Even performance schools teeter on the verge in some areas | PostIndependent.com

Even performance schools teeter on the verge in some areas

Kelley Cox Post Independent

(Editor’s note: The Glenwood Springs Post Independent concludes its series of stories looking at the recent school improvement plans that were sent to the Colorado Department of Education for review. Today’s story focuses on the “performance plan” schools in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1.)

The best-performing schools in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 are happy to be where they are, but educators are fully aware there are still improvements to be made in student academic achievement.

Many of these schools, though rated last fall in the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) highest category for school accountability, are still teetering on the edge in certain assessment areas.

“Yes, we’re at the ‘performance’ level, but there are still some things we are concerned about,” Basalt High School principal Kevin Schott commented during his recent school improvement plan presentation to the Re-1 school board.

“If something slips here or there, we’re back where we don’t want to be,” he said.

Seven Re-1 schools met the state’s standard to be rated as “performance schools,” the highest category under the state’s new accountability system. Those schools include Glenwood Springs Middle and High schools, Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, the charter Carbondale Community School and all three Basalt schools.

Even within that group, while some schools scored as high as 80 percent or more overall in the areas being measured, others were closer to the 60 percent threshold that differentiates “performance” schools from “improvement” schools.

“We are a high [academic] growth, high achieving school,” Glenwood Springs High School principal Paul Freeman said of his school, which met or exceeded the state’s performance standards for academic achievement, academic growth, academic growth gaps and college/workforce readiness.

“But this is not a race,” he said. “And it doesn’t mean the journey is over for us. In fact, it’s only just beginning.”

By contrast, Roaring Fork High School principal Cliff Colia quipped, “The title of my presentation is ‘the good, the bad and the ugly,'” before presenting his school plan.

“The good news is we’re a performance school,” he said. “But we met that threshold by just one-sixth of a percentage point.”

Roaring Fork High showed good academic growth among students from year to year, earning 75 percent of the points in that area of assessment. However, the school came up short of the performance-school requirements for academic achievement and college/workforce readiness.

“Math performance in 2010 was alarming,” Colia wrote in his school plan. “Less than 15 percent of our 9th and 10th grade students were proficient or advanced. Of particular concern was that 0 percent of 9th grade Hispanic students were proficient in math.”

But Roaring Fork High wasn’t alone in its high school math scores. Math achievement scores for freshmen and sophomores, the final two years for CSAP tests to be administered, were low across the district, and even across the whole state, Re-1 assistant superintendent Brad Ray said during Colia’s presentation.

“One improvement we’ve made in the last year is we now have a really dedicated, knowledgeable team of math instructors,” Colia said. “We’re excited to see our scores for this year.”

Colia outlined his school’s improvement plan strategy to correct the situation. “Mathematics teachers will use flexible groupings to sort students for intervention,” he said. “A daily course schedule will be developed to support mathematics teachers’ ability to move students efficiently as needed.”

One distinction some of the “performance plan” schools have compared to the district’s “improvement plan” schools is a smaller percentage of English Language Learner (ELL) students.

At Glenwood Springs Middle School, for instance, just 41 percent of the 485-member student body is Latino, compared to 60 or 70 percent in some Re-1 schools.

“Only 50 of those students are required to be in ELL,” according to the Glenwood Springs Middle School’s improvement plan submitted by principal Sandy DeCrow.

As in other schools, the ELL students at Glenwood Springs Middle School typically have lower scores in reading, writing and math than non-ELL students.

“Our ELL curriculum is solely based on language acquisition and has contained no instruction on reading or writing strategies,” DeCrow explains in the plan.

Glenwood Springs Middle School is also just a couple of percentage points away from the “improvement” school category. While the school meets the targets for academic achievement and academic growth, it still falls short in the academic growth gaps category.

To address that, the school has special intervention programs in both reading and math. The result is that many of those students are showing one- to one-and-a-half years of academic growth in just a few months, DeCrow said.

As with its middle school counterpart in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs Middle School also has an emphasis on placing students based on their ability level, rather than their grade level.

In fact, one of the root causes of academic performance deficiencies in the past is that, “We traditionally placed students in the next grade level, whether they are ready or not, without taking into account their deficiencies in each individual’s learning,” according to DeCrow.

The goal is to continue implementation of the district’s “Moving-On” levels placement in the school, which will recognize a student’s ability level in a given area, rather than their grade level.


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