School officials, parents differ over Montessori statistics |

School officials, parents differ over Montessori statistics

Eben Harrell

As a group of parents attempt to found a new alternative education school in Carbondale, school district officials are calling attention to statistics indicating that Montessori education fails to prepare students for standardized reading and writing tests.Data returned from the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) show Montessori students at Carbondale Elementary School lagging their traditional counterparts. Latinos enrolled in Montessori in particular have performed poorly; in two sets of basic reading exams taken by third- and fourth-graders in 2003 and 2004, not one Latino in the Montessori program demonstrated proficiency.”These tests are pretty remedial,” district board member Brad Zeigel said. “So if no students pass, we have to look pretty hard at the program.”Anglo Montessori students also struggle on standardized tests when compared to traditionally educated students. On a third-grade reading test taken in 2003, 68 percent of Anglo students in traditional classrooms demonstrated proficiency, compared to only 44 percent in the Montessori program. On the same test taken in 2004, 67 percent of traditional Anglo students passed, while 50 percent of Montessori students were deemed proficient. On the fourth-grade reading exam in 2004, 44 percent of Anglo students passed, compared to 33 percent of Montessori students.”There’s a perception I think that the problems at Carbondale Elementary School are all in the traditional program, but the numbers just don’t indicate that,” assistant district superintendent Judy Haptonstall said.Carbondale Elementary School is in its third year of probation from the state after continued poor performance on standardized tests.Advocates of a new Montessori school refute the district’s data, arguing that the sample is too small and that the results included students who had only been in the Montessori program for less than a year. For example, while it is true that no third-grade Latinos passed reading tests in 2003, only nine students were tested.”It’s a ridiculously small sample. I’m wondering why it’s even being considered,” Montessori parent and advocate Carolyn Fisher said.”The data is not method dependent,” Montessori teacher Wendy Williams said. “There are students included in that data who have only been in the Montessori program for a year. You can’t judge the program on data from those students.”But district officials question whether the Montessori approach fails to instill basic reading skills at a pace acceptable to state requirements.”I have no doubt that a Montessori student would get through fifth grade and know how to read,” board member Bruce Wampler said. “But according to the state, they have to read at a certain level by third grade.”Montessori is an alternative education program that promotes “sensitivity periods” in learning. Under these sensitivity periods, reading and writing comes after periods of nonliterate conceptual learning.An application to found a new Montessori school in Carbondale has been submitted to the state. The new school, if it goes ahead, must meet all state and federal accountability standards. Proponents of Montessori education say the new school will meet such learning standards.District officials, pointing to CSAP data, are not so sure.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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