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Results rise in DPS, but far to go

Denver Public Schools on Tuesday celebrated state test scores showing its overall growth in reading, writing and math is more than double that of the statewide average since 2005.

It celebrated being home to two of the highest-growth schools in Colorado – Beach Court Elementary and West Denver Prep’s new Harvey Park campus, both schools with poverty rates topping 90 percent.

But if the Colorado Student Assessment Program results illustrate how far DPS has come in achievement in recent years, they also highlight how far the district still has to go.

DPS is outpacing most districts across the state in CSAP gains but it did not meet its own 3.5 percent annual growth goals this year. Fewer than half of its students are achieving at grade level in writing and math.

At its current rate of progress, DPS won’t be on par with state achievement levels for a decade.

“The growth has been very, very strong,” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. “Still, we’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do to bring the absolute numbers up.”

Growth in the growth

He highlighted “growth in the growth” or increases in DPS’ median growth percentiles – the rate at which its students are progressing compared to similar students statewide.

Click on graphs to enlarge.

To keep pace with the state, DPS students must be demonstrating a 50 in median growth percentile in every subject. This year, their rate is a 55 in reading and a 53 in both writing and math.

“Five years ago, it wasn’t just that our kids were behind the kids in the rest of the state in each of the subject matters but that, every year, they were falling further behind,” Boasberg said. “Their growth was below what similar kids across the state were growing.

“What we’ve seen in five years is a very consistent and strong increase in growth. So today, our kids’ overall proficiency levels are still behind those of the state but the gap is narrowing. Every year, by growing significantly faster than kids who look like them across the state, we are closing that gap.”

In 2001, when the state first administered reading exams across grades 3-11, 38 percent of DPS students were reading at proficient or advanced levels. The state’s rate was 64 percent, or a gap of 26 points.

Ten years later, in 2010, 50 percent of DPS students are reading at grade level compared to 68 percent of students across Colorado. That’s a gap of 18 points.

Education News Colorado looked at the ten-year change in reading proficiency rates for the state’s 20 largest districts and for its ten large poor districts – those with more than 5,000 students and poverty rates topping 50 percent.

Only DPS and Harrison District 2 in southeastern Colorado Springs achieved double-digit gains in those ten years, with each increasing reading proficiency rates by 12 percentage points. In DPS, two of those points came between 2001 and 2005 and 10 points were gained between 2005 and 2010.

In comparison, the state’s reading proficiency rate grew by four points while Jefferson County’s rate increased by three points and Douglas County’s by one point.

Success at the school level

Tuesday’s results show individual schools can sustain, and even replicate, their success.

A press conference was held at Beach Court Elementary in northwest Denver, the state’s highest-growth elementary school. The neighborhood school has been a media darling since 2005, when Principal Frank Roti proudly told a Rocky Mountain News reporter, “You’ll hear about our school.”

Click on graphs to enlarge.

This year, the school has a 96 percent poverty rate and median growth percentiles of 96 in writing, 92 in reading and 86 in math – far outstripping the state median growth percentile of 50.

Then the press was invited to West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus in southwest Denver. The first replication of the charter middle school outperformed the original Federal Boulevard campus, which has been the district’s highest-rated middle school in academic growth for three years.

The Harvey Park campus of the charter network has a 93 percent poverty rate and median growth percentiles of 95 in math, 89 in writing and 83 in reading. In its first year, it served 6th-graders only and is growing a grade a year.

Across the district, 72 percent of schools posted median growth percentiles in reading above the 50 mark. DPS analysts produced a list of its top 20 schools by growth – poverty rates for the schools range from 9 percent at Steck Elementary to 40 percent at Lincoln Elementary to 98 percent at Garden Place.

Boasberg said the range of poverty rates in the high-growth schools shows the quality of Denver principals and teachers across the district.

“You’ve got absolutely wonderful schools that are growing students who come in often at not a high level,” he said, “and schools that are taking kids coming in at a very high level and growing them extraordinarily well.”

Reform initiatives largely positive

State test results show several reforms initiated since 2005 continue to make progress, though others show little difference.

Click on graphs to enlarge.

At Bruce Randolph School in north Denver, the number of students achieving proficiency in reading grew by six points from 2009 to 2010 while math proficiency was up by four points.

Manual High School saw its reading proficiency increase by one point and its math proficiency by five points.

But at North High School, where a new principal was appointed and teachers were required to reapply for their jobs in 2007, there’s been little progress. The school is now slated for federal turnaround aid.

Schools on co-located campuses, which have been controversial, showed slight to no gains.

At Smiley Middle School, which began sharing space last year with Envision Leadership, reading proficiency grew by four points while math proficiency was flat. West High School, which shares space with Manny Martinez Charter, saw its math scores climb by a point while reading was flat.

Yet both Smiley and West saw strong gains in their median growth percentiles in reading, writing and math. Smiley, which had lagged state growth in all three subjects in 2009, shot past that 50-percentile mark to a 57 in reading, a 53 in writing and a 61 in math in 2010.
Three new schools lagged state averages in growth in both reading and math – Envision Leadership Prep, Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy and Manny Martinez Middle School. Envision and Martinez are charters.

Boasberg said the district is reviewing growth figures for the co-located traditional schools and the new programs: “If we don’t see growth, we will intervene.”

Moving forward, he said the district is targeting the performance of English language learners, which has declined in recent years. Chief Academic Officer Susana Cordova said DPS’ recent award of a $25 million federal Investing in Innovation grant, which focuses on reading skills for those students, will help.

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

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