Voces Unidas: Eagle County School District achievement gap demands a dedicated plan
As Eagle County School District Superintendent Philip Qualman recently noted, it’s spring testing season for local students. The annual Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) exams in Language Arts, Math and Science are in full swing, administered statewide every year to determine if elementary and middle school students comprehend the content they are expected to know, according to grade level and subject matter standards.
Although the test results won’t be revealed for a while yet, history shows that Latino students are likely to continue to test some 30+ percentage points behind white students who meet or exceed expectations across all grades in the district, just as they did in 2022.
Pandemic disruptions notwithstanding, these student outcomes are disturbingly consistent. Despite the reality that Eagle County School District is a majority Latino school system (52%), the achievement gap remains glaring. The wide gap in CMAS scores between Latino and white students year after year offers no reason to believe Eagle County schools are an exception to the reality that Latino students are, on average, academically 2.7 grades behind their white peers. Remember, we’re talking about more than half the students in the Eagle County school system.
As troubling as those figures may be, the simple truth is that we do not see a district plan to meaningfully address this grave inequity in the quality of education that students receive. And if one exists, is it actually working? As of now, the problem remains.
It’s time for bold action and specific plans to address the student achievement gap. We need better, more intentional interventions to dramatically accelerate student outcomes, and we need them now. The status quo has not worked for far too many Latino students, and they cannot afford to wait.
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The fact is we are far from where we need to be, and the school district’s current rate of progress is unacceptable. Closing the gap in 2% increments will leave generations of students unserved, less prepared to go on through school and through life. Every year we get it wrong is another generation of students we fail as a community.
Resolving this crisis will certainly require community buy-in, and it should begin with unprecedented, more intentional parental engagement that matches the urgency of the problem.
The reality is that some students need more than two years’ worth of learning to make up the current gap, an undeniably formidable challenge to overcome. Without the commitment to a detailed, public plan that includes a defined timeline and dedicated budget, the goal to close the achievement gap will never be achieved.
At the community level, strengthening parental engagement will be a critical requirement of any plan. Research shows there is a direct correlation between parent engagement and student outcomes, and we need to drastically improve parent leadership, specifically Latino parent leadership, in all levels of school and district life. Latino parents must be engaged at a level reflecting the student population and we must find meaningful roles for them to help guide the district.
Finally, we cannot overlook the importance of finding talented teachers, principals and support staff — in every classroom, in every school and in every department — that reflect the diversity of our community. Having diverse educators in the classroom, as school leaders, and as administrators means that more perspectives, insights and lived experiences will help identify and develop solutions to today’s challenges. The district must establish a long-term vision and plan to be more intentional and successful at attracting, recruiting, supporting and rewarding great talent that resembles the diversity of our students.
Having spent a decade working in some of the largest urban school districts in the country, from Denver to Austin to Palm Beach, I know the work is hard and recognize the immense responsibility placed on our teachers, principals, administration and the school board. Truly preparing all students for success demands involvement from the entire community, but ultimately it’s the community that reaps the rewards.
The Eagle County School District is great in many respects. But it needs to be better for many, many more students. And we’re running out of time to get it right.
Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, non-profit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. His column appears monthly.