October 21, 2014

Tutorial time to be restored at Aspen High

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Aubree Dallas/The Aspen Times

ASPEN — Aspen High School plans to reincorporate more “tutorial time” into the daily schedule to answer complaints from parents.

But administrators aren’t backing down on “everyday math,” their attempt to boost student performance in mathematics by adding hours and frequency of math classes.

On Monday morning, the Aspen Board of Education asked Superintendent John Maloy and Aspen High School Principal Kim Martin for an update on the 2014-15 class schedule, which was significantly changed from last year in order to boost math hours.

Martin explained that she’s met with various teachers and administrators about adding back some tutorial time that was lost in the switch to everyday math. The exact timing and amount of that time — essentially teacher “office hours,” when they can meet personally with students — hasn’t been determined yet, but Martin expects to carve out a period of perhaps 20-30 minutes per day by shortening instructional time.

“This Wednesday we’ll have a meeting on the options, get some consensus on how we’re going to use the time, how to make it more effective,” Martin said. “It’s not easy to work on something like this in the middle of the year, but it’s a priority and we’re going to make it happen.”

The chief complaint on Oct. 6, when several dozen parents appeared before the school board to discuss the schedule, was that students were losing valuable face-time with teachers, which would eventually have a negative academic effect. At Monday’s followup meeting, parent Beth Mondry said “tutorial time, which I am thrilled to have back, is one important component of the problem but not all of it.”

Mondry and others have questioned the move to everyday math itself, suggesting that the bigger emphasis on math could detract from other student pursuits, both academic and extracurricular. She also complained that the move to everyday math was made without duly consulting parents, teachers and the broader school community, and asked for more involvement from school board members in school operations. (Board members didn’t respond directly, but both board members and school administrators have said the daily schedule is an administrative matter.)

There was little or no movement from district officials, however, on the beefed-up math program.

“We think it’s important to continue with the additional math minutes,” Maloy told the board.

Lingering math issues

District officials have been concerned for years about Aspen students’ results on math tests, and they’ve tried various strategies without broad improvement. Maloy decided last year to boost math minutes in the hope of improving both standardized test results and students’ preparedness for college.

At Monday’s meeting, district board members expressed lingering concern about student performance in math, especially at the high school level. Aspen students outperform the state average in all content areas, math included, but when compared to the district’s so-called “match schools” — others around the state with similar characteristics and demographics — the math picture isn’t quite as pretty. This was confirmed in a mathematics monitoring report presented Monday, which showed Aspen’s TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) results lagging behind some match schools.

“While averages for Aspen High School students are within 1-3 percent of the match school average, they trail two of the four schools by 8-10 percentage points,” said Assistant Superintendent Julia Roark, referring to Cherry Creek in Denver and Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs.

This, and what Board President Sheila Wills called a “miserable” performance last year on International Baccalaureate math exams, had board members shaking their heads.

“If we are able to perform highly in literacy, we ought to be able to perform highly in mathematics,” said board member Susan Marolt. “It’s the same group of students.”

In the end, district officials were willing to tweak the new schedule to restore teacher office hours, but they will not dismantle the everyday math regime before giving it a chance.

One parent, Emily Ransford, said the problem may have less to do with the number of math minutes and more to do with how those minutes are spent. Ransford said her freshman daughter recently spent an entire 90-minute math class watching a PowerPoint slide show.

“I think there’s quantity and then there’s quality,” she said.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on schools coverage. This story was published in the newspaper on Oct. 21.

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