Report: Student proficiency greater than at noncharter facilities

Third Grade teacher Heidi Vidmar leads a cheer for Forth Grade after the children finished the third grade year.

Getting an A-plus was a piece of cake in public school.

Heathryn Livingston, however, needed more of a challenge, so she enrolled in Caprock Academy two years ago and got the push she needed.

She just finished fifth grade Thursday, but attended math and literacy classes in middle school rooms. Caprock allows students to float between grade levels for these two subjects so kids ahead of their class aren’t forced to learn at everyone else’s pace.

“Here, I’m challenged more instead of doing whatever I want,” Livingston said.

Laura Livingston picked Caprock so her children Heathryn and Dillon could advance academically.

According to a recently released report on charter schools issued by the Colorado Department of Education, a lot of other parents have the same thought about charter schools. Charters across Colorado had a higher rate of proficient or advanced readers in third through eighth grade than noncharter schools in 2007–2008. The same goes for math.

In 2008, Caprock’s CSAP test scores for the most part mirrored this statewide trend. That year, Caprock served kindergarten through seventh grades and had a higher percentage of students reading at or above proficiency levels for all but one of those grades than School District 51 totals.

The difference was the greatest in fourth grade, where 68 percent of District 51 students were reading at or above grade level, compared to 96 percent at Caprock. District 51 beat Caprock in seventh grade with 63 percent proficient or above compared to Caprock’s 58 percent.

Caprock students beat the school district average in all five grade levels on the CSAP math test, with the widest margin coming again in fourth grade with a gap of 81 percent proficient or above at Caprock compared to 62 percent in the district.

Livingston said higher scores could be a result of Caprock teachers wanting students to focus on schoolwork rather than being popular. The school requires that students wear uniforms and incorporates a monthly “core virtue” lesson into all subjects. Each student also learns Spanish, English and Latin and, starting in the fall, Caprock will add French.

“It’s about learning. It’s not about social competition,” Livingston said.

Although statewide charter school teachers and administrators take an average $11,000 pay cut to work where they do, Caprock parent Clarice Taulbee said it’s just another indicator charter school employees “care” and “are genuine” about teaching a different style of curriculum.

Teacher Heidi Vidmar came to Caprock last fall after serving as a teacher associate at Appleton Elementary. She enjoyed teaching values in the classroom and having curriculum go in a straight line from kindergarten to ninth grade. She also liked the familial spirit of the school. It brought her to tears as she waved goodbye to her students Thursday.

“Parents here, the value of this school to them is deep in their hearts,” Vidmar said.

Parents are asked to volunteer at the school when possible and some serve on the eight-member board of directors that runs the school and advises administrators on how to spend the state-provided budget. Parent Steve Feller said the character-based education his two children receive at Caprock helps their grades, but so does the level of parent-teacher-student interaction.

“It’s like a family,” he said.

Two charter schools operate in Grand Junction. The other is Independence Academy, which is run by the school district but is run by a board of directors. Like Caprock, the school strives to keep classes small. Both schools operate on a four-day week.

Independence Academy Principal Damon Lockhart said his students benefit from more hands-on learning, from field trips to classroom experiments, and smaller class sizes.

Each class is capped at 20 students.

Although some techniques may be similar, the two charter schools cannot boast the same results. Independence Academy students did better on CSAP reading tests than the District 51 average for eighth and ninth grade in 2008 (grades three through six were not large enough to report scores), but fell behind the district in those grades for math.


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