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State releases district ratings [Updated]

Updated Friday with information about districts penalized for test non-participation, the Charter School Institute and Denver Public Schools.

State officials on Tuesday released their first ratings of Colorado’s 178 school districts under a new accreditation system outlined in the Education Accountability Act of 2009.

Five ratings are possible for districts, rural areas overseen by Boards of Cooperative Educational Services or BOCES, the Charter School Institute and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Altogether, the state gave out 182 final ratings – initial ratings were subject to negotiations. Here’s the final breakdown:

  • 8 percent, or 14 districts, received the highest rating of “accredited with distinction.” These districts meet or exceed statewide performance indicators. The list includes Academy District 20, Aspen, Cheyenne Mountain 12 and Littleton, the only metro area district to make the cut.
  • 53 percent, or 97 districts, received the next highest rating of “accredited,” meaning they meet statewide performance indicators. This includes Jefferson County, Douglas County, Cherry Creek, Boulder, Fort Collins and St. Vrain.
  • 26 percent, or 47 districts, received the rating of “accredited with improvement,” meaning they must complete a plan to improve but those plans aren’t subject to approval by the Colorado Department of Education. This includes Adams 12 Five Star, Aurora and Colorado Springs D-11.
  • 9 percent, or 17 districts, are rated “accredited with priority improvement,” meaning they must file improvement plans by Jan. 15 for CDE review and approval. This includes the Charter School Institute, Pueblo City and Denver, the only one of the state’s ten largest districts to receive this low rating.
  • 4 percent, or 7 districts, received the lowest rating of “accredited with turnaround” and also are subject to the Jan. 15 deadline and CDE approval for improvement plans. Four of the seven districts with this rating are in the metro area – Adams 14 Commerce City, Englewood, Sheridan and Adams 50 Westminster.

In a press release, state education leaders focused on the top 14 districts, which will be recognized Dec. 9 in a ceremony including Gov. Bill Ritter.

“The majority of Colorado school districts provide high-quality learning opportunities for students and these results bear out that fact,” said Bob Schaffer, chair of the State Board of Education. “Congratulations to these districts that are accredited with distinction and are setting a high bar for performance and delivering on the promise to students.”

The 34 districts in the bottom two categories – priority improvement and turnaround – have five years to progress out of those ratings or they lose state accreditation. If that happens, the State Board of Education could decide the district needs reorganization or external management, among other options.

How the ratings were compiled

Districts were evaluated on four performance indicators:

  • Academic achievement on state exams, a possible 15 of 100 points
  • Academic growth on state exams, a possible 35 of 100 points
  • Closing achievement gaps among student groups on state exams, a possible 15 of 100 points
  • Post-secondary and workforce readiness as determined by performance on the Colorado ACT, dropout rate and graduation rate, a possible 35 of 100 points

On each indicator, a district was determined to be either an “exceeds,” “meets,” “approaching” or “does not meet” on the criteria set by the state. For example, Denver achieved only 4.7 of the 15 points possible on academic achievement so it was given a “does not meet” label on that indicator.

In addition, districts were expected to have at least 95 percent of students taking state exams or their rating could be downgraded. Ten districts statewide, including Adams 14 Commerce City, Aurora, Englewood and Sheridan, had test participation rates below 95 percent.

Englewood and Sheridan were dropped one rating because of it but Adams 14 Commerce City already was in the lowest rating category. And Aurora’s rating was upgraded after district leaders appealed to the state for reconsideration.

Districts also were dinged if they were found to be out of compliance with state law governing finance and safety. Only one district was penalized in either area – the Charter School Institute did not meet finance requirements and so its rating defaulted to accredited with priority improvement, or the next to the lowest.

CSI had eight schools with negative fund balances totaling more than $1 million as of June 30, 2009, state officials said. An Oct. 20, 2010 letter from CDE to the institute starts a 90-day deadline for a corrective action plan.

Mark Hyatt, who took over as CSI’s executive director in January, following the departure of State Board of Education member Randy DeHoff, said Friday that four schools have negative fund balances ranging from $1,870 to $70,092. He’s requested audits from six more schools.

Not a single district met the benchmark of “exceeds” on all four indicators used to compile the ratings. Two districts – Hinsdale and Telluride – achieved that designation in three of the four areas.

But both fell short of “exceeds” in closing academic achievement gaps, which looks at progress among students of different ethnicities, poverty levels, language backgrounds and special needs. It also considers whether students with academic deficiencies are “catching up” to their higher-performing peers.

None of the 182 entities measured statewide achieved an “exceeds” in closing achievement gaps.

So how tough was it to be accredited with distinction? Districts had to achieve at least 80 percent of points possible. Districts received the lowest rating of turnaround for scoring below 42 percent of possible points.

Negotiating the final rating

Once districts received their initial rating, they were able to supply additional data and request changes. CDE officials approved requests to reconsider in four cases, including Aurora and Mapleton.

Aurora‘s rating, for example, was lifted two levels – from the lowest, accredited with turnaround plan, to accredited with improvement. Mapleton‘s rating rose one category, from accredited with priority improvement to accredited with improvement.

That means, in both cases, those districts won’t have to submit improvement plans that require CDE approval.

But CDE officials denied requests to reconsider in two cases, Branson and Douglas County. Branson stayed accredited with priority improvement and Douglas County’s rating of accredited stuck.

Douglas County was listed as “exceeds” on the post-secondary and workforce readiness indicator and “meets” on academic achievement and growth. But it was only “approaching” on closing achievement gaps.

Requests to reconsider ratings, and the CDE’s basis for approval or denial, are public. In Aurora’s case, for example, the district’s detailed request is followed by a lengthy rationale from CDE, which cites “encouraging academic growth evidence” and notes “Aurora’s progress in closing growth gaps and re-engaging students provides an example for statewide consideration.”

Denver Public Schools, which has outpaced most districts in academic growth in reading, writing and math in the past five years, did not ask the state to reconsider its rating of accredited with priority improvement. That’s a rating below Aurora’s.

In fact, DPS scored higher on the state’s rating matrix than Aurora did – before that district was boosted by state officials.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he is confident the district’s strategic plan, the Denver Plan, will continue to show the progress needed to move the district up in the state ratings.

“We’ve been focusing more on working with our schools and improving our schools and accelerating our growth,” he said Thursday, “than we have on the intricacies of the state rating system.”

DPS’ school rating system, in place for three years, largely inspired the state’s own rating system.

This week’s district ratings follow the Nov. 3 release of the state’s individual school ratings, which include categories of performance, improvement, priority improvement and turnaround.

All districts and schools must submit plans to improve – even the highest-performing – but only those receiving priority improvement and turnaround labels must obtain state approval of those plans. All plans will be posted on the CDE website this spring for public perusal.

“The new approach to accreditation also spotlights districts where work is needed and the law gives the state a key role in this work,” said state education Commissioner Dwight Jones.

“The department will begin collaborating with these districts and their communities on setting the right course of action to identify and put into place the needed changes.”

State ratings for six largest districts and their schools

Jefferson County – Accredited

  • School ratings:
  • Performance – 72%
  • Improvement – 22%
  • Priority Improvement – 4%
  • Turnaround – .5%
  • Pending data review – 2%

Denver – Accredited with Priority Improvement

  • School ratings:
  • Performance – 44%
  • Improvement – 25%
  • Priority Improvement – 13%
  • Turnaround – 9%
  • Pending data review – 4%
  • Schools closed – 5%

Douglas County – Accredited

  • School ratings:
  • Performance – 89%
  • Improvement – 1%
  • Priority Improvement – 2%
  • Turnaround – 7%
  • Pending data review – 1%

Cherry Creek – Accredited

  • School ratings:
  • Performance – 93%
  • Improvement – 7%
  • Priority Improvement, Turnaround – 0

Adams 12 Five Star – Accredited with Improvement

  • School ratings:
  • Performance – 60%
  • Improvement – 18%
  • Priority Improvement – 12%
  • Turnaround – 0
  • Pending data review – 5%
  • Schools closed – 5%

Aurora – Accredited with Improvement

  • School ratings:
  • Performance – 49%
  • Improvement – 34%
  • Priority Improvement – 9%
  • Turnaround – 3%
  • Pending data review – 5%

Statewide district and school ratings

District ratings

  • Accredited with Distinction – 8%
  • Accredited – 53%
  • Accredited with Improvement Plan – 26%
  • Accredited with Priority Improvement Plan – 9%
  • Accredited with Turnaround Plan – 4%

School ratings

  • Performance – 62%
  • Improvement – 21%
  • Priority Improvement – 7%
  • Turnaround – 4%
  • Pending data review – 5%
  • Schools closed – 1%

*State officials assigned plans to schools based on grade levels of elementary, middle and high school. That means a K-12 school may have received three plans for its elementary, middle and high school programs. Most schools received one plan.
**99 schools statewide have yet to receive plans as district and state officials review data. In addition, 28 schools receiving plan categories have closed.

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