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Local schools working to mitigate effects of child poverty on test scores 

DiverseCity

Many kids in our school districts have failing reading and math scores.

As a community, we are all responsible for changing those numbers. The education of these students impacts the long-term equity of our city.

In 2015, the National Center for Educational Statistics found that 43 percent of Colorado fourth graders were proficient in math and 39 percent were proficient in reading. Local numbers are even lower.

That same year in Colorado Springs School District 11, the largest district in the city, only 32.2 percent of fourth grade students tested at or above expectations in reading and 26.5 percent in math.

This year’s test scores are especially low at D-11’s West Elementary, which was placed on “turnaround” status after the 2017 standardized CMAS testing, and at John Adams and Monroe elementary schools, both of which were are on the slightly less dire “priority improvement” list.

Not surprisingly, all three are diverse Title I schools, meaning they have an 80 percent or higher free and reduced-cost lunch rate (a measure of poverty). Scores aren’t everything, but they do matter. While the passage of D-11’s mill levy override in November positions the district to start 2018 with a bang, more work is needed to address child poverty.

How do we change these failing numbers? For starters, parents of new babies need a proper amount of time to interact with their child, which can prove to be invaluable in the long run. Bright by Three, a Denver nonprofit that works with parents of children up to age 3, helps fill nurturing gaps at a time when a child’s mind is developing rapidly. Bright by Three works with some local schools to ensure children entering preschool have the necessary support to succeed. I’m of the mind that we should extend that continuum of care through high school, because a child’s needs don’t stop at preschool.The lack of community awareness also affects quality of education, as without direction, it is hard to create support networks. Gary Smith, CEO of The National Reading Success Movement, has spent the last 10 years in research and development, worked with more than 30,000 students and more than 100 schools. He believes that the average person does not realize the depth of the education crisis we are in as a city, a state and a nation. Smith says: “If you were to go out and do an informal poll of the first hundred people you encounter, unless you happened to run into someone [who has done their research] not a single person is aware of the [number of kids not performing at grade level]. It’s not on their radar. That is part of the problem … not because they don’t care, but because they don’t know.”

Principal Nate Hansen’s team at John Adams is trying to make parental involvement easier, increase student test scores and create better outcomes. Entering the newly painted building — bustling with after-school programs (which include dinner) and complete with 21st century upgrades such as an iPad for each student — it’s easy to feel hopeful. John Adams utilizes another method to involve parents: “DOJO,” an online feed similar to Facebook; 78 percent of the school’s parents are registered.

Hansen boasts, “We had over 90 percent participation for parent/teacher conferences just in October. We’ve [held] parent activity nights, and we are getting 200 to 300 people showing up for that.” Hansen says the school is currently looking for interested volunteers to help start a reading club.

Soaring Eagles Elementary School, in the southeast’s Harrison School District 2, is another Title I school with obvious challenges. But thanks to innovative programming, it was named a Title I Distinguished School for Exceptional Student Performance in 2011, and the Colorado High Achievers award in 2015, and is now considered a mentor school.

Soaring Eagles uses Response to Intervention, a system for identifying and supporting kids with learning and behavior needs, and the flooding model, which is meant to “flood” struggling students with one-on-one support to make up for skills deficits.

It is important that, as a city, we look to these schools to figure out how to reduce the educational impacts of child poverty. Otherwise, great public education will go the way of health care and legal services, only affordable to the elite.

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