Alternative school masters mainstream test
The Aspen Community School, founded in 1970 by local parents who wanted an alternative to standardized education, has received an award for its performance in the Colorado State Assessment Program. The state standardized testing system better known as CSAP.
The Community School, which provides progressive, experiential education to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, received a 2004 Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award. The award is given by the Colorado General Assembly to recognize schools with the greatest improvement on CSAP tests. The community school was deemed to show “significant improvement” in the elementary school from 2002 to 2003.
The school, located in a cabin schoolhouse above Woody Creek, is an alternative education institution where educators say they are committed to experiential education through skill building and hands-on learning.
A typical school day is divided into two sessions. In the morning, students of different ages attend classes in math, language arts, social and emotional learning, and arts, while in the afternoon the students participate in activities that reflect and apply the lessons learned in the morning.
In 1995, the Community School became a public charter school of the Aspen School District, which made standardized testing mandatory for its students, something anathema to the school’s goal of nurturing the “whole child.”
“I’m not enamored with the test,” Principal Jim Gilchrist said. “We think there are far better methods of assessments, and we try to reinforce that idea with the students. But CSAPS are a reality, and we’ve been working to improve our scores.”
Gilchrist claims that while teachers willingly “teach to the test,” they have worked hard to develop CSAP teaching that is consistent with the school’s founding principles.
For example, an English teacher has developed a game of CSAP Survivor, named after the popular reality TV show, in which tribes of children compete on CSAP skills. A tribe does not succeed until each student is competent in the skill being tested, an example Gilchrist cites as enhancing student social interactions.
“Our teachers are working hard to find a balance on how we can prepare for these tests without betraying the principles of experiential education and life-long learning,” Gilchrist said. “I think this award indicates a level of success in that regard.”