Aspen High School’s class of 2021 reported high expectations, aspirations |

Aspen High School’s class of 2021 reported high expectations, aspirations

Exit survey took temperature on graduating seniors’ experiences

Aspen High School seniors, wearing their caps and gowns, take part in the annual March of the Graduates on Friday, May 28, 2021, on the Aspen School District campus. The AHS graduation ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, June 5, on the turf field. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

Aspen High School’s class of 2021 graduated with high grades and high aspirations after four years of high expectations, according to an exit survey presented to the district’s Board of Education at a regular meeting Tuesday.

The board tasked the District Accountability Committee with formulating the survey last year, according to committee co-chair Christa Geiszl. The survey was long — “clearly too long,” Geiszl said — but it still garnered a strong response of 113 survey-takers from the 128-odd graduating seniors who tossed their caps in 2021.

Most students responded to most questions, though the survey didn’t garner 113 answers for each and every question on the list.

A question on GPA, for instance, logged 108 answers.

Nearly half of respondents said they had a 4.0 GPA, earning all “As” in their courses. Most of the rest (just north of 40% of respondents) fell into the 3.0 GPA range. That’s “pretty amazing,” in Geiszl’s view. The remaining respondents (around 7% of the survey-takers) fell into the 2.0 GPA category.

This high-scoring bunch of recent grads also indicated they had high aspirations for post-secondary education: 102 survey-takers indicated they planned to attend a four-year college immediately after graduating. (Other post-grad goals included two-year colleges and vocational or tech school.)

For most survey-takers, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t make an impact on those post-secondary decisions. Nearly 84% of 112 respondents indicated that their plans weren’t affected by the pandemic; another 8% said the pandemic did change their plans to go directly to college, and 8% said it “maybe” made an impact.

And many don’t plan on stopping after four years of higher ed: Less than a quarter of all survey respondents said their ultimate goal in education was a bachelor’s degree.

Nearly 40% said they’re aiming for a master’s degree and more than 10% had their eyes on a doctorate; about a quarter of respondents were undecided and a marginal fraction planned on concluding their academic schooling with a high school diploma.

The survey also showed strong participation in International Baccalaureate coursework for the class of 2021 — though that didn’t necessarily translate to the same high participation numbers for the IB diploma program.

Almost half (49.1%) of 112 respondents took five or more IB courses and 28.6% took three or four IB courses in high school; 16.1% took one or two IB courses and 7% didn’t take any.

But less than a fifth of all survey-takers actually completed the diploma program, which also requires an extended essay and a Creativity, Activity, Service project and comes with some scheduling restrictions; meeting the requirements of the program can sometimes conflict with other activities, courses and engagements.

“Some of the most interesting parts of this came out of some of our questions about the IB. … Since I’ve been a part of this school district in terms of coming to the DAC, we’ve definitely had the push for IB for all,” Geiszl said.

Respondents identified that push in an open-answer section of the survey: though some students said they appreciated the wide variety of classes and rigorous IB offerings at the high school, others felt that the pressure to take those IB courses and expand the program came at the cost of attention to other non-IB classes.

By and large, students said they felt that their teachers had high expectations and asked students to put forth their best efforts, according to 90% of 110 respondents.

Another question about the overall experience students had with their teachers was “overwhelmingly positive,” according to Geiszl.

“Another thing that really stood out was how much they really love their teachers and how much great feedback we got about the teachers,” Geisl said. “I just think this speaks to the fantastic teaching staff that I’ve always heard about at the Aspen High School. … I just felt like those numbers for high school graduates were off the charts.”

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