What pushes schools to CSAP heights?

April 2, 2007
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Only 6 percent of Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy eighth-graders scored proficient in writing on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests last year.
That’s because 94 percent of them scored advanced on the writing test. Although 43 percent scored proficient in reading, 50 percent scored advanced. Principal Colin Mullaney isn’t surprised at the results. “We hold reading and writing as the top priority for our school,” he said. Students across the region finish this year’s CSAP testing this month. Results will be available this summer. Although educators typically talk about the percentage of students scoring “proficient and advanced” on CSAP tests, The Gazette separated the two to take a closer look at the advanced category. Using last school year’s scores, The Gazette looked at the percentage of students scoring advanced in the four subject areas — reading, writing, math and science. In the Pikes Peak region, two schools dominated the “top five” lists — Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy and Cheyenne Mountain Elementary School, both in Cheyenne Mountain School District 12. Jeri Hatler, principal at Cheyenne Mountain Elementary School, said there’s no single thing that elevates students to the advanced level. Success requires a demanding curriculum, supportive parents, good teachers and motivated students, she said. “It’s just multifaceted.” Some things are concrete, such as a daily block of at least 90 minutes to teach literacy. Other things are broader, such as having students create a portfolio of writing throughout the school year or having teachers help choose the school’s curriculum. “Teachers obviously are more excited about teaching something that was their choice,” Hatler said. High student achievement is expected at Cheyenne Mountain Elementary School, Hatler said. “It’s the culture of our school, and it’s the culture of our school district.” The district in southwest Colorado Springs has one of the lowest percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and relative affluence can positively influence student performance. Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy, however, uses many of the same strategies for academic achievement with a higher percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and only about a quarter of its students living within the District 12 boundaries. About 22 percent of students at Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, while fewer than 1 percent of students qualify at Cheyenne Mountain Elementary School. High expectations for all students don’t change, Mullaney said. “Their potential doesn’t stop at proficient,” he said. “If you have high expectations, they come up to your expectations,” said Carole Tripoli, English teacher and board member at Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy. Academy students aren’t allowed to move to the next grade level if they haven’t mastered the needed skills. “They aren’t all brilliant,” Tripoli said. “They just work very hard.” For struggling students, help awaits at every turn. Aides in every elementary classroom mean students can have needed small group or individual instruction. Tripoli said at the middle school level, students can take an extra English class to get additional help in a setting with less than 15 students. There is also a sense of school pride, Tripoli said. Students “want to win the game and academics is our game.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0394 or shari.griffin@gazette.com
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