Developing other ways to show proficiency
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Bria Rickert is seen here presenting her Capstone Project.
Bria Rickert is seen here presenting her Capstone Project.

Gunnison High School (GHS) junior Bria Rickert is an avid runner and skier who wanted to investigate the field of sports science. In particular, she hoped to explore what is known as VO2 max testing, which measures the maximum uptake of oxygen a person can use during intense exertion.

Rickert began an independent research study at GHS, but then was approached by school administrators about taking her project a step further. She was asked to participate in a Capstone Project.

“I did a lot of research on it to start,” said Rickert, noting she was on a computer every day preparing a 35-minute presentation for parents, grandparents and teachers. “I got a much better understanding of what sports science is.”

A Capstone Project is a single-semester process in which students pursue independent research on a subject of their choice. Students work with a faculty mentor to develop the work, engage in scholarly debates and produce a presentation on the subject matter that reflects a deep understanding of the issue or topic.

But while Rickert received credit for her 80 hours of work, she was somewhat of a guinea pig. District administrators are using her experience, and that of others, to develop a method of demonstrating proficiency for high school graduation under state-imposed requirements which take effect in 2021.

“We developed the (Capstone) process last year,” said RE1J Pathways Director Marta Smith. “This is the first year we’ve used the process as it stands. We’re just trying to be open to whether it works.”

In May 2013, the state Board of Education adopted wide-ranging "guidelines" to be used by districts in establishing graduation requirements. The state gave Colorado's 178 school districts a menu of options to prove proficiency in math, and English. Options include scores on college entrance exams, concurrent enrollment courses, military entrance exams and state assessments. For example, a "demonstration" of competency in the area of math could be a score of 460 on the SAT college entrance exam.

RE1J’s adopted graduation requirements state students will have to earn 26 credits "aligned with the Colorado Academic Standards." For example, a student must complete four credits in English language arts, three credits in social studies, one-half credit in civics and so on. For math, at least one of three credits must include Algebra I or a higher level course in the subject. Science requirements must include two laboratory credits.

In addition to the credits earned, students must demonstrate "college and career readiness" in two areas — English and math. They can do so by earning an industry certificate; completing a district Capstone; passing a concurrent enrollment class; or earning a minimum score on a college entrance or other type of exam.

One such exam which could be utilized is the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which tests students interested in entering the military. The test evaluates word and mathematic knowledge, arithmetic reasoning and paragraph comprehension, as well as identifying occupational specialties.

Smith said about 50 students have signed up to take the ASVAB test at the end of this month.

“This year is all about piloting and making sure we have everything in place for next year’s juniors,” said Smith about the first class of students who will be required to meet the new standards. “I’m confident we’ll get these kids to the finish line.”

Smith said more research must be completed surrounding industry certificates. For example, she noted a student could participate in a homebuilders class. However, that student would have to demonstrate a working knowledge of math concepts required by Colorado Academic Standards.

She said she will also investigate potential industry certificates which meet English requirements, but was unsure of what such a course would look like. Smith has consulted with other Colorado school districts for ideas.

“We do understand what the state is chasing,” Smith said, calling the new alternatives “liberating.”

Smith said the goal of both the state and RE1J is to prove students are ready to take the next step — whether higher education or employment — and have that proof not solely based on testing.

“We want the community to know that we’ve put a variety of these options in place, and we are working within this current school year to really get things in place,” said Smith. “We don’t want this to be about assessments. We want this to be about proficiencies.”


(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at