Tuesday, October 10, 2000
Steamboat Springs Reference books don't go out at night. In middle school, that means "smart kids" don't have social lives.
"It's uncool to be smart," Steamboat Springs Middle School principal Sandy Hall said. "You can really see the debilitating effects on your child when the culture doesn't support doing their best."
In response, faculty members at the middle school are developing an academic incentive program, which encourages students to "do their best."
"This isn't just about grades," Hall said, emphasizing the importance of commitment and confidence. "You can be getting straight C's, and if that's your best, that's all anyone can ask. On the other hand, you can be getting straight A's and really not giving all you've got. What more can people like this do to challenge themselves?"
Former school board member Millie Beall, who has sent two boys through Steamboat Springs Middle School, thinks an academic incentive program is a good idea.
"I tip my hat to you," she said to Hall at Monday's school board meeting. "Middle school is tough. You're right. It isn't cool to be smart. I hope you have a lot of success with this."
But eighth-grader Kelly Nickols disagreed with the parental and administrative viewpoint that middle school students look down at their smarter peers.
Nickols said most of the "really cool" people she knows around the middle school are "really smart."
"It pretty much is cool to be smart," she said.
Nickols said the reason not everyone shares her feelings is because some of the "smart kids" at the middle school get teased a lot.
"People must think they get picked on because they're smart," Nickols said.
Personally, Nickols doesn't think there's a direct connection between academic achievement and social acceptance.
Nevertheless, Hall said she believes the correlation is there.
The principal has approached three students at the middle school: one who is a high academic achiever, one who performs satisfactorily but not up to potential, and one who "absolutely hates school and thinks it's stupid" as a base for figuring out what kind of incentives for academic achievement would be effective.
Efforts to heighten standards of academic achievement in the middle school was in part incited by an analysis of past years' Colorado Student Achievement Program test scores.
"If you track the district's progress from 1997 through 2000," Hall wrote in a CSAP study report, "you will see that the middle school has continued the trend in writing progress of approximately 5 percent more proficient or above per year."
More specifically, since first being tested as fourth-graders, this year's eighth-graders have increased their writing scores from 42 percent proficiency in '97 to 62 percent proficiency in '00. Between fourth and seventh grades, this same group of students improved by 20 percent.
"At this rate, 95 percent of this class will be proficient in writing by the time they graduate from high school," Hall reported.
In spite of the increasing success of eighth-graders over the past few years, CSAP scores for seventh-graders have gone down since last year, from, for example, 64 to 62 percent proficiency in writing.
"It's a small drop," Hall said. "An insignificant one. But the failure to go up is indeed significant. We want to stop that from continuing."