ASD gaining in student performance

Photo courtesy of Alamosa School District Alamosa School District students at work in the classroom.

ALAMOSA — Luis Murillo, assistant superintendent for the Alamosa School District (ASD), recently shared with members of ASD’s Board of Education data indicating how students are performing during the 2022-2023 school year.

As is true across much of the state, out of 13 grades assessed (K-12) over half of the students in 10 out of those 13 grade levels are performing below grade level in math and over half of the students in five out of 13 grades are not reading at grade level.

But to simply stop there is only telling part of the story, and, perhaps, not even the most important part. A closer look at the progress — over time — indicates that performance is improving in several areas.

The data is broken down by both grade level, K-12, and performance in subject content area. Younger students’ performance is only measured in math and reading while the performance of older students is measured in math, reading and science.

Out of the 33 different percentages collected and sorted by grade and content areas, 19 areas show that more than 50% of students were performing at a level lower than where they should be. Out of those 19 areas, five showed 63% to 68% of students performing at less than grade level.

Murillo is clear that, overall, student performance is not where anyone wants it to be and transparency with parents, students, teachers, and the community is of paramount importance.

But, he says, looking beyond simple percentages is key to understanding what is happening with student performance. Progress, over time, is the best indicator of learning. And a closer look at the progress that is being made shows student performance is trending in the right direction.

Narrowing the gap

The information shared by Murillo did not come from Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) test scores, the state summative exam administered once a year to students. Instead, the data was collected using methodology developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) and recommended by the Colorado Department of Education. NWEA methodology includes assessments given multiple times over the year to measure students’ growth in a variety of subjects.

The data also shows how quickly a student is gaining new skills and if the rate of growth is at a rate that is less than or exceeds the rate of growth expected to reach grade level achievement. And, as part of that, it also shows — in measurable terms — how big the difference is between where students are and where they need to be.

Murillo refers to that difference as “the gap.”

“What I’m most interested in is tracking that gap between where students are and the norm,” Murillo says.

Norm is another word for grade level achievement.

“Is that gap narrowing? Because that’s where we want to be — on that trajectory toward reaching the norm which is where students fulfill their academic achievement,” he says.

Looking at the data as more a record of student progress over a period, which is what Murillo advocates, versus a snapshot of student performance reveals a much more nuanced and, albeit still clearly challenging, optimistic picture.

Student performance in the winter semester of school year 2021-2022 showed students gaining in their knowledge but at a rate of growth that was less than expected to catch up to where they needed to be.

But student performance in the winter semester of school year 2022-2023 not only showed students gaining in their knowledge — that is, narrowing that gap — but doing so at a rate that exceeded what was expected to get to where they needed to be in relation to grade level performance.

Beating expectations in growth

More specifically, kindergarten students are performing above grade level in reading and math. From fall to winter, third grade students met the expected growth in reading and math.

Fourth grade students met the expected rate of growth in reading. Fifth grade students exceeded the average expected growth by 2 points in both reading and math. Sixth grade students grew a total of 9 points — the equivalent of about a year and a half in school — and twice the expected rate of growth.

Seventh grade students in math grew 10.3 points — three times the expected growth from fall to winter. Ninth-grade algebra students grew 14.3 points and 10th-grade students who took the Algebra 2 test are 3.6 points above grade level.

Both ASD Superintendent Diana Jones and Assistant Superintendent Luis Murillo have been forthcoming about the challenges faced by both students and staff at ASD that have a clear impact on school performance.

Steering in the right direction

In relation to the pandemic, repeated and prolonged disruption caused “lost learning” to occur, which has involved teachers attempting to catch students up to where they need to be. At the same time, teachers were addressing problems with a loss of social development and, for many students, socio-economic problems at home.

The district has taken multiple steps to mitigate the impact of those issues, not the least of which involves having counsellors at each of the schools to assist with students who are experiencing specific problems. Inside the classrooms, teachers have also been working hard to recover what learning was lost and make gains going forward.

Attendance also impacts student performance and, according to Murillo, teachers or other staff members are more frequently, and of their own volition calling students’ homes to say, “Where are you? Why aren’t you here? We miss you in class.” And, if other agencies are involved in a student’s home life, the school is working more closely in partnership with those agencies.

Recruiting and retaining good teachers is a challenge at ASD as higher salaries and four-day school weeks are leading to teachers being successfully recruited by other districts in the Valley and beyond.

In response, ASD gave an 8% pay raise across the board beginning in 2022 and, although it is still in negotiation, Murillo is almost certain that ASD will be going to a four-day school week in the 2023-2024 school year. Finally, as of the spring semester, ASD is fully staffed with permanent teachers.

It would seem, based on the increasing number of trajectories headed in the right direction, ASD is steering in the right direction.

“A huge thank you and congratulations go to the staff and students who have made focused efforts to increase student achievement,” says Murillo. “The middle of the year NWEA assessment results show 20 out of the 36 tested grade levels and subject areas met or exceeded expected growth.”

Video News