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DPS: More on track to success

Superintendent Tom Boasberg calls it “some of the most encouraging data that we’ve seen in Denver Public Schools in several years.”

He’s talking about a variety of indicators showing improvement – some slight, some substantial – among students in the city’s high schools.

“It’s not one or two data points but literally, if you look across a dozen data points,” Boasberg said Tuesday, “it’s really encouraging information about how we’re progressing students through high school and having them on track to graduate prepared for college and career.”

Click here to see the 180-page report detailing specifics that he and others will be discussing with school board members Thursday in a four-hour study session on middle and high schools.

“The key pieces for me are, one, the fact that our senior class this year is larger than our senior class last year,” Boasberg said.

DPS’ senior class this year is 24 percent larger than last year’s class, which helps explain the state’s overall 4.7 percent jump in 12th-graders in 2009-10.

It’s not just a numbers increase – DPS appears to be holding onto more kids through all four years.

An Ed News analysis of six years’ worth of state enrollment numbers by grade level shows DPS this year retaining 75 percent of its ninth-grade class from fall 2006.

In the five prior years, DPS’ retention rate for its ninth-grade classes over four grade levels hovered between 48 percent and 62 percent by grade 12.

Last year, for example, DPS had 3,291 students in its senior class – or 59 percent of the 5,605 ninth-graders in fall 2005. In 2004, the district’s senior class of 3,074 was less than half of its freshman class of 2001.

(Aurora Public Schools, on a reform path similar to Denver’s, also saw a 24 percent increase in this year’s 12th-grade class. And APS’ retention numbers from grades 9 through 12 also improved over six years.)

“I do believe it is directly attributable to these strategies of trying to focus, student by student, on what each student needs to be sure they progress,” Boasberg said.

Among other indicators of progress he cited:

  • Advanced Placement – Enrollment in AP classes is up and so is the number of students passing the end-of-course exams. Since 2003, the number of students passing the AP exams has increased 97 percent.
  • College courses – Students taking college classes while still in high school has grown 69 percent since 2005. The number of students earning credit in those courses has grown by 79 percent.
  • On-track to graduate – The percentage of ninth-graders on track to graduate in traditional high schools after their first semester is 83 percent this year, compared to 68 percent in 2007.
  • Credit recovery – The number of students enrolled in credit recovery classes, meaning they’re taking via computer a course they’ve failed, tripled between fall 2008 and 2009.
  • Attendance – High school attendance rates have grown 5 percentage points, from 82 percent in the fall semester of 2007 to 87 percent in the fall of 2009.

“Clearly, the Denver Scholarship Foundation is having an impact in terms of its promise of helping to pay tuition and the establishment of the Future Centers in each of our high schools that really help students with college counseling,” Boasberg said.

“The second piece is just the real student-by-student focus that we’re developing in our high schools, really student-by-student looking at warning signs, whether it’s attendance or behavior or course credit.”

High school principals this year were given a goal of keeping 85 percent of their freshmen on track to graduate. To help, they’re using “ABC reports” to monitor ninth-graders.

The report titles refers to “Absence, Behavior and Course failure” and are based on the work of Johns Hopkins University researchers, who found even slight problems in those areas predict dropping out.

Teachers at John F. Kennedy High School used the reports to monitor freshmen after six weeks, checking on who’d been absent and who was getting Fs. They found 115 students struggling in at least one area.

So they began interventions – students with one F were assigned peer counselors, students with under 65 percent attendance were sent to the social worker, 54 students were “adopted” by staff members.

By the end of the semester, the number of JFK freshmen “off track” to graduate dropped from 115 to 59.

DPS board members are scheduled to talk about secondary school strategies from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at 900 Grant St.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

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