CSAP tests indicate ongoing learning problems in District 11, Westside schools

       The problems can be seen in third grade, the first year that students take the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) tests. Numerous third-grade students in District 11 and - to a slightly lesser degree - those in its 13 Westside schools are already lagging behind in the subject areas of reading, writing and math, an analysis of last spring's CSAP testing shows.
       And it appears many students stay behind. In 10th grade (the last year CSAP testing occurs), for the district as well as the Westside, reading was the only CSAP category in which the rate of unsatisfactories was less than that in third grade.
       Perhaps most eye-opening was the evident lack of improvement in math. Here are the combined third-grade scores for students from Bristol, Buena Vista, Howbert, Ivywild, Jackson, Midland, Pike, Washington and Whittier on the math portion of last spring's CSAPs:
  • 6.83 percent unsatisfactory.
  • 36.05 partly proficient.
  • 37.34 proficient.
  • 19.79 advanced.
           Here are the math CSAPs for the 10th graders from Coronado and Bijou high schools:
  • 38.62 unsatisfactory.
  • 50.55 partly proficient.
  • 7.53 proficient.
  • 2.91 advanced.
           A Westside principal offered the opinion that the reason for the low 10th grade scores is lack of caring by high schoolers. However, math scores through the grade levels show a steady decline, not a sudden drop-off at high school.
           CSAP tests are standardized tests through the Colorado Department of Education, intended to match the level of knowledge students are expected to have at a given grade level. Throughout the school year, District 11 school teachers spend many hours practicing with students on items likely to be on the CSAP tests. A score of “proficient” represents a basic understanding of the subject matter.
           Elaine Naleski, a spokesperson for District 11, said students are often trailing, not just in third grade, but from the time they enter school. Although CSAP statistics show that a higher proportion of low third-grade scores come from Hispanic and black students and that this disparity continues through 10th grade, Naleski said the real key is socio-economic factors. “A lot of kids have no books in their homes, and they don't get taken to all these places, so they start out behind,” she said. As a result, “one of our major focuses this year is the first three grades,” she continued. “We want to do everything in our power to get those kids caught up who are already behind.”
           To help beginning students who are behind, for whatever reasons, District 11 this year is offering free full-time kindergarten in the elementary schools. There wasn't any new source of funding; “we decided it was so important, we needed to put the money there and not other places,” Naleski said.
           In the past, full-time kindergarten has only been offered at Title 1 schools (those that qualified under poverty guidelines), or at schools where parents could raise the money to pay for another half-day. Such an effort had fallen just short at Howbert each of the last two years.
           Some of the Westside schools typically fare better on the CSAPs than others. Scoring consistently high this year as well as in past years, are Howbert and Jackson elementaries and Holmes Middle School. Combining the proficient and advanced rankings, high scores last spring included a 97 for Howbert in third grade reading, an 89 for Jackson in third grade reading, and an 87 for Holmes in eighth grade reading.
           Other Westside schools showed scattered upgrades this year. At Bristol Elementary, the fourth graders improved noticeably over their predecessors in math (rising to 75 percent proficient/advanced in 2006 from 26 percent the previous year) as well as reading (72 from 42).
           Margaret Anaya-Kinney, a new Bristol fourth-grade teacher in 2005-06, described some of the efforts she used to lift struggling students. At the beginning of the year, she stressed to her class that children learn at different rates and just because some kids understand a concept right away “doesn't mean one is smarter than the other,” Anaya said. She also discouraged the word “can't,” using regular homework to hone in on students having problems and adjusting her study plan accordingly. “Some people tell me, you work too hard, because after you give them work, you have to grade it immediately,” said Anaya, for whom a masters in teaching is her second such degree (she also has a masters in business, which she followed with a 13-year retail and purchasing career before taking several years off to raise a daughter). “But it's important. It was my first year of teaching, and I just did what I thought I needed to do.”

    Westside Pioneer article