Crystal River Elementary makes gains
Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale, which has been under the watchful eye of state and school district officials since 2014 following multiple years of lagging test scores and poor teacher and community survey results, appears to have turned a significant corner.
Growth data released by the Colorado Department of Education last week measured progress over the last two years for students from third through ninth grade in meeting the new, more stringent standards on state math and English literacy assessments.
In comparing third-grade student scores from 2015, the first year the new Colorado Measures of Academic Success tests were administered, to spring of 2016 when those same students took the tests as fourth-graders against the level 4 standards, CRES outperformed the rest of the Roaring Fork School District and the state in nearly every student subgroup.
While the percentage of students at the individual grade levels meeting or exceeding expectations in both English and math was still low, RFSD Superintendent Rob Stein said the year-over-year growth is a better measure of the progress that’s being made.
“From an educator point of view, whether you’re a teacher or an administrator, that’s what we have under our control,” Stein said last week when the growth data was released.
CRES saw “exceptional growth” for last year’s fourth-graders, as determined by scoring at the 55th percentile or higher, as well as in several student subgroups, for both math and English.
Especially in math, CRES had some of the highest growth of any school in the district at any grade level, including 65 percent for English Language Learners and non-ELL students alike, and a highly encouraging 78 percent for male students and 64 percent for female students as they moved from third to fourth grade.
Students at the school who remain below the benchmark in math also saw growth at the 72nd percentile, according to the state’s growth model, an online platform showing growth for each public school in Colorado.
“What’s happening at CRES highlights the direction we’ve been seeing across the district,” Stein said.
Moreover, it affirms that the school is taking the proper steps to right the ship after being on the state’s “turnaround school” watch for the past two years, he said.
“At that time, we were seeing declining proficiency scores, relatively low growth numbers and we had a big growth gap where our Hispanic student growth was much lower than that for white students,” Stein noted.
In addition, a survey of CRES staff around that same time found that just 68 percent saw the school as a good place to work and learn, compared to 80 percent across the district. The survey also indicated low confidence in school leadership at the time to turn things around.
A combination of a leadership change, bringing in new Principal Matt Koenigsknecht, and collaborating with the state’s school turnaround network to try some new approaches, improved things on the staff morale front, Stein said.
“Now, getting these growth scores … it seems to be working,” he said.
Stein also applauded state education officials for working directly with the school instead of taking a heavy-handed approach.
“It wasn’t like, ‘We’re going to come in and fix you,’” he said. “It was more about bringing in more resources and partnering with us on how to create a different culture in the school, and improving what we call academic systems.”
Through that process, the school “earned a greater degree of latitude, autonomy and self-direction,” Stein added.
Koenigsknecht has attributed the school’s improved performance to an emphasis on coaching teachers, as well as weekly meetings devoted to analyzing student work samples and making real-time instructional adjustments.
“If we aren’t in classrooms regularly as instructional leaders, we don’t really have a strong sense of what our teachers’ next steps are, or what our next steps are as an organization,” Koenigsknecht said in a June presentation to the RFSD school board.
Overall, in English literacy, CRES saw growth at the 55th percentile compared to 52 percent for district elementary schools as a whole, according to the data released by the state.
In math, the Carbondale school saw growth at the 65th percentile, compared to 56 percent for all district elementary schools combined.
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