The Aspen School District is self-assessing how it evaluates success at its school.
In Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting held in Colorado Springs while school board members attend the Colorado Association of School Boards Convention, district administration and the board discussed its academic success indicators, the key data points the district uses to determine its success in delivering the academic outcomes it seeks to achieve.
The district’s unique positioning in delivering the International Baccalaureate curriculum and sending a higher-than-average number of students to post-secondary school changes its goals and how it monitors the achievement of them — and may be overshadowing some of the shortcomings at lower grades.
“This is real-time impacts: how people teach and what they teach,” ASD Superintendent David Baugh said in the meeting.
The district currently monitors 10 indicators, high-level topics that don’t always specify metrics. They range from kindergarten readiness to post-secondary success, utilizing some standardized assessments, like the SAT. The district claims its indicators use “predictive power,” or metrics that can be leveraged to direct instruction.
Some key indicators are reading and math proficiency at the third-grade level, math proficiency at the eighth-grade level and post-secondary success, measuring how many ASD graduates must take remedial classes at the next level.
ASD last revised its indicators list in May 2019, according to a master document listing out the 10 decided at the time. In Wednesday’s discussion of the indicators, the administration suggested cutting three indicators: monitoring of attendance, course failure and behavior of sixth graders, completion of “rigorous coursework inclusive of the arts and world language” and critical thinking/problem solving.
Assistant Superintendent Tharyn Mulberry said a study showed that attendance, behavior and academic performance at grade six specifically was predictive of if students are likely to graduate. He said the school’s graduation rate means that consistent monitoring of those data points as an indicator of success does not meet the board’s “aspirational interests.”
“We posited that, given our graduation rate, that’s probably not something you’d necessarily want to use,” Mulberry said.
The district also reasoned that critical thinking and problem solving can’t be adequately measured in a way that is useful. Concerns were similar for monitoring the completion of arts and world language courses. The administration had previously cited a 2016 College Board report that said students who took four years of arts and music classes in high school scored an average of 93 points better than students who took a half-year or less.
The board expressed concern over what the removal of arts indicators would mean, as it would leave only monitoring of math and reading in the list.
“We think the arts and world language are super important, I believe in both with all of my heart,” Baugh said. “But again, from measuring it and how students are doing in each of those courses, that becomes a giant project in and of itself.”
Mulberry also pointed out that monitoring completion of the IB coursework has some redundancies with general “rigorous coursework” monitoring and compensates for some of that gap.
Jonathan Nickell, who was elected board president earlier in the meeting, suggested that many of the district’s flaws are masked by success in graduation and post-secondary education, emphasizing the need for performance monitoring at the lower grades.
“From my perspective it’s not a judgment tool, it’s aspiration building and makes us ask the hard questions,” Nickell said. “I feel like the elementary school, based on my experience with Aspen School District, has been kind of underperforming in reading and writing. That gets reflected in the middle school. We manage to get everybody caught up by high school, but then we’ve always heard feedback from the high school, ‘Get the kids here better prepared because they spend time getting up to speed.’”
The new indicators list was not finalized in the meeting.
New officers elected
The board elected new officers. Nickell, the previous vice president, was unanimously elected president, replacing Katy Frisch, who moved to the assistant secretary and assistant treasurer positions.
Christa Gieszl, former secretary, moved to vice president. Stacey Weiss moved from treasurer to secretary and Suzy Zimet moved to treasurer.