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Local schools improve report cards

Of the Eagle County School District's 16 schools, three boosted their yearly accountability scores, two slipped, and the rest remained stable on state list.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” Report cards can bring pizza dinners or banishment from video games. Some Eagle County schools earned a few slices this year.

Every public school in Colorado receives a “school accountability report” from the state each year. Of the Eagle County School District’s 16 schools, three jumped up, two slipped, and the rest kept their scores stable.

Monica Lammers is in her first year as principal of Eagle Valley Elementary School in Eagle. The school just received its state-issued report card and the news was very good. The school, which has rated “high” in the past, received an “excellent” rating from the state, the top score available. The hard part will be trying to maintain that performance.

People who work at Eagle Valley High School also have good news. That school jumped from “average” to “high” on its state report card. So did Gypsum Elementary School.

Better grades on state or federal report cards are hard to come by in high schools ” due in large part to the number of students ” and Principal Mark Strakbein gave credit to both the staff and the kids.

“I can’t say enough about their commitment to doing the right thing,” Strakbein said.

Debbie Sheehy has kids at both Eagle Valley Elementary and Eagle Valley High. She said the state-issued grades confirm what she sees.

“The teachers are incredible,” Sheehy said of the staff at the elementary school. “There’s no one I wouldn’t recommend as a teacher.”

Sheehy said a school’s scores can be an important part of parents’ decision about where to send their kids.

“It really does give an overall feel that the school’s going in the right direction,” she said. “It’s good information for someone who’s considering private schools.”

At the east end of the valley, parent Jodi Teague gave a quick “yay!” when told Meadow Mountain Elementary School continues to do well on its state report. The Eagle-Vail school was rated “high” for both the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years.

Teague said the report cards are good both for parents at schools, and parents whose kids will be moving to a new school. Teague has a youngster in fifth grade at Meadow Mountain who will be moving to Minturn Middle School next year. That school has earned “high” ratings the last two years.

“It’s good to know the kind of school it is,” Teague said.

Other district schools still have work to do.

“We have a long way to go, but we’re improving,” Avon Elementary School Principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon said.

Avon Elementary ” which scored “low” the past two years ” has several new teachers and has started a “dual language” program in which groups of children are taught exclusively in either Spanish or English for several weeks at a time.

“It’s a great starting place,” Rewold-Thuon said. “We can set our goals high.”

Avon has been behind other district schools for several years. The main reason is its overwhelming population of immigrant children. Almost all of those kids, most of whom are learning English, take their tests in English, which almost guarantees low scores in third grade.

But the school has been getting “improving” scores the last couple of years, which indicates students are making progress as they take tests in fourth and fifth grades.

The only other district school with a “low” score is Red Canyon High School, the district’s “alternative” school. That school has fewer than 100 students, which means that a few kids who do badly on their state tests can more easily drag down the scores for the whole school.

Schools are graded a couple of ways by the state: How students perform on the Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP tests, and how students perform from year to year.

The “overall performance” scores are based on students’ test scores. The “academic growth” part of the report is based on kids’ scores over two school years.

For instance, a student whose test scores put him in the 75th percentile in 2004-05 must score that well or better in 2005-06 to get a score of “stable” or “improvement.”

That’s how a school can end up with a “high” performance score and a “declining” growth score, which is what happened at Eagle Valley High.

School district officials acknowledge the two ratings can result in some head-scratching, but like the way the state’s tracking system mirrors that of the district.

On the other hand, the scores provide an imprecise picture of just how schools are doing. It’s hard to know just where a school has landed in one of its categories. And those categories make up a tight grading curve.

Only 8 percent of the state’s schools will ever be rated as “excellent.” The curve puts 25 percent of all schools in the “low” category. Another 25 percent end up with “high” ratings. The “average” category is reserved for 40 percent of all schools, and the remaining 2 percent will end up as “unsatisfactory.”

The curve can be harsh.

“Let’s say we had an incredible year in the whole state and everyone did great; we’d still have 2 percent of the schools as unsatisfactory,” said Mike Gass, the district’s curriculum director for the secondary grades.

And, for every school that jumps into a category, another jumps out.

The state reports keep the pressure on school principals to either improve, or, in Lammers’ case, keep up a standard.

That job will always be hard, but Gass said both the state and the district are refining ways to track students.

At the state level, it means keeping track of students as they take their state tests. Locally, the district keeps track of kids both through their state tests and district-run tests. Scores from the district-run tests stay with kids as long as they’re in the district, or if they leave and return.

“If they’re in accelerated programs or have special needs, we have programs throughout the district,” Meadow Mountain Elementary School Principal Kathy Cummings said.

Tracking kids helps all the way into high school.

“Any time you can follow a kid’s progress is good,” Strakbein said. “You can see if you’re being effective or not.”

Several principals gave credit to the district’s Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, as a way to help teachers give individual help to kids.

In Eagle, Lammers said, TAP has helped the school move from “high” to “excellent” on its state reports.

Another way to track kids, or at least get them whatever help they might need, is a new program that started this school year with two days of testing. That, said Gass, is putting more information in teachers’ hands.

“You’re only as good as your data, and this is really helping,” he said.

Report cards for Colorado schools and past years’ accountability reports can be found on the state department of education’s Web site:

http://reportcard.cde.state.co.us/reportcard/CommandHandler.jsp

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO


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