Is your child improving in school? |

Is your child improving in school?

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Some of Eagle County’s lowest performing schools on standardized tests are actually some of the most effective schools in the district, according to a new analysis of test scores released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Education.

This new way of looking at students scores, called the Colorado Growth Model, focuses on improvement rather than who has the highest scores. It examines how much individual students and schools grow from one year to the next on the Colorado Student Assessment Program, known as CSAP.

The growth model compares each student’s performance with students in the same grade throughout Colorado who had similar test scores in past years ” advanced students are compared only to other advanced students, and students who read below grade level are compared only with other students reading below grade level.

This allows educators to see better “apple to apple” comparisons ” to see if teachers are doing a good job of reaching students with different backgrounds, different ability levels and different learning styles.

In most subjects, grades and demographics, students in Eagle County are improving at around the same rate or better than most other students throughout Colorado.

“I think we’re hanging in where the state picture is, but like everybody, we’d like to be exceeding that in all areas,” said Mike Gass, director of secondary education.

You’ll also notice that students at schools with the some of the lowest scores in the district, like at Avon Elementary and Edwards Elementary, are actually making some of the biggest improvements ” meaning they’re a lot more effective then you might assume just looking at their low scores.

By looking at how much students improve every year compared to their peers, the Growth Model calculates a “growth percentile.” Example: a student who improved as much or more than 60 percent of his peers throughout the state would be in the “60th growth percentile.”

If another student performed as well or better than only 30 percent of similar students, he would be in the 30th percentile. This number is figured for every student, every grade and every school.

To see how schools as a whole are performing from one year to the next, educators are examining the median growth percentile at each school, and comparing it to the state median of 50. If you were to list every score at a school, the median would be the one exactly in the middle. When the median goes up, that means more students are improving, and when it goes down, improvement is lagging.

Here’s a sampling of how Eagle County students improved on their reading scores:

Some schools made major improvements. The median growth percentile at Red Hill Elementary was 62 in 2008, up from 41 in 2007. The median growth percentile at Avon Elementary was 54 in 2008, up from 46.5 the previous year.

All these numbers show is that students at these schools, while they may not be “proficient” in reading, are making bigger improvements than other students in the state who have similar troubles reading.

The median growth percentile at Battle Mountain High School and Eagle Valley High School were about the same ” 51 and 47.5, respectively.

Students at Eagle County Charter Academy, one of the highest performing schools in the district, actually showed a lot less improvement in reading, writing and math than most other schools in the district. Same for Eagle Valley Elementary, also one of the higher performing schools in the district.

“At some schools, we’re getting the high achievement, but we’re not growing,” said Heather Eberts, director of elementary education. “The schools getting growth can be models for other schools.”

A few schools made big drops ” nearly all of the median growth scores at Meadow Mountain Elementary dropped from 2007 to 2008. Meadow Mountain, overall, had the lowest median growth percentiles in the district. Gypsum Elementary students made big improvements in reading from 2007 to 2008, but not so much in writing and math.

Information like this is really good because it gives schools a better idea of where they need to improve, Eberts said. Scores are broken down into males, females, minorities and low-income students so schools can see if there’s a particular group that needs more improvement.

You’ll notice that Minturn Middle School students aren’t improving much in math from year to year, or that students at Red Sandstone Elementary are improving less and less at writing each year.

It also puts a focus back on high achieving students. Just because a student scored advanced on the CSAP doesn’t mean they can’t improve, and it’s up to schools to make sure they’re continually challenging them.

“For kids that are already high achieving, we can figure out how to help them grow even more,” Eberts said.

Examining test scores this way also gives much needed credit to schools who are much more effective than their raw scores indicate. If you judge schools simply by who has the highest scores on standardized tests, you’re usually not seeing the entire picture, Eberts said.

“When you look at a raw score, the one score of a school, you don’t realize the amount of effort and work and energy teachers put into the everyday instruction of a kid, and the growth model honors that,” Gass said.

There’s one more interesting way of looking at the test data. For students who scored unsatisfactory or partially proficient on the CSAP in previous years, the growth model calculates if they’re making enough improvement to eventually reach proficiency.

For students who are already proficient or advanced ” the growth model calculates if those students are making enough improvement to remain proficient or advanced throughout their school career.

In our school district, about 41 percent of low-performing elementary students in the district are “on track” to reach proficiency in reading in three years, according to the new data.

About 29 percent of low-performing middle school students will reach reading proficiency in three years, and about 25 percent of low-performing high schoolers will reach proficiency.

As for students who are already proficient or advanced ” more than 85 percent of students in all grades are on track to remain proficient or advanced.

These number illustrate some of the basic difficulties of teaching ” for students who start off performing poorly, it can be difficult for teachers to get them to grade level.

For students who are already at a high level, teachers have the difficult task of upping the ante every year, continually challenging them so they don’t fall back.

“It’s great to get a year’s growth in a year’s time with a student, but if they’ve started off two years behind the others, they’ll be two years behind when they graduate,” Gass said.

Eberts said it will be easy now to tell which students need to improve at a faster rate than other students to catch up and reach proficiency.

Much of this information isn’t totally new to Eagle County Schools. Teachers have been doing a similar analysis on their own using data from a different standardized test, called the NWEA, but have never been able to analyze CSAP scores this way and compare results to state scores.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

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