Schools see if they make the grade |

Schools see if they make the grade

Carrie Click

School report cards are in, pleasing some school officials and frustrating others by what they say are unfair grading practices.

On Thursday, Gov. Owens released the 2002 School Accountability Reports at the state Capitol. Out of the 22 public schools in Roaring Fork Re-1 and Garfield Re-2 school districts, six improved their test scores. Three schools’ scores declined, and the rest remained stable.

The Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, tests reading comprehension, writing skills and mathematical problem-solving ability. The tests are administered to all public school students in Colorado, except in some special-needs cases.

“Obviously we’re very pleased,” said Glenwood Springs High School principal Mike Wells, whose school rated “high,” an improvement from last year. “Anytime we receive a positive measurement of how we’re doing, we’re delighted. But it’s also important to put the testing into perspective. This isn’t the only measure of a school. It’s just one.”

Statewide, schools are divided into elementary, middle and high school levels and are graded based on their students’ performance on the CSAP test. Schools are graded “excellent,” “high,” “average,” “low” and “unsatisfactory.”

In the Roaring Fork and Garfield school districts, no schools received an “excellent” rating; six schools received “high” ratings; 11 schools received “average” ratings; and two received “low” ratings. No local schools received an “unsatisfactory” rating, although statewide 49 schools, mainly in the Denver metro area, did.

Roaring Fork School District Re-1 had a wide variance in grading at its schools. All Glenwood Springs-based schools received a “high” rating, as did Basalt Middle School. The rest of the ratings were average, although Carbondale Elementary School received a “low” rating.

Carbondale Elementary School principal Bill Alley is very frustrated by the grading. He explained his school has an unfair disadvantage because 57 percent of his students are non-English-speakers. As they’re taught English, they’re tested for comprehension, and when they reach a certain conversational level, they’re expected to take the CSAP test just like all the other English-speaking students.

“But just because they’re conversational, they’re not ready to be tested in English,” he said. “It’s like we’re being penalized for teaching these children English.”

Alley said state education officials told him that his non-English-speaking third-graders would have two years of English instruction before they would be required to take the CSAP, and fourth- and fifth-graders would have three years to properly learn and understand English before CSAP testing. But that’s not happening, and he said his school’s reputation is suffering as a result.

“It’s devastating to have to tell your staff the quality of education here is in question,” Alley said, “and it’s heartbreaking to have to wear this tag around the community, and around the parents of your students. There’s great learning and great teaching at Carbondale Elementary. I have no problem with the actual CSAP test; I think it gives good information. But this system is unfair.”

Principal Mike Wells said the problem at Carbondale Elementary is but one problem of assuming that the CSAP test can determine how well a school is doing.

“It’s like going to the doctor once a year, getting only one assessment, like your blood pressure taken, and then having the doctor schedule you for heart surgery,” he said. “It’s just not that easy to determine.”

Wells said last year at Glenwood High when its CSAP score was “average,” the students took part in a Veteran’s Day program that was high quality.

“I kept thinking, `We’re average? This isn’t average,'” he said. “It’s not the only measure of a quality educational experience.”

“The scores are pretty much what we expected,” said Ava Lanes, assistant superintendent at Garfield School District Re-2. “We actually received those results in October, and have already been working on areas we want to improve scores.”

Lanes said those areas include writing and reading.

“We’ve begun research-based writing programs at two elementary schools and two middle schools,” she said, “and we’re working on a districtwide writing program to be in place by next year.”

Garfield School District held steady with almost all of its schools.

“We’re not unhappy with being stable,” Lanes said, “but we will improve. It’s a process we’re implementing now, and we will see results next year, and the years following.”

Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs received a high rating, an improvement over last year. Principal Howard Jay said over the past year, the school worked on its reading and writing instruction, and is now ready to tackle mathematics.

“We still haven’t figured that one out,” he said of the mathematics portion of the test, which includes problem solving and a section for students to explain how they figured out their answers.

Glenwood High’s Mike Wells said the math portion is comprehensive.

“There’s a concern with CSAP that teachers will teach to the test, but that’s not the case,” he said. “With the math portion, kids have to know how to communicate and explain their reasoning, This is something we all want our students to learn. It’s not specific to the test.”

Roaring Fork superintendent Fred Wall agreed the test itself gives a good indication of how students are doing academically.

“The CSAP is a well-constructed examination,” he said. “It gives us benchmarks which apply to the rest of the state’s schools.”

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