Improvement schools work to close ‘gap’ in student growth |

Improvement schools work to close ‘gap’ in student growth

Kelley Cox Post Independent

Student performance at Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs is a bit of a mixed bag, as it is with other “improvement plan” schools in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1.

Most of the students at Sopris are meeting standards in academic achievement for reading, writing and math. And the school is approaching the goals set by the state for student growth in those areas from year to year.

However, there remains a sizable gap in the academic growth of its English Language Learner (ELL) students, primarily Latino immigrant students, and Anglo students whose native language is English.

“Traditionally, Sopris Elementary School has been a high achieving school with average growth scores,” Sopris principal Howard Jay wrote in his school’s mandatory improvement plan, which he presented to the Re-1 school board recently.

“There continues to be a significant gap between our Anglo students and Hispanic students,” he wrote. “This is further exacerbated by our minority students growing at a rate that is not conducive to them catching up at a rate that is acceptable.”

Sopris scored 8.3 points out of 25 possible points, or 33.3 percent, related to academic growth gaps, one of three primary performance indicators in the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) new school accountability assessments.

Overall, the school scored 48.9 percent, which placed Sopris in the second of four performance categories, along with three other “improvement plan” schools in Re-1. Also rated in the improvement category were Carbondale Middle School, Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale, and Bridge’s High School, an alternative high school operated by Re-1.

Sopris boasts some impressive standardized testing results compared to other schools in the district. Overall, between 79 to 90 percent of the school’s third-grade students are scoring proficient or advanced in reading, writing and math. Scores ranged from 60 to 76 proficient or advanced for fourth graders, and from 63 to 83 percent proficient for fifth graders.

To correct the growth gap and other performance issues, Sopris proposes in its plan to do more consistent monitoring of student progress and to intervene as necessary to help students catch up.

“It is imperative that we continue to focus on closing the achievement gap between our Anglo students and Hispanic students, and the rate of growth of our Hispanic students needs to increase significantly in order to meet the performance standard,” Jay acknowledged in the report.

The school provides materials in Spanish to send home with ELL students as a way to help their parents work with them outside of school hours, he said.

In school, one of the challenges has been to overcome a 60 percent loss of teaching staff compared to five years ago, he said.

“We’re now back up to some of the performance levels we had seen before,” he said.

The school improvement plans provide a snapshot into what’s working and what’s not working for individual schools in terms of improving student performance across the board.

And it’s often different from school to school.

In fact, Carbondale Middle School, while scoring 53.3 percent and “approaching” the state’s standard for closing its achievement gap, came up short in its overall academic achievement (28.1 percent).

Student growth by grade level over the last three years is worth noting, Carbondale Middle principal Rick Holt said during his improvement plan presentation.

The school’s total percentage of proficient and advanced students increased from 39 percent in 2008 to 54 percent in 2010 for reading; 24 to 35 percent for writing, and 26 to 27 percent for math.

“During the last three years, our major improvement efforts have focused on providing students instruction at their ability level, instead of their age or grade level, and increasing alignment of instruction to assessed standard,” Holt wrote in his plan.

The so-called “Moving On” model in the Re-1 school district, for which Carbondale Middle has been a pilot school, strives to advance students based on their ability, rather than their age.

“We told some of last year’s eighth graders that they would not go on to high school unless they moved up a level,” Holt said. “We’ve come a lot further than where we were three years ago when every eighth grader was in an eighth-grade math class.”

A common improvement strategy for Carbondale Middle to increase achievement, growth and close the gap over the next year will be to increase learning time and English-language acquisition for those students who need it.

At Carbondale’s Crystal River Elementary School, the percentage of ELL students has been more pronounced than at other schools in the district for several years.

Seventy percent of students at Crystal River are Latino, and most of those students are in the ELL program.

But, that hasn’t detracted from the academic performance of Anglo students, which had been a perception in the community five or six years ago, principal Karen Olson said during her improvement plan presentation.

“Our Anglo students continue to do very well,” Olson said. “It’s important to remember that.”

Crystal River made what’s referred to by the state as “adequate yearly progress” in both reading and math for Anglo students, who scored 90 to 100 percent proficient or advanced.

“We made adequate yearly progress in math, as well, for Hispanic students (85 percent), ELL (85 percent), and economically disadvantaged students [93 percent],” Olson indicated in her improvement plan.

However, the school fell short of the needed 88 percent proficient, scoring 73 percent in those three target areas.

To correct the performance deficiencies at Crystal River, Olson proposed strategies including continued use of interventions such as the Read Well program.

“Parents of [Spanish-speaking] students who are behind their peers academically attend a once-weekly parent program specifically targeted to teach them how to help their children succeed academically,” Olson wrote. “Their weekly attendance rate is almost 100 percent.”

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