School officials take a deep dive into test data: Root Cause Analysis takes a look at what works, what doesn’t | VailDaily.com

School officials take a deep dive into test data: Root Cause Analysis takes a look at what works, what doesn’t

Local students remained relatively steady with last year's results in statewide standardized testing results. Principals and staff members did a deep dive into state testing data and in that swamp found some nuggets they could actually use.

EAGLE — Local school officials augured through the swamp of standardized testing data and found some nuggets they could actually use.

In what Eagle County school officials are calling a Root Cause Analysis, a half dozen principals sat down with the school board to review what drives some scores down and what to do about it.

"We have confidence in our principals and the learning cultures they have created in their schools. With the deep dive into this data, they'll find good things," said Dan Dougherty, the school district's communications chief.

A little background

Colorado ranks schools in three basic categories, based on various test results:

• Performance is the top category. If you're there, you're fine.

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• Improvement is the middle. If you're there, you're still fine.

• Priority Improvement is the lowest. If your school lands there, you have five years to improve or the federal government takes over.

Most local schools stayed about even with last year — some went up a little, and some dropped from the highest category to the middle. No local schools are in the lowest category.

Your principal is your pal

The principals laid out several possible root causes for a school's test scores to slump.

• Some of it is the poverty levels among students in those schools.

• Some of it is English language acquisition and the high number of English language learners in the district.

• Some of it stems from spending much of the early parts of the school year catching up after the summer slide.

"It takes us half a year to get back to where we were in May," said Erika Donahue, who is in her sixth year as principal of June Creek Elementary School.

Amy Vanwel has been principal of Berry Creek Middle School for eight years. She said it's also a numbers game.

"If a half dozen kids tank the test, it can drop the entire school an entire category," Vanwel said.

Whatever it is, some kids bring it from home. Homestake Peak Principal Stephanie Gallegos told the board that some kids — sometimes up to 60 percent — say they don't know how they're supposed to behave in school.

Toward that end, kids need to be taught behavior right along with reading, writing and math, Gallegos said.

What do you get for your $20 million?

Coloradans spend $20 million a year on statewide standardized tests, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

The tests were changed in 2015, but they have been consistently the same since then, giving the state better use of data to determine how kids are improving every year, Jeremy Meyer,communications director for the Colorado Department of Education said.

"The test questions are essentially the same every year for particular subjects and grades," Meyer said in an email. "The tests are created out of a pool of questions that are field tested each year and determined to be essentially the same offering comparison from year to year."

Local students remained about even with previous years in the Department of Education's annual Colorado Measures of Academic Success tests, administered by Pearson Inc.

Over the course of the seven-year contract, Colorado will pay Pearson $135.7 million to administer statewide standardized testing. Eagle County Schools' share of that is $244,000 per year, according to the district's financials.

At $20 million a year for Colorado's roughly 500,00 students, it costs $40 per student to administer the CMAS tests. That's just the cost of the test. That does not include staff time to contend with CMAS and all of the other tests.

This year's state standardized testing data revealed few widely accepted points:

• Affluent students test better than students who live in poverty. That's true across racial and ethnic categories.

• English language learners don't test as well as native English speakers. Statewide, 14 percent of students are English language learners. In Eagle County, 26 percent are. Despite that, Eagle County students are at about the state average.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Eagle County schools demographics

Total student population: 6,874.

Hispanic or Latino: 52.2 percent (3,587).

White: 44.2 percent (3,039).

Two or more races: 2.1 percent (144).

Asian: 0.8 percent (57).

Black: 0.4 percent (30).

Native American: 0.2 percent (16).

Pacific Islander: 0.01 percent (1).

The English language learners count is 1,767, or 25.7 percent of all students, and 1,720 of those English language learners are Spanish speakers, which is 48 percent of the school district’s Latino population (1,720 of 3,587).

Source: Eagle County school district