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Foundation suggests solutions to low CSAP scores

Ivy Vogel

Heather Froelicher loves Carbondale. She grew up in Carbondale, went to Carbondale Elementary and taught at Carbondale Middle School.From kindergarten through third grade, Froelicher’s oldest son went to Carbondale Elementary, but this year Froelicher opted to have him and her other child go to school in Marble. That move is part of a growing trend in the past couple of years of parents taking their kids out of Carbondale Elementary and enrolling them in private schools, charter schools and other elementaries inside and outside of the district.Carbondale Elementary School’s status as the only low performing school in the district is one reason parents are looking at other options.”I was really sad to leave the school and I miss the diversity Carbondale Elementary offers, but we hung in as long as we could before we were in a position where we thought we were bargaining our kids,” Froelicher said.But one expert said there are ways to keep Carbondale kids in Carbondale Elementary.”There’s no silver bullet or magic formula, and I’m not here to tell you there is,” said Alan Gottlieb from the Piton Foundation. “But the most reliable predictor of a school’s CSAP performance is the socioeconomic status of the student body.”The Piton Foundation has helped several low performing schools stymie flight – or the tendency of parents to take their kids to other schools – by implementing other educational programs.The CSAP, or, Colorado State Assessment Program, is a yearly test given to students in third through 12th grade to test how well the students, school, district and state are doing.When looking at student performance, socioeconomic status is a more important than percentage of English Language Learners, percentage of high and low performing teachers or percentage of stable teachers and students, Gottlieb said.The socioeconomics of a school’s student body are determined by looking at the percentage of students on the free and reduced lunch program, Gottlieb said. Generally, schools with a high percentage of students on the free and reduced lunch program score lower on CSAPs than schools with a lower percentage of students on the free and reduced lunch program.Forty-five percent of Carbondale’s students receive free and reduced lunch – 10 percent more than Glenwood Elementary, according to Mila Jensen, food service director for Re-1.In schools where less than 25 percent of the population was on free and reduced lunch, 53 percent of students scored proficient or advanced, according to a 2002 Piton Foundation study. In schools where more than 75 percent of students were on free or reduced lunch, only 33 percent of students score proficient or advanced, according to the study.When test scores fall, affluent families tend to leave schools, which leaves free- and reduced-lunch students behind, Gottlieb said.Froelicher took her kids out of Carbondale Elementary because she felt poor test scores forced the teachers to focus most of their energy on low-performing students. Her third-grader did well on his CSAP scores and wasn’t learning anything more than basic math, reading and writing skills, Froelicher said.In order to keep affluent families and help free and reduced students, economic integration must occur, Gottlieb said. The key to economic integration is creating schools that affluent families chose to attend, and in an area such as Carbondale, it’s crucial to turn perceived weaknesses into strengths. Carbondale’s diversity – many students are native Spanish-speakers – could be perceived as a weakness but could also be a major draw to affluent families, Gottlieb said.Dual-language schools are a good alternative for schools with large percentages of Spanish-speaking students, Gottlieb said.Children attending dual-language schools simultaneously learn English and Spanish so by fifth grade they’re bi-lingual. The dual-language model appeals to affluent parents because their kids are learning a second language. This helps improve test scores because slow learners can spend more time taking classes in their native language, Gottlieb said.The dual-language program is only effective if students start the program in kindergarten. It also requires extensive teacher training. A dual-language program has been implemented in Denver but is only in its second year, so no concrete results are available, Gottlieb said. Another solution would be to concentrate popular programs such as music programs and accelerated academic programs in Carbondale Elementary, Gottlieb said. The problem with this program is that affluent kids tend to flock to accelerated programs such as Advanced Placement while free- and reduced- lunch kids stay in traditional classrooms.Polarizing socioeconomic groups within a school will not improve test scores, Gottlieb said.Gottlieb and the Piton Foundation’s ideas are just one of many the school district has looked at, said Judy Haptonstall, assistant superintendent for Re-1.”We’re looking at many suggestions but rather than focus on an answer, we need to look at all of the issues that are a part of this,” Haptonstall said. “We need to make a difference in test scores this coming spring.” “We’re looking at many suggestions but rather than focus on an answer, we need to look at all of the issues that are a part of this,” Haptonstall said. “We need to make a difference in test scores this coming spring.”


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