Roaring Fork New Schools Superintendent Jesús Rodríguez admits he backs off a bit whenever someone suggests the new school year signals a return to pre-pandemic “normal”.
If normal means no longer monitoring school students, staff and visitors above mask requirements, or not having to send students home for quarantine, he is all for it.
But the harsh reality is that “normal” isn’t good enough when it comes to student academic success in district schools.
“As a field, in education, we may have missed an opportunity to think about school differently during the pandemic,” Rodríguez said.
“If ‘back to normal’ means teaching and learning the same way we were teaching and learning in 2019, then we still haven’t come close to fulfilling our mission,” he said.
Lower scores, persistent gaps
The reality is that when it comes to the latest data on standardized test scores, schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt are pretty much where they were three years ago.
Results from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) tests administered to public school students in grades 3 through 8 in the spring showed an overall decline of 6.3% from 2019 to 2022 in students meeting or exceeding the expectations of the grade level in English.
This means that just under a third of students at Roaring Fork schools meet or exceed English language expectations, nearly 10% below the state average of 42.2%.
Worryingly, but perhaps more concerning and even more unacceptable to district leaders is the huge achievement gap between Hispanic students, including those just learning English, and white students.
White students at Roaring Fork Schools are on par with the state in their achievement in English, at 54.9 percent meeting or exceeding expectations.
Hispanic students in the district have fallen behind the state average in those three years, with 16.6% of Roaring Fork District students meeting or exceeding expectations, compared to the state average. 25.7% state.
Among students who are just starting to learn English, only 4.4% of Roaring Fork students met or exceeded expectations in the latest round of testing, compared to an average of 7.9% for State.
The disparities are similar for math skills tests.
“And we had those same disparities in 2019,” Rodríguez said.
As for the missed opportunity to change some things, he still has hope.
“I don’t think it’s too late to be innovative and creative, and even just open to doing some things differently in teaching and learning,” Rodríguez said.
For Rodriguez, it all comes down to the Roaring Fork Schools mission statement: “Roaring Fork Schools will ensure all the student develops the enduring knowledge, skills and character to blossom in a changing world. »
He is determined to italicize the words all and blossom whenever he talks to school leaders, teachers or community groups.
Although there are other measures of student achievement besides tests, the CMAS tests for elementary and middle school students and the SAT Suite tests for high school students remain the most quantifiable way to determine whether students are achieving grade-level benchmarks in core subjects, Rodríguez said. .
“What the latest test results have told us loud and clear is that there are pretty huge disparities between some subgroups of students who are not meeting expectations on these grade level benchmarks, and another subgroup of students for which many more of them are. ”
This means that the district must step up its efforts to close these achievement gaps.
“Even if we succeed there, we will still have a third of our children who fail to meet expectations,” he said.
“We should have 100% of our students, whether white, Latinx or otherwise, meeting expectations in language arts and math. If not, we should respond to it as an emergency.
School board goals
School board members, at their Aug. 24 meeting, agreed that the drop in test scores for the district was not unexpected given the expected learning slide as a result of the pandemic.
But the extreme drop in Hispanic students in the district was particularly concerning, said board member Kenny Teitler.
“Our English learners aren’t accelerating,” he said. “If we look at the data, we see that white people have stayed the same or have progressed, but we have this group that is not succeeding … and there is nothing particular in our priorities and strategic initiatives to address specifically to those subgroups of students who are struggling and not making it.
Unless some details are included in the next revision of the district’s strategic plan, Teitler suggested making the achievement gap a higher priority in council goals.
Board Chair Kathryn Kuhlenberg agreed.
“We all knew this was coming…but it’s not OK,” she said. “We need to make a concerted effort as a board to address this issue in our strategic initiatives.”
Board member Maureen Stepp added that the district shouldn’t be content with simply being on par with state averages.
“We always compare ourselves to state levels, but for me, state levels are really low, so we’re just aiming for the middle ground,” she said. “That’s not good enough.”
The district also expects to get a strong assessment of the performance of its youngest students when it reviews the first set of data from the state’s READ Act requirements that will be presented to the board next week.
The READ Act aims to ensure that students in kindergarten through the first part of third grade have the skills necessary to be at grade level by the time they take the CMAS tests in the spring of their third year.
“We didn’t do an analysis here at the Roaring Fork Schools, but I was involved in one in Denver,” Rodriguez said. “What he discovered is that if you have a third grader who meets the expectations of the CMAS tests, they will continue to meet those expectations in fourth, fifth, sixth and beyond.
“And, ultimately, when they pass the SATs in high school, they’ll be ready for college,” he said. “The reverse is also true, that if they don’t meet those grade level expectations, it becomes more difficult for graduate students who are college and career ready.”
Senior Reporter/Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or [email protected]