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Almost All aboard – Colorado takes a big step towards front range rail

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Three Southern Colorado historic passenger train stations – in Walsenburg, Pueblo and Colorado Springs – have not been used for their intended purpose in decades, and it could take at least another decade or longer, if at all, before another passenger boards a train at any of them.Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who is also chairman of the state’…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

Three Southern Colorado historic passenger train stations – in Walsenburg, Pueblo and Colorado Springs – have not been used for their intended purpose in decades, and it could take at least another decade or longer, if at all, before another passenger boards a train at any of them.Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who is also chairman of the state’s Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, says his commission has received the $8.7 million in funding it had requested last December from the state General Assembly as part of Senate Bill 1, a transportation bill, on May 9 – the last day of the 2018 legislative session. Pace says the funding will be used by his commission to start the first phase of a five-phase plan to bring south-north passenger rail service between Trinidad and Fort Collins in the next 10 to 12 years.Pace says although he hopes that the existing historic train depots along the route (in Walsenburg, Pueblo and Colorado Springs) are used for the project, the other members of the passenger rail commission, and a study to be done in regard to station locations – among other things – as…
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The Steel City’s Silver Housing Crisis

As Pueblo, Colorado sees its population get older, more seniors will require public housing as more older Puebloans face threats to their housing stability from a sudden loss of a spouse or unplanned expenses on a fixed income.

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Cora Cardenas was 63 years old when she got into a legal dispute with her landlord. Cardenas says the landlord decided Cardenas’ one-bedroom apartment was better suited for the landlord’s granddaughter. “I was homeless and I had nowhere to go,” says Cardenas, now 87.

Her saving grace came in the form of the Senior Resource Development Agency (SRDA), which at the time built, in conjunction with the city of Pueblo and the Pueblo Housing Authority, the Richmond and Union Plaza senior citizen apartment complexes consisted of 97 units adjacent to the Joseph H. Edwards Active Adult Center. It was also an SRDA project in the heart of the historic Union Avenue district.

Cardenas lives in the Union Plaza complex. “I was one of the first ones in the building when it opened in 1994,” she says.

She got into her predicament partly as a result of what happened more than three decades earlier. 1973 must have been a terrible year for her. First Cardenas’ husband, Dominic, died of a stroke at the all too young age of 49. Then on Dec. 11 of that year, one of her four children–her son, Sammy, a Navy fireman at the time–was killed in a fire aboard ship while serving in the Vietnam War.

A life lived

Before that fateful year, Cardenas remembers fondly that she was living in Pueblo with her family in a “beautiful dream house” on Lancaster Drive with “big bedrooms.” But after her husband died she could no longer take care of the place and moved into an apartment.

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

Cora Cardenas was 63 years old when she got into a legal dispute with her landlord. Cardenas says the landlord decided Cardenas’ one-bedroom apartment was better suited for the landlord’s granddaughter. “I was homeless and I had nowhere to go,” says Cardenas, now 87.
Her saving grace came in the form of the Senior Resource Development Agency (SRDA), which at the time built, in conjunction with the city of Pueblo and the Pueblo Housing Authority, the Richmond and Union Plaza senior citizen apartment complexes consisted of 97 units adjacent to the Joseph H. Edwards Active Adult Center. It was also an SRDA project in the heart of the historic Union Avenue district.
Cardenas lives in the Union Plaza complex. “I was one of the first ones in the building when it opened in 1994,” she says.
She got into her predicament partly as a result of what happened more than three decades earlier. 1973 must have been a terrible year for her. First Cardenas’ husband, Dominic, died of a stroke at the all too young age of 49. Then on Dec. 11 of that year, one of her four children–her son, Sammy, a Navy fireman at the t…
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Colorado students show gains in literacy on 2018 state tests, but disparities remain

White and Asian students continue to score higher than black and Hispanic students, and students from middle- and high-income families outperform students from low-income families.

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More than half of all Colorado students in third through eighth grade continue to fall below state expectations in reading, writing, and math, according to results of state tests students took this spring. That’s been the case since Colorado switched to more rigorous tests four years ago.

In literacy, 44.5 percent of students in those grades statewide met expectations. In math, 34.1 percent did. It’s difficult to compare this year’s scores, released Thursday, to scores from previous years because of changes in requirements for which students take which tests.

However, the percentage of students meeting expectations in literacy went up at least slightly this year in every grade, three through eight. The math results were mixed.

Results in both subjects show a persistent and troubling reality mirrored across the country: White and Asian students continue to score higher than black and Hispanic students, and students from middle- and high-income families outperform students from low-income families.

The gaps between students from higher- and lower-income families are about 30 percentage points. For example, 45 percent of sixth-graders from middle- and high-income families met expectations on the state math test, but only 14 percent of sixth-graders from low-income families did.

“As a society and a state, this is unacceptable,” Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said in a statement. “And every effort must continue to be made to reverse this course.”

About 550,000 students across Colorado were tested in the spring. Students in third through eighth grades took the PARCC literacy and math tests, which were developed by a consortium of states, including Colorado. (The state refers to the PARCC tests as the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS, tests.) High school students took well-known college entrance exams: Ninth- and 10th-graders took the PSAT, and 11th-graders took the SAT.

The percentage of students meeting expectations on the literacy and math PARCC tests varied by grade. In third grade, for example, 40 percent of students met expectations on the literacy test and 39 percent met expectations on the math test. Both represent a 2 percentage-point increase from 2015, the first year Colorado gave the PARCC tests.

Joyce Zurkowski, who oversees testing for the state education department, said that while the upward trends are encouraging, “the change is not happening as quickly as we’d hope.”

At the high school level, this spring marked the second year Colorado 11th-graders took the SAT, and the third year 10th-graders took the PSAT. Ninth-graders also took the PSAT this year.

Scores on those exams were similar to last year, with Colorado students continuing to do better than national averages. For example, Colorado 11th-graders scored an average of 513 on the SAT reading and writing section, and 501 on the math. The average score of students who took the SAT on the same day nationwide was 497 in reading and writing, and 489 in math.

As in previous years, the data shows girls in grades three through eight scored better on state literacy tests than did boys. The gap between the genders increased the older students got: 54 percent of eighth-grade girls met expectations in literacy, while only 34 percent of boys did.

The reverse was true in math, at least in the lower grades. Boys in grades three through seven scored higher than girls, but eighth-grade girls did slightly better than eighth-grade boys.

Girls also scored higher than boys on the PSAT and SAT, though by 11th grade the gap narrowed to a single point: The average score for girls was 1015; for boys, it was 1014.

Some of the biggest gaps are between students with and without disabilities. For example, just 6 percent of eighth-graders with disabilities met expectations in literacy, compared with 48 percent of eighth-graders without disabilities, a whopping 42-point difference.

Measuring academic progress

The state also calculates the progress students make on the tests year to year. This calculation, known as the “median growth percentile,” measures how much students improve in an academic year compared with other students with similar scores in the previous year.

The state – and many school districts – consider this measurement just as important, if not more important, than raw test scores, which often correlate to students’ level of societal privilege. Growth scores, on the other hand, measure the improvement students make in a year – and provide insight into how effective their teachers and schools are in teaching them.

Because of that, growth scores make up a big portion of the ratings the state gives to schools and districts. Low-rated schools and districts are subject to state sanctions.

A student’s growth is ranked on a scale of 1 to 99. A score of 99 means a student did better on the test than 99 percent of students who scored similarly to him the year before.

Students who score above 50 are considered to have made more than a year’s worth of academic progress in a year’s time, whereas students who score below 50 are considered to have made less than a year’s worth of progress.

Statewide data shows white students, students from higher-income families, and students without disabilities had growth scores above 50. Students of color, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities had scores below 50.

For example, elementary students who do not qualify for subsidized lunches had a growth score of 54 in both literacy and math. Elementary students who do qualify had a growth score of 47. Having a lower growth score means it may be harder for those students to reach grade level.

The state also compares the scores of students learning English as a second language to the scores of students who are not. When the data is cut in that way, the differences are minimal in elementary and middle school. For example, the overall growth score in math for elementary-aged English learners was 49, while the score for non-English learners was 51.

However, the difference in growth scores between those two groups was bigger in high school – a trend that holds true for several other student groups, as well.

Difficult to discern

The reason educators and state officials focus on how different groups of students do on the tests is to ensure schools are educating all students – not just those with the most privilege.

Of all the groups, it can be most difficult to tell how well schools are serving students learning English as a second language. That’s because of the way the state categorizes students.

English language learners who attain fluency score very well on the state tests, especially in literacy. But whether they score on par with – or perhaps even better than – native English speakers remains an open question because that category includes other students as well.

That’s not the only reason it can be hard to draw conclusions about the academic progress of different student groups. Colorado has strict student privacy rules that, for example, obscure the growth scores of any group with fewer than 20 students, officials said.

Education advocacy groups have called on the state to release more information that would provide a fuller picture of whether schools and districts are serving all students well.

Participation rates up

Colorado was once a hotbed of the testing opt-out movement, with tens of thousands of fed-up parents excusing their children from taking the state assessments. But participation has been rising, and it was up again this past spring for students in grades three through 10.

It’s likely that part of the increase is due to the passage of a bill in 2015 paring back the amount of time Colorado students spend taking standardized tests.

But there was another factor this year, too: Zurkowski attributed a bump in ninth-grade participation, in particular, to a switch in tests. Ninth-graders took the PSAT this past spring instead of the PARCC tests. Whereas just 76 percent of Colorado ninth-graders participated in the PARCC literacy test last year, nearly 94 percent of ninth-graders took the PSAT, a preparatory test for college-entrance exams and a qualifying test for National Merit scholarships.

“I believe students and parents are recognizing the relevance of the PSAT test,” Zurkowski said.

The state is set to make another switch next year. Instead of administering the PARCC tests to students in grades three through eight, Colorado is developing its own literacy and math tests.

But state officials said they don’t anticipate a significant change in participation or the ability to compare student scores from year to year. The Colorado-developed test questions will be based on the same academic standards as the PARCC questions, Zurkowski said.


Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Melanie Asmar on August 16, 2018

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

 

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Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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Colorado

Cautionary Approach – New Mexico’s rail woes are a lesson for Colorado’s front range rail

New Mexico’s Rail Runner troubles provide a cautionary tale for Colorado’s proposed Front Range passenger rail project.

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To gauge the potential of Colorado’s planned north-south Front Range Passenger Rail between Trinidad and Fort Collins, perhaps it might help to look at another north-south passenger train system which has been operating in New Mexico for about a decade now.

The New Mexico Rail Runner Express (the moniker is a play on the name of the state bird, the roadrunner) is a double-decker, north-south passenger rail system that runs between the town of Belen, N.M., which is south of the state’s largest city, Albuquerque and New Mexico’s capital city, Santa Fe.

Each Rail Runner train is powered by one locomotive which always faces south and operates in reverse when going north in what is called a push-pull configuration.

Rail_runner_system_map.JPG

New Mexico Rail Runner Train Routes

The two-phase (Phase II was completed in December 2008) Rail Runner system cost $385 million to build. By comparison, full environment clearance alone (Phase III) for Colorado’s proposed five-phase Front Range Passenger Rail could cost up to $300 million. The construction cost for the Front Range project has not been determined.

One might consider that the Rail Runner is the yet-to-be-built Front Range Passenger Rail in microcosm. The Rail Runner’s track distance from beginning to end is only 96 miles compared with the roughly 260 miles of track needed for the proposed Front Range Passenger Rail. And the two largest population centers on the Rail Runner’s route (the Albuquerque metropolitan area and Santa Fe) just total about 987,000 people, whereas the four largest population centers that are planned to be served by the Front Range Passenger Rail (the Denver and Colorado Springs metro areas, and Fort Collins and Pueblo) have a total population of roughly 3.7 million people.

Ridership falling

The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) and another public entity, the Rio Metro Regional Transit District (Rio Metro), oversee Rail Runner’s operation.

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

To gauge the potential of Colorado’s planned north-south Front Range Passenger Rail between Trinidad and Fort Collins, perhaps it might help to look at another north-south passenger train system which has been operating in New Mexico for about a decade now.
The New Mexico Rail Runner Express (the moniker is a play on the name of the state bird, the roadrunner) is a double-decker, north-south passenger rail system that runs between the town of Belen, N.M., which is south of the state’s largest city, Albuquerque and New Mexico’s capital city, Santa Fe.
Each Rail Runner train is powered by one locomotive which always faces south and operates in reverse when going north in what is called a push-pull configuration.
The two-phase (Phase II was completed in December 2008) Rail Runner system cost $385 million to build. By comparison, full environment clearance alone (Phase III) for Colorado’s proposed five-phase Front Range Passenger Rail could cost up to $300 million. The construction cost for the Front Range project has not been determined.

New Mexico Rail Runner Train Routes


One might consider that the Rail Runner is the yet-to-be-built Front Range Passenger Rail in microcosm. The Rail Runner’s track…
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One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

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