December 3, 2014

Aspen schools receive state honors

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The Colorado Department of Education sent a little love to the Aspen School District this week, including one award that doesn’t fit the stereotypical Aspen profile.

Every year the CDE recognizes districts across the state that have been “accredited with distinction” under the state’s performance and accountability system. Aspen has earned this designation for the last five years, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise that the district would be honored in today’s ceremony at the CDE offices in Denver. Still, as Superintendent John Maloy explained, only 11 of the state’s 178 districts have shown such consistency over time.

“We’re in a very select group,” he said.

Aspen is one of 27 districts to be accredited with distinction this year. The designation requires extraordinary performance on four measures: Academic Achievement, Academic Growth, Closing Achievement Gaps and Post-Secondary and Workforce Readiness. All of these measures are based on standardized testing data accumulated by the state and then compared across schools and districts.

Similar criteria were used to land Aspen High School among 160 schools statewide to be named John Irwin Schools of Excellence, meaning that they have exceeded academic expectations over three years. Again, Aspen is not a newcomer to this group, but it’s a welcome sign that local students continue to excel amid a supportive community of parents, teachers and school staff members.

“It speaks volumes about the way education is valued and revered in this community,” Maloy said.

It isn’t surprising to see kids from affluent, well-educated Aspen scoring highly on standardized tests. But one wouldn’t necessarily expect a posh resort town to be a hotbed of English Language Learners. That’s why Maloy was pleased that the district was named a 2014 ELPA Excellence Award winner, which means the district’s non-English speaking students showed extraordinary achievement and growth. The award, established under the English Language Proficiency Act of 2014, comes with a monetary award to the district.

“We’re going to get about $8,500 that we’ll put toward serving the needs of our ELL population,” he said.

Maloy estimated that 200-plus Aspen students are so-called English Language Learners, although the numbers fluctuate as children transition between the ELL category and the regular school program. In fact, one of the criteria for the award was that students move out of ELL status.

The English-language honor demonstrates that, though Aspen students continue to excel on standardized tests, many other activities are happening on campus. Maloy mentioned outdoor education, robotics and Model U.N. as a few of the programs and club offerings that make Aspen different.

“We don’t take these awards for granted, but we know there is a lot more happening around here that is not assessed and evaluated by the CDE,” he said.

Aspen Journalism’s Education Desk is collaborating with The Aspen Times to cover school issues. This story was published in the Times on Tuesday, Dec. 2.

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