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Helping students, one school and one teacher at a time

On an early February morning at Stedman Elementary School, the pressure was high.

Two students vomited. A few cried at their desks. Another imagined goblins might get him if he failed.

It was the day the third-graders took their first Colorado Student Assessment Program exams, and the 8- and 9-year-olds were all nerves.

Students rubbed lucky “Zap CSAP” lapel pins. They repeated mantras of test-taking techniques and practiced positive self-talk taught to them by their teacher, Dawn Romero.

The reading test — given to third-graders weeks before exams in math and writing so results can be used to help struggling kids before the end of the school year — was a stop on the long road to get most Stedman students performing at grade level or better by summer.

Only six of Romero’s two dozen students began the school year reading at grade level.

Another four students were at least two grade levels behind.

“I will get them ready for the fourth grade,” Romero had promised. “I will get them up to fourth grade plus six months.”

But on that February morning, fourth grade was a long way away. Romero was focused on the CSAP, the annual proficiency exams given to Colorado’s third- through 10th-graders.

Stedman lately has done well on the assessment, and Romero is arguably the engine behind that success. After handing out the students’ first test, Romero issued her standard pep talk.

“Deep breath,” she told the class. “Think positive. I have total faith in you.

“Begin.”

“Not a harder job in the country”

In the increasingly loud debate around reforming America’s public school system, most every change being discussed focuses on the teacher.

Reforms are calling for a