We had been making big improvements on the (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program test), when they change the tests again and we have to start over. We’ve spent the last six years restructuring, reorganizing, and we just keep working at it.”

The scores, he said, are just a number and don’t begin to evaluate what the district does.

“I know we’re under the gun because of accountability,” he said, “but the most these scores are is a baseline.”

The Colorado Department of Education agrees.

“This is the first time that schools and districts have been assessed on the expectations of the current set of academic standards,” said Dana Smith, interim chief communications officer for the CDE. “These expectations are more rigorous than the previous standards, and they expect more from the students. With the 2015 accountability hold, the state will not hold districts or schools accountable for achievement results or participation rates.”

CDE expects schools and students to perform at higher levels as they become more accustomed to the standards and the PARCC test, Smith said.

In the meantime, the test doesn’t measure many indicators the district finds important, Fuschetto said.

“We provide a lot of services to our students, mentally, physically, emotionally, whatever a student needs,” he said. “We believe character counts, students need to know the arts, they need to know about vocational programs.”

While he’s not making excuses, he said, there are things about the Ignacio district that make it different from the rest.

“Our percentage of special education students is much higher than the state average, which is about 10 percent,” Fuschetto said. “Ours last year was 15 to 16 percent and may be up to 18 to 20 percent this year. Whatever the disabilities, we’ve got to educate the kids.”

Perhaps even more significant for Ignacio is a student population that is 40 percent Native American and about one-third Hispanic, he said.

“PARCC was not designed for this population,” Fuschetto said. “Their culture … (is) different. They learn in circles, with no beginning or end. (Anglos) tend to be very linear, where everything has a beginning and an end.”

Fuschetto thinks the Colorado State Board of Education needs to see his district in action rather than relying on numbers from standardized testing.

“We’ve been trying to get them to come spend two or three days with us at our expense,” he said. “I personally delivered a letter to the state board chairman last March, but so far, nobody’s taken us up on it.”

Is Ignacio making any changes before this year’s PARCC test in April?

“We educate the whole child,” he said. “We could teach to the test, but I wouldn’t do that to any student.”