New graduation standards go into effect for all Colorado high school students with the Class of 2021, and Durango School District 9-R plans to meet and exceed them.
Parents will get an idea of what that means at a meeting Wednesday at Durango High School.
“We needed to make the graduation requirements meaningful,” 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger told the district’s board Tuesday night. “We’re focusing on what a prepared graduate should be able to do.”
The standards are more rigorous in part to keep up with the college admissions standards for Colorado’s four-year public colleges and universities, which are scheduled to increase in 2019. District 9-R is maintaining standards for social studies and science, even though the state eliminated its in September.
The competencies are stated in the Colorado Department of Education’s new requirements. The ultimate goal would have students graduating prepared for college or career without remediation.
Snowberger and Leanne Garcia, who is leaving her position as principal of Durango High School to become the director of secondary education for the district, unveiled a change in the presentation of the standards last week. It moves from describing the levels and forms of assessment that would be acceptable to describing the competencies students would be expected to demonstrate and how those would be measured.
“This is a terrific way to move forward,” board Vice President Nancy Stubbs said about showing what students should be able to do. “Students and parents can wrap their heads around this: Oh, this is what four years of English looks like.”
By the time students finish four years of English, they should be able to demonstrate 22 competencies, covering communication skills such as reading, writing, listening and speaking and even ethics in writing, researching and documenting sources.
The district has been building intervention programming at the middle school level to get next year’s ninth-graders ready for high school, and more support will be available at the high school level for those who need it, Snowberger said.
“We have provided our middle schools with programs that work with adolescent readers who are receiving pretty significant intervention,” he said. “There are still parents who don’t understand why their children should read at grade level. So, we need to show reasons why we think it’s so critical your child should be able to do that.”
Snowberger is recommending to the board that the 9-R standards be adopted for 2020, a year earlier than the state is requiring.
“We could spend forever planning,” he said. “We’ve already had the interventions in place for a couple of years. We’ve already begun moving students toward competency. And 2020 does give us some flexibility to make some changes before the state requirements kick in.”
The district has identified different ways students can demonstrate their learning, including specified scores on the ACT, SAT, Advanced Placement, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, Accuplacer and common district assessment tests.
“We’re working with SWCCC (Southwest Colorado Community College) to get some of their courses reserved for remediation-level work,” Snowberger said about the concurrent enrollment assessment. “Students who are struggling with testing will be able to demonstrate their competency with a task that’s more relevant to them, so it will be a safety net.”
More rigorous standards come at a time when the district is working to increase graduation rates and close performance gaps for lower-income, minority and special-needs students.
“We’ve already begun tracking the students who are remediation-free, who have been meeting these rigorous standards,” he said. “And we’ve seen their numbers increasing. Our performance gaps are significantly lower than the state’s, and while any gap is a concern, we have seen those closing, too.”
The standards parents will see Wednesday is a draft. Some changes are still expected, including the number of electives students can take outside their Individual Career and Academic Plan, which will change based on preliminary school board input.