PI Editorial: Re-2, RFSD both up to the challenge of improving student testing scores | PostIndependent.com

PI Editorial: Re-2, RFSD both up to the challenge of improving student testing scores

In many ways, fall 2022 feels like a world removed from spring 2020. COVID is certainly still here, but the widespread availability of boosters and vaccines have brought about a feeling of “normal.” Handshakes, salad bars and so much more are back — and it’s sometimes easy now to forget just how strange all of those things became for a period of time.

One of the most important milestones is just how much things have returned to normal within our schools. Classroom experiences closely resemble those from fall 2019, and we’re thankful our community’s youth get to immerse themselves in their educational experience. 

But, that return to normal doesn’t mean the impacts of the past couple of years are gone. It just feels like people are suffering from PTSD coming out of the pandemic and even kind of forgot how we functioned previously. For children in particular, the isolation and upheaval of the pandemic was distressing and difficult. 

So, it is no surprise to see test scores trend down for both Roaring Fork School District and Garfield Re-2 School District. The reality is that students continue to carry both educational and emotional impacts, and helping them on both fronts is not going to be accomplished in a matter of months — in fact, it could take years of sustained effort and support to help lift struggling students up to where we hope to see them educationally before high school.

The good news is that educators in the RFSD and Re-2 school districts have been focused on doing just that their entire careers — and they have the support and guidance of two superintendents who want to not just meet, but also exceed where their respective districts were testing-wise in 2019.

Both Re-2 Superintendent Heather Grumley and RFSD Superintendent Jesús Rodríguez met recently with the Post Independent editorial board to offer their thoughts and plans on how to help their educators bring student test scores up.

Rodríguez elaborated on his “listening and learning” approach to his first year, and that applies to the push to improve test scores as much as anywhere else. He acknowledged that, while test scores are an important measure and with certain state mandates attached to them, it’s “not the end all, be all” in terms of measuring student success or the success of teachers and schools in preparing students for the world.

At the same time, he’d be hard-pressed to find a parent who doesn’t want their child to be reading at grade level and meeting or exceeding the other expectations. The goal is to get them to the point where they can graduate high school ready to enter the workforce or go on to college.

In the background of this, however, is the continuing challenge of staffing shortages. Teaching staff are constantly juggling responsibilities to make sure all school needs are covered. A lot of the feedback they’ve provided focuses on just allowing them adequate time to prep and plan and not being distracted putting out staffing issue fires.

Rodrîguez said the district is committed to continue addressing that beyond what’s already been done with pay and staff housing options.

As for the conversation with Grumley, Re-2 has a very detailed plan of attack to address the low test scores, which predated the pandemic. Remember that Re-2 was already somewhat below RFSD even before then. Unfortunately, the gains they’d made in 2019 in improving overall student performance back-slid, same as everywhere else.

They’re now working to get back on track, including regular meetings with new teachers and mentoring from veteran teachers to re-inforce the expectations and provide support, as well as maintaining district- and building-level teacher coaching and instructional teams.

Re-2 also now has two curriculum directors, and the district is also focusing on culture and climate in the schools, including retaining a third-party vendor to look at how better to improve and maintain teacher morale. 

As you can see, both Grumley and Rodríguez recognize the challenge — and a viable path forward. Both plans, however, require time, and the Colorado Department of Education has so far been understanding of that reality. Testing scores are still considered to be “transitional” coming out of the pandemic, and districts should have time to re-establish baselines without serious repercussions with regards to performance ratings.

Balancing the necessity of time to improve with the importance of educating our community’s youth, however, is no easy task. With that in mind, we’re hopeful that we’ll see some improvement in the 2022-2023 testing scores to show our districts are on the right track. In the meantime, we would just stress the importance of recognizing the hard work our teachers, support staff and so many more do throughout our communities in educating and supporting our children. Thank you.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud and community representatives Mark Fishbein and Danielle Becker.

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