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DPS sees slight progress in report cards

Denver Public Schools on Thursday released its second annual school report cards, highlighting success stories that could mean thousands of dollars more for teachers and principals and honing in on campuses that may be headed for new programs and new staffs.

The School Performance Framework is the centerpiece of DPS’ fledgling accountability system, relying on a mix of academic indicators, such as state test scores, and non-academic measures, such as parent engagement, to award one of four ratings to each of the city’s 140 schools.

The ratings are Distinguished, Meets Expectations, On Watch and On Probation.

The first two ratings mean more autonomy for schools and bonuses starting at $2,400 for teachers and $5,500 for principals. The other two ratings mean greater supervision, targeted training and extra funding – but also the possibility of staff replacement and school closure.

Thursday’s release shows nine schools rated as Distinguished, 54 listed as Meets Expectations, 52 are On Watch and 25 are On Probation. Compared to 2008, ten fewer schools earned the lowest rating and the number of schools earning the top two ratings increased from 44 percent to 45 percent.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he’ll make recommendations in early November, following a series of community meetings, about which schools may face dramatic changes.

“We’ve been very clear that if a school fails to improve two years in a row,” he said, “that we would consider changing the program or re-launching or re-starting the school.”

Fifteen of the 25 schools on probation have received that lowest rating for the past two years, with five of the schools posting declining scores this year. Those five are Greenlee Elementary, Philips Elementary, Noel Middle School, Emerson Street Alternative School and Skyland Community High Charter.

Closures not expected; program changes possible

Boasberg said he does not anticipate shuttering any building this year or in the near future, citing increases in enrollment fueled largely at the preschool and kindergarten levels. That growth, combined with DPS’ decision to close eight schools in fall 2008, “right-sized” the district, he told school board members on Thursday.

In fact, demand in southeast Denver, where several elementary schools are over capacity, and in the Stapleton area could mean the re-opening of some of those closed buildings, he said.

But if closing more schools for capacity reasons is out, Boasberg said he could recommend that faltering programs be replaced by some of the ten new schools approved by the DPS board to open in fall 2010.

“The sole focus here is, how do you provide the best possible opportunities for those kids in that neighborhood in that school?” he said. “It’s very much a case-by-case decision about what will be the best option for those kids in that building in that neighborhood.”

Schools rated On Probation earned 33 percent or less of the points possible on the SPF, which varies based on grade level and type of school. The two lowest scoring school in 2009 were Emerson Street Alternative School, with 15 percent of the points possible, and Philips Elementary, with 17 percent.

DPS had 10 fewer schools on probation in 2009 than in 2008. Of the 35 schools on probation last year, 15 remain on probation, eight have closed and 12 improved enough to move off probation.

One school, Cowell Elementary in west Denver, rose two levels on the framework, from On Probation to Meets Expectations.

But ten schools dropped to the lowest rating, including West High School and Smith Elementary, which fell two levels, from Meets Expectations to On Probation.

SPF more “nuanced” than state system

Colorado’s new growth model, unveiled with much fanfare last month, emphasizes a student’s progress from year to year on state tests.

The DPS framework also relies heavily on progress, with 52 to 59 percent of a school’s rating – depending on whether it’s elementary, middle or high – based on student growth from year to year.

But the rating is more complex than the state’s system, according to Boasberg and Chief Academic Officer Ana Tilton, because it also factors in graduation rates, elementary reading test results and a host of other indicators. Each indicator is worth a set number of points.

For example, 10 percent of a high school’s rating is based on post-secondary readiness, which includes factors such as ACT scores, passing rates on Advances Placement exams and graduation rates.

“It is a much more nuanced and complicated approach,” Boasberg said when asked by a board member to compare the two systems. “This is the measure we care about.”

Added Tilton: “Other districts want to do this, they want to figure out how to have a school performance framework and how to look at multiple indicators of student performance.”

The SPF also is one way that DPS teachers, assistant principals and principals can boost their salaries. A Denver teacher can earn bonuses of $2,400 in each of five areas, with two of those based on the SPF.

So a teacher at a school achieving the greatest percentage of growth points on the SPF gets $2,400. A teacher at a school with the highest percentage of overall points on the SPF also gets $2,400.

Similarly, assistant principals and principals can earn bonuses in four categories, with two of those based on the SPF.

Principals in schools achieving the greatest percentage of growth points receive $5,500. If their school earns the highest percentage of overall points, they receive $6,000 for a school that Meets Expectations and $10,000 for a Distinguished school.

Staffs at charter schools, which have their own pay systems, don’t participate in the district incentives program. So even though the top two rated schools in DPS this year are charters, their principals and teachers aren’t eligible for those extra dollars.

Ratings highlights success, growth

Only nine of Denver’s 140 schools achieved the Distinguished rating this year, compared to ten in 2008.

Of those 2009 Distinguished schools, eight of the nine have achieved the top rating for two years in a row.

Those schools are Bromwell Elementary, Denver School of Science and Technology Charter, Lincoln Elementary, Polaris at Ebert Elementary, Slavens Elementary, Steck Elementary, University Park and West Denver Preparatory Charter.

“These schools are showing they know what to do,” Boasberg said. “In terms of incentives, they’ll have greater autonomy.”

Only one of the Disinguished schools, West Denver Prep, has a poverty rate that exceeds the district average of 65 percent. West Denver Prep, rated second highest of all DPS schools, has a poverty rate of 93 percent.

The Denver School of Science and Technology or DSST, rated first of all DPS schools, has a poverty rate of 45 percent.

But if joining the Distinguished ranks is tough, it’s even harder to join another group – the DPS schools exceeding student academic growth expectations for two years running.

Only six schools made that cut, including DSST, Lincoln, McMeen Elementary, Steck, University Park and West Denver Prep.

Thursday, Boasberg went to West Denver Prep and to Cowell to congratulate their principals, staffs and students.

Cowell, the school that jumped from On Probation to Meets Expectations, had the highest point increase of any DPS school. It grew from earning 26 percent of possible points to 54 percent.

Principal Tom Elliott gathered his teachers and a group of third, fourth and fifth-graders into their unfinished library after school to share the news.

More than 90 percent of the students come from families poor enough to qualify for federal lunch aid; 52 percent of students are English language learners.

“Boy, did we make some progress,” Elliott told them, his voice wavering with emotion, “and I’m very proud.”

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@pebc.org or 303-478-4573.

Click here to see the ratings for all DPS schools on the 2009 School Performance Framework.

Click here to see the ratings for all DPS schools on the 2008 School Performance Framework.

Click here to see Boasberg’s presentation to school board members on the 2009 SPF results.