The class that scored ‘100’
Radical CSAP score hikes since ‘03 for Buena Vista teacher’s students

       District 11's usual meth-od for analyzing Colorado Student Achievement Pro-gram (CSAP) testing results is to compare a given grade level at a school with the performance of the same grade level the previous year.
       A possibly more down-home use of the data is to follow the same class of students through the years and see if they, as a whole, are showing improvement from one grade level to the next.
       By that measurement, one Westside school's class stood out city-wide, and that was last year's fifth-grade class at Buena Vista Elementary, taught by Marilyn George.
       The statistics tell the story. As third-graders in 2003, the year before George got them as fourth-graders, the class had scored 68 on the CSAPs (meaning 68 percent tested proficient) in reading and 50 in writing. In fourth grade, her first year with them, their scores rose to 82 in reading and 82 in writing. And last year, with George continuing as their teacher, the class soared to 95 in reading and 100 in writing.
       That “95” in fifth-grade reading was bettered by only three other elementaries - including the Westside's Howbert - with a 97. The “100” in writing was unequaled by any fifth grade in the city. In fact, no other elementary scored a 100 in any category at any grade level.
       “I was really proud of the kids,” George said this week as she prepared for what will be her final year of teaching. “They soaked in the things we emphasized.” The “we” included Evelyn McCort, the school's literary resource teacher, and former Principal Alan Rasmussen, who obtained materials she'd requested for teaching students how to write about what they've read.
       George spoke in particular of four boys she'd worked with. “I thought they could be proficient, and it worked,” she said. “It really helped our scores.”
       Also in her class were two special-education children, “but they worked hard too,” she said.
       It could also be noted - although George did not do so - that Buena Vista is not an affluent school. According to District 11 information, it is one of seven Title 1 elementaries on the Westside - meaning that the majority of its students qualify for free or reduced lunches based on family income.
       Using CSAP data to follow classes through the years can go the opposite way. An egregious example can be found at another Westside elementary (also a Title 1 school), where the third-grade class in 2003 scored an encouraging 87 in reading. But In 2004, as fourth-graders, their proficiency number dropped to 75. And in 2005, as fifth-graders, the class reading score was down to 53.
       George explained a number of teaching strategies she uses - methods of instilling reading and writing skills that are useful in CSAP testing - but in the end, she said, the key is motivating students to learn. Vital to that is creating a classroom that feels like a “home away from home,” where the students see the teacher “as a real person, ” said George, whose teaching career covers 29 years.
       With a new class, she said she spends much of the first days of the year telling the students about herself and her own family. She might talk about her own career - nine years at Mark Twain Elementary, then 12 years off to raise her two children, before returning to teaching as a substitute for 6 years and working full-time at Buena Vista for the past 14. She might also mention her husband's teaching for 30 years or her daughter, now teaching in Douglas County.
       Pictures of her family are on her desk. On the walls are pictures of her classes going back through the years.
       For George, the decision to retire was stimulated in part by Buena Vista's beginning its transition last year to an all-Montessori school. To stay on, the traditionally oriented teacher would need training to become Montessori-certified. “I've taught too long the other way to change,” she said.

Westside Pioneer article