Not all Aspen math scores adding up
ASPEN – Reacting to what one Aspen school board member termed an “alarming” trend in standardized math test scores at certain grade levels, the Board of Education is taking a close look at the district’s performance in the subject area.
“What’s going on as it relates to our ninth- and 10th-graders?” school board member Bob Glah asked at the board’s meeting Monday. “This is a huge red flag for me; I am alarmed.”
The discussion came as part of the board’s ongoing academic achievement monitoring. But unlike most monitoring sessions, this nearly two-hour-long conversation ended with the board voting unanimously that “reasonable progress is being made, with the following exceptions” – namely, not meeting the target CSAP math scores for ninth- and 10th-graders.
According to data presented at the meeting, in 2009-10, 55 percent of 10th-graders score proficient or above; in 2010-11, that number dropped to 39 percent. The target was 58 percent. Sophomores also missed their target, in this case by 15 percentage points.
“Two cohort groups (grade eight to nine, and grade nine to 10) experienced a significant decrease which has been attributed to continuing factors,” noted assistant superintendent Dr. Julia Roark in her report to the school board.
Among those factors are recent changes to the math curriculum, as well as a shift in math philosophy in general – both of which take time to show marked results. Regardless, the scores remained a concern.
“We could respond to this with excuses and explanations, but that’s not the proper way to deal with it,” said Aspen High School math teacher Jamie Hozack. “So we are here to talk with you all about what is going on and what actions we are taking.
“Overall, we have been successful, but we realize there are areas for improvement.”
Indeed, board members acknowledged that Aspen’s scores are still above state averages – which are 38 and 32 percent proficient or above for ninth and 10th grades, respectively – but they remain concerned. They pointed to the scores of Colorado Match high schools like Cherry Creek, Cheyenne Mountain and Steamboat Springs, all of which scored significantly above Aspen in 2010-11.
“We may never be a Cherry Creek or Cheyenne Mountain because we chose, as a community, to focus on other things like the whole child, ExEd, etc.,” said board member Laura Kornasiewicz. “But that we’re not stacking up against ourselves from previous years; that is alarming.”
All of those involved in the conversation agreed that the district’s math departments are trying to improve student performance. The question of how to create results, however, remained.
“That you’re honest about what is going on gives me a lot of confidence that we can get this solved,” said board member Elizabeth Parker. “But how? Where do we start?”
In the end, the board voted to note the exceptions to “reasonable progress” so the topic can be monitored more closely. The board is also planning a separate work session with the mathematics staff to discuss strategies for continued change, as well as the possibility of a communication forum to parents.
“You read as a family all year long, but math is not a daily family activity,” noted Sarah Beesley, a math teacher at Aspen Middle School.
Board member Charla Belinski agreed: “The culture of how we view math is definitely a conversation we need to have, both in the school and outside.”
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