Eagle Co. schools a testing ground for Colorado | VailDaily.com

Eagle Co. schools a testing ground for Colorado

Matt Terrell
Vail CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Eagle County Schools will soon become a test site for new ways of closing so-called “achievement gaps” ” those disparities in performance between the poor and the well-off and between Hispanic students and Caucasian students.

Students who know little or no English, who now make up close to 40 percent of the school district, continually lag far behind their English-speaking peers on the Colorado Student Assessment Program, known as CSAP.

Students who live in poverty also lag behind other students on state tests.

Eagle County happens to have one of the highest percentages non-English speaking students in the state and a high number of students on free and reduced lunch ” both reasons the Colorado Department of Education recently chose the school district for this pilot program.

The three-year pilot program began earlier this year with a detailed study of the school district performed by the Department of Education, which will give administrators a better idea of what exactly needs to be done and where the biggest problems are. This summer, state officials will work with the school district to decide what sort of new programs would be the best fit for Eagle County.

The district will receive its own full-time consultant, paid for by the state, who will work in Eagle County and coordinate the new programs.

The program will go into effect this next school year, and it will be watched, analyzed and tweaked over the next three years.

Superintendent John Pacheco said the achievement gap is one of the biggest problems in the school district and the state. The trouble is that educators have had a hard time finding the funding and resources to make big changes.

So, if teachers can improve student performance in Eagle County, where the problems are especially tough ” then state educators know those strategies can be used effectively throughout the state, he said.

“We need to demonstrate it can be done ” that we can turn this gap around, and say, ‘Here’s how you do it,'” Pacheco said.

So, what kind of new programs could the school district expect to see?

It’s hard to say exactly now, but there will likely be an intense focus on teacher training. Part of the pilot program will be bringing in top experts from around the country to train teachers how to effectively reach students who are learning a new language or who may come to school hungry.

It’s likely the district will develop a new, more unified reading program, one that could be used at all the schools, Pacheco said.

At schools where the achievement gaps are even more pronounced, like at Avon Elementary, the school district will consider other things like extending the school year.

Eagle County and five other school districts were chosen for the pilot program ” Greeley-Evans School District, Roaring Fork School District, St. Vrain Valley School District, Summit School District and Yuma School District also were chosen.

“These six districts were selected based on their exceptional leadership capacity, their focus on improving student achievement for all students and their commitment to change,” said Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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