Glenwood Springs Elementary turnaround plan focuses on intervention, consistency

Students pass a school custodian in the hallway at Glenwood Springs Elementary on the first day back for in-person classes in October 2020 after starting the school year with online classes due to COVID-19 concerns.
Post Independent file photo/provided

Keys to turning around low student test scores at Glenwood Springs Elementary School hinge on earlier intervention when students are falling behind, and better consistency in instruction.

Those are two of the main elements in a Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) presented by first-year GSES Principal Jess Schwarz and Roaring Fork District Chief Academic Officer Stacey Park to the school board last week.

A drop in standardized-testing scores and a lack of growth for GSES students since 2019 put GSES on “Turnaround” status this year, based on the Colorado Department of Education’s latest performance ratings.

In 2018 and 2019, the school was still approaching student benchmarks for academic achievement and growth from year to year in English Language Arts (ELA) and math, with the exception of the math growth category in 2018.

But the anticipated slide in student performance on the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) tests that are administered from third grade and up, and in benchmarks for younger students spelled out by the state’s READ Act, hit GSES particularly hard.

Test scores generally fell at all Roaring Fork elementary and middle schools, and across the state as a whole, but GSES was the only district school to fall below the “Turnaround” threshold. 

The state tests were not administered to students in spring 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and schools rapidly moved to remote online learning. Testing came back only partially in spring 2021, and was fully restored in the spring of this year.

“Overall, just over half of our students are reading at benchmark levels or above,” Schwarz said. “We recognize this is not where we want to be to best serve our students.”

In particular, the lower test scores and lack of growth is showing up in subgroups including students with disabilities and the large percentage of “emerging bilingual students,” she said in reference to students who are still learning English. 

“As you can see, we have a lot of work to do in order to increase our performance and growth data,” Schwarz said. “We have incredibly talented teachers at GSES who are already diving into significant adjustments to the curriculum, data analysis for targeted instruction and revisions to our approach to intervention.”

Breaking it down, based on the recent round of testing for GSES students, for ELA:

  • 14% of third grade students, 20% of fourth grade students, and 13% of fifth grade students met or exceeded reading and writing performance benchmarks.

And, in math:

  • 15% of third grade students, 9% of fourth grade students, and 5% of fifth grade students met or exceeded the benchmarks.

Adding to the challenge, a side note to the waning test scores is that consistent student attendance at GSES coming out of the pandemic has fallen from 96.87% in 2019 to 90% in 2022, Schwarz also reported.

Listed among the root causes for the poor performance, according to the report, are:

  • Inconsistent implementation of math and ELA curriculum from kindergarten through fifth grade;
  • Lack of evidence-based structures in place for intervention response, and inconsistent implementation after student performance data is analyzed;
  • Inconsistent use of data to differentiate for emerging bilingual students; and,
  • A need for more professional development on supporting emerging bilingual students.

To address the shortfalls, Schwarz said a lot of time has been spent this semester reviewing the school’s curriculum delivery structures, along with staff reflection, feedback from families and even student input through surveys.

As an official EL Education school, GSES leadership has also been working with its EL school designer to audit curriculum implementation, she said.

Several action steps are already underway, and as the end of the fall semester nears, “we are seeing some momentum and want to maintain that across all grade levels,” Schwarz said.

It will take time, though, she said, including some targets for the current school year that still fall short of the long-term goal.

“We know this does not get us in one year to where we eventually need to be … but in the spirit of continued growth, this is our first step toward that goal,” Schwarz said.

School board members wanted to make sure the steps taken to improve English language literacy eventually translate to improving math scores, which ultimately go hand in hand.

Board member Jasmin Ramirez also wanted to make sure the school’s communication with families stays front and center as the turnaround plan is implemented. Schwarz said the school’s Family Advisory Council next meets in February, and will be given a progress report at that time.

Board member Kenny Teitler wanted to ensure that the efforts to improve student achievement and growth at GSES don’t come at the expense of teacher burnout, which is already a concern in the district.

“As a new school leader, I am managing a lot of change,” Schwarz said, adding that she’s confident the current structures are in place to bring improvement without adding more to the teachers’ plate. 

As a whole, district elementary schools are rated as “approaching” academic achievement and growth benchmarks, same as in 2019. The Roaring Fork School District includes 14 schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

At the middle-school level, Roaring Fork schools are also approaching academic achievement goals and currently meet academic growth goals. 

And, at the high school level, where the SAT suite of tests are used as a measure of student performance, the district is approaching academic achievement, growth and postsecondary/workforce readiness goals, according to the state’s latest performance reports based on spring 2022 testing.

Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at or at 970-384-9160.

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