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Coronado takes double-hit over contradictory federal, state testing laws

      
A file photo from March 2013 shows prospective Coronado High students meeting with staff in the school cafeteria. The get-together was planned after the District 11 school board expanded Coronado's attendance area earlier that year to take in a larger area than previously east of I-25.
Westside Pioneer file photo
Coronado High School Principal Darin Smith is not a big fan of the state's annual standardized testing program.
       He believes that other tests - such as the ACT and SAT - are more meaningful, especially to students with college aspirations.
       He is not alone.
       Sixty-five percent of the District 11 public school's 450 ninth-graders last spring chose not to participate in the testing - titled Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which is tied to federal "Common Core" standards.
       Opting out like that is totally allowable under state law, and it happened all over Colorado.
       But there's more to the story.
       Based on a federal law that presses students to take the standardized tests - insisting on 95 percent participation per school - Coronado is facing administrative punishment. The contradiction between state and federal regulations “creates a conundrum,” Smith summarized in an interview.
       With opt-outs commonplace statewide, Coronado was among numerous schools last spring that failed to meet the federal participation limit, but the school's relatively high number also led to the school being docked for academics. Post-PARCC analyses
Coronado High Principal Darin Smith.
Westside Pioneer file photo
showed that the opt-outs were mostly the students who would have scored highly. So those who did take the test were overall lower performers, according to Eric Mason, the District 11 assessment coordinator, and their scores were noticeably worse than Coronado has done in the past.
       “The frustrating thing for us is that this is a high-performing school,” he said. “It's always done better than most of the high schools in the state. Why would that change?”
       Mason realizes that when parents opt their students out of PARCC testing, it's to “protest the state.” Unfortunately, he said, it's their own schools that suffer.
       Coronado's specific punishment from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) is being put in a status called “Priority Improvement Plan: Decreased Due to Participation.”
       What this means, for now, is added paperwork. The school has to provide “detailed reporting to the state about the improvement plan that addresses all the issues that the state feels the school is deficient in,” Mason explained.
       The long-range concern is that Coronado is now on the clock. “When you're on priority improvement, you have five years to get out of it,” Mason said. “Nobody wants that. The state could take over the school.”
       Coronado and D-11 have appealed the “Priority Improvement” rating. It's not known how soon the CDE will reply.
       Regardless of the response, Smith is aggravated by how the rating affects people's perception of his school. In a column for the latest Coronado newsletter, he wrote that last fall's test scores “are not an accurate reflection of how students are performing at Coronado. Test scores alone cannot accurately measure the quality of a school. Coronado prides itself on its staff and the truth about what we do, how we do it, and the level of commitment each and every teacher possesses.”
       And what about the next round of PARCC testing, coming up in the second semester? Even though it's “of little value to us,” Smith told the Pioneer he's going to “push kids to take the test. We don't want the the community to view us negatively.”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 12/3/16; Schools: Coronado High)

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