State gives Aspen schools high marks
December 6, 2002
Aspen’s schools were ranked “high” and “excellent” on report cards from the Colorado Department of Education on Thursday.
On a scale that ranged from “excellent” to “unsatisfactory,” Aspen High School received a “high” rating, down from last year’s “excellent” rating because of some low scores on math tests, said Superintendent Tom Farrell.
Aspen Elementary and Middle schools received the same scores as last year – an “excellent” and a “high” rating, respectively.
Farrell said he and other administrators predicted the grades from the state, which are based on Colorado Student Assessment Program tests administered in the spring.
When the test scores were revealed in August, math produced the lowest score for local CSAP takers. Aspen’s ninth-graders were 7 percent above the state average, but still recorded only a 38 percent proficiency in the subject. Aspen Middle School fifth-graders recorded the best scores with a 68 percent proficiency.
During the past months, Farrell said many steps have been taken to improve math scores. Unfortunately, students take the CSAP tests in the spring, and results aren’t delivered to school districts until August.
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Farrell noted that two weeks before school starts is too late to make any changes in curriculum.
“At the end of August, what can you do? You can’t implement new programs when school is about to start,” he said. “We took the last year to study the testing results and change the curriculum.”
Math coaches were added in the schools, as were three new math teachers, one for the eighth grade and two for the high school. Farrell said the schools have also upped the amount of professional development they offer for staff members in math education.
“When the kids take the test again, I believe the teachers will be better prepared for the test,” he said. “We’re better aligning our curriculum with the CSAP test, and teachers are getting excited about the new ways of teaching, so we should see some results, but we’ll have to wait a year until we see them.”
Overall, Farrell said he was pleased with the local scores and grades given from the state. He said although Aspen High School’s score dropped, students were still ranked at the higher end of the “high” scale.
“We shouldn’t be making comparisons with other schools, because once you see the scores, you try to improve. But in this region of the state, the only schools that outscored us were charter schools or private schools,” Farrell said. “I feel pretty good about it, and I think we’ll be ‘excellent’ in the high school next year. Probably all three schools will.”
Statewide, the department of education reported 70 percent of Colorado’s schools that received “unsatisfactory” ratings in 2001 have improved and moved out of that category this year. Forty such schools that received low ratings last year were given the Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award this year for demonstrating significant improvement.
Farrell said the tests must be used appropriately to be a worthwhile measure of ranking a school’s abilities.
“It is a good method if it’s used properly – to help us improve, and if it’s just one of many measurements used,” he said. “But if you use only that test to rank schools, it could be very bad and very dangerous.”
Farrell noted that with the CSAP tests, Aspen schools do not receive credit for their extensive outdoor and experiential education programs, which are often nationally recognized.
“We also have very few fights in our schools – some years we have none. No violence here is not taken into consideration,” he said. “People talk about how we had two kids caught doing cocaine in the high school this year, but in my 15 years with the district that’s the first time that’s happened. We should be saying ‘that’s remarkable.’
“I look at how kids do in college and in their lives after college – that’s what’s the most important measurement to me.”
Elsewhere in the valley, out of the 22 public schools in Roaring Fork Re-1 and Garfield Re-2 school districts, six improved their test scores. Three schools’ scores declined, and the rest remained stable.
“Obviously we’re very pleased,” said Glenwood Springs High School principal Mike Wells, whose school rated “high,” an improvement from last year. “Anytime we receive a positive measurement of how we’re doing, we’re delighted.
“But it’s also important to put the testing into perspective. This isn’t the only measure of a school. It’s just one.”