Roaring Fork Schools are scoring high in English learner progress
Roaring Fork Schools earned top marks in Colorado last year for performance on state standardized tests that measure English learners’ progress.
The Colorado ACCESS assesses students on how well they speak, listen, read and write English.
RFSD’s median growth score is 58, meaning that students in the Roaring Fork Valley learn the appropriate English skills faster than 58 percent of other Colorado districts with more than 1,000 English language development (ELD) students. Harrison 2 School District, which covers southern Colorado Springs, is the only other school with a percentile score of 58.
“When we look at all the school districts in the state of Colorado who have 1,000 emerging bilingual students with a median growth score, our number is the highest,” said Amy Fairbanks, director of culturally and linguistically diverse education for RFSD.
About 21 percent of students in the district are English learners, similar to the rate in Denver schools, and again, RFSD has the high score.
The ACCESS test measures students’ comprehension of four critical subject areas where students need to succeed: language arts, language of math, language of science, and the language of social studies.
Students receive a growth score based on improvement over time, not grade level. A score of one is for students who have been in the program a year, and a score of six is equivalent to a native speaker.
English development teachers also focus on each area of language instruction, and commitment to moving students up through the ACCESS test levels, Fairbanks said.
More than 40 teachers in the Roaring Fork Valley worked to redefine the English development program goals in 2014. Since then, Fairbanks said most of the same teachers have continued to work on improving the program. The district’s ACCESS growth scores have outpaced the rest of the state since around that time, according to Colorado Department of Education data.
The team creates teaching units rather than resting on the strength of a curriculum, and revises and reconsiders it each year, she explained.
“They’re not teaching out of a boxed curriculum. They’re developing high quality units based on what we know is best for emerging bilingual students,” Fairbanks said.
The development of the program is a team effort, with many of the same people who began looking at the program carefully five years ago still on the team refining English instruction.
“That level of teamwork and collaboration is unparalleled in other places that I’ve worked,” Fairbanks said.
Another reason why Roaring Fork Schools have the highest numbers is due to the responsibility every teacher accepts for English development.
“Emerging bilingual students are everybody’s students,” Fairbanks said. “Everybody is responsible, and working hard to meet their needs all day long, not just the 45 minutes to an hour and a half of English language development.
“Every teacher is a language teacher, every teacher is responsible. That makes English development an all-day program.”
Among elementary schools, the best median growth score in RFSD belonged to Riverview, the newest school in the district and the first district school to roll out a full dual-language program in recent years. Two Rivers Community School, a state charter school program, also offers dual language programming.
A combined elementary and middle school that opened in 2017, Riverview started dual language learning in its lower grades, with the aim of continuing those students on the dual-language track through middle school.
Students learn in both English and Spanish, and while there are only a few years of data, the method appears to be paying off for English language learners.
“We’re seeing awesome bright spots of growth in learning both in Spanish and English,” Riverview Principal Adam Volek said during a presentation to the Board of Education in December.
Students in the dual language program at Riverview — currently kindergarten through third grade students — spend half their day learning in English, and the other half in Spanish, switching between languages once at midday. Students alternate every week which language is taught in the morning and which in the afternoon.
Fairbanks cautioned that Riverview’s success, while promising, might not be attributable solely to its bilingual program, as other factors play into ACCESS success, she said.