In one community changes to class schedule show a rift over standardized testing and how it influences the school curriculum.
Following an October directive from Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy, the high school plans to boost the amount and frequency of math instruction next year. With a finite amount of instructional time each day, this means that math will eat into time currently spent on other activities.
As the idea has sunk in and administrators have sought feedback from teachers, parents and students, a divide has emerged between those who support the math-oriented change and those who fear other elements of the AHS curriculum will suffer. Overlaying this debate is the creeping erosion of teachers’ control over the classroom as more and more time is allocated to preparing students for standardized tests.
There are mixed feelings about Maloy’s directive, but it is not up for debate. Students will have math class five days a week and 50 to 60 minutes per day next year — the only question is where and how to find and structure that time.
“If we’re intentional about what we’re teaching, and the whole community agrees on it, then there’s power in that,” said Jamie Hozack, chair of the AHS math department. “I don’t think that’s necessarily our situation.”
Maloy issued the directive because AHS students, though they outperform their peers around the state in math, are falling behind other “match schools,” meaning academically rigorous and demographically similar high schools, including Denver’s Cherry Creek, Steamboat Springs and others.
“We’ve attacked this over the years,” he explained, “and what we’ve seen is that, as our kids move through the system, their math scores trend down. They’re performing higher at an earlier age, and the scores tend to plummet by the time they get into high school. It’s reminiscent of math across the country.”
This downward trend, school administrators say, may be acceptable in other cities and states, but not in Aspen.
The Rationale for Increased Math Instruction
For context, it’s important to know that Aspen High is recognized widely as one of Colorado’s finest public high schools. The school was one of only 16 across the state to be “accredited with distinction” by the Colorado Department of Education in 2013. In 2012, U.S. News and World Report rated Aspen High the state’s best high school, and No. 59 in the entire nation. This accolade was based in part on students’ exemplary scores on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program test, which measures all Colorado public school students’ skills in several core disciplines.
In keeping with this track record, the Aspen Board of Education and the district administration say it’s not sufficient to outperform other Colorado students. They’re trying to ensure Aspen students can compete nationally and globally.
“Some might say that I am only concerned about test scores,” Maloy wrote in a December letter to the school community. “I would say that … this is more about preparing our students for their futures.”
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