Aspen schools again earn high state marks
December 10, 2008
ASPEN ” Aspen schools earned high or excellent performance ratings in the latest round of school “report cards” released Tuesday by the Colorado Department of Education. Basalt schools also performed well, earning high or average marks.
The ratings are one aspect of the voluminous school accountability reports, but they are often cited as an indicator of schools’ educational quality. Education websites such as Greatschools.net and real estate websites like Cyberhomes.com frequently use the ratings to guide parents and potential homebuyers regarding the performance of schools in various districts.
Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said the ratings matter to the districts because they carry weight in public perception. Still, they are only one piece of information, she said.
“The easy thing is to think if [a school] is not excellent [in performance] and high [in growth] it must be a horrible place,” she said.
But the grades are based entirely on three hours of students’ time, she noted.
“A three-hour snapshot is just that,” she said.
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Aspen Superintendent Diana Sirko said she was generally pleased with the district’s high rating, but she was puzzled by a “low” growth rating for the fifth and sixth grades at Aspen Middle School. The score didn’t match the data the district received in the fall, which showed high growth and achievement for all grades, according to Sirko. The district is trying to find out more information about the score, she said.
Each year, ratings are calculated by comparing students’ performances on the state-mandated Colorado Student Achievement Program (CSAP) test to the performance of others in their grade level.
Because the report card grades are calculated using a moving target, rather than a standard benchmark, it can be hard to explain differences across schools in a district, Haptonstall said.
In Basalt, for example, students in the sixth through 12th grades earned a “high” score, but students in the first through fifth grade earned an “average” rating.
“You can’t really say that they must be doing something different at the high school than the elementary school,” Haptonstall said. “They’re on different playing fields.”
Still, Haptonstall acknowledged that the district would want stronger showings from Basalt Elementary School.
“Given the groups the elementary kids are being compared against, that’s where we score,” she said. “We want to score much higher, and that’s what we’re working toward.”
In both Aspen and Basalt schools, data shows that the gap between Latino and Anglo students, in general, grows as the students get older.
In the Aspen School District, for example, the reading gap between Anglo and Latino students grows from 29 points in elementary school to 47 points in high school. In Basalt, the reading gap grows from 45 points in elementary school to 56 points in high school.
John Maloy, assistant Aspen superintendent, has noted that while the district has English Language Learner teachers and resources in each building, the number of Latino students in the district continues to increase, and it simply takes time for those students to catch up with their English-speaking counterparts.
The Basalt schools, along with the rest of the Roaring Fork School District, are currently engaged in a three-year pilot project to try to narrow the gap between Anglo and Latino students.
The comprehensive reports also provide information about everything from average teacher tenure to school goals, allowing for comparisons between schools.
“It’s a nice summary or compilation of the data that’s collected,” said Sirko, explaining that the district uses the data in various forms throughout the year.
For example, Basalt students were slightly more likely to get in a fight last year: Basalt High saw seven fights, and Basalt Middle had three. By contrast, there were two incidents of fighting at Aspen High and none at Aspen Middle School.
However, students were slightly more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs in Aspen: Aspen High had nine incidents of alcohol or drug abuse, and Basalt High had six.
The reports also invite district comparisons, and perhaps the clearest difference between the Aspen and Roaring Fork districts is financial.
The average teacher salary in Aspen is roughly $54,000; in Basalt it is about $46,500. The average administrator salary in Aspen is nearly $85,000; in Basalt, it is roughly $71,500.
Widest is the gap between total district revenue per pupil. The Aspen School District had roughly $6,000 more per pupil in total district revenue last year than the Roaring Fork School District.
Despite the efforts of the State Equalization Act to equalize per-pupil funding in districts, Haptonstall said that true equalization has never really happened.
“With all the economic ups and downs, that’s never really worked out,” she said.