Gypsum school narrows ‘achievement gap’
Vail, CO Colorado
GYPSUM, Colorado – Gypsum Elementary recently won $10,000 for narrowing the so-called “achievement gap” between students who fall above and below the poverty level.
Each year, the state Department of Education looks at schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families to see which schools made the most progress in reducing the disparity in standardized test scores among students from different economic backgrounds.
Of roughly 650 Colorado schools eligible for a grant through the No Child Left Behind Act, Gypsum made the biggest strides in closing the achievement gap between 2009 and 2010.
That’s why the state recently dubbed the Gypsum Elementary the “National Title I Distinguished School for Closing the Achievement Gap.” The school won $10,000 to continue its efforts, a plaque, a banner and a trip for two staff members to an education conference in Florida.
“The award is just kind of a recognition of the hard work my teachers and kids have been doing,” Principal Mitch Forsberg said.
School were eligible for the award if at least 40 percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunches – a measure the state uses to gauge a school’s poverty level. Also, at least 30 percent of students had to be minorities.
At Gypsum Elementary, 64 percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunch and 71 percent of all students were Latinos in 2009-10.
The state looked at the percentage of students who scored partially proficient or higher on the reading and math portions of the Colorado Student Assessment Program test.
In 2009, the percentage of poverty-level students who met that mark was about 8.89 percentage points lower than the percentage of non-poverty level students who reached that goal.
In 2010, that disparity dropped to 4.45 percentage points.
“They basically cut that gap in half,” said Judy Huddleston, a state consultant involved in the grant process. “That’s incredible.”
Forsberg said it’s hard to point to a single thing the school did to close the gap.
The school’s focus on reading intervention – breaking students who struggle with reading into small groups to work on their problem areas – may have played a role, teachers say.
“I think our teachers are really good at pinpointing student needs, and I believe they work hard to develop good quality instruction to address those needs,” reading teacher Melissa Garvey said.
Schools with high poverty rates tend to face extra hurdles when it comes to reading.
“I think one of the challenges is many of the students don’t have books in their home,” reading teacher Margaret Edwards said.
To get more books into the home, the school has done things like subscribe to BookFlix, an online program that reads books to kids.
Although Gypsum elementary has made strides toward closing the achievement gap, teachers say there’s more work to be done.
Several teachers have ideas for what to do with the $10,000 the school won.
Edwards said the money could go toward keeping the school’s library open during the summer.
“One of the challenges we face is what they call the ‘summer slide.’ We get kids up to this point,” she said, gesturing toward the sky with her hand. “If they don’t read over the summer, they slide back.”
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.