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DPS increases schools with top ratings

There was blue trim on the cake, blue attire all around the room, blue toenail polish on the principal – and now the school’s blue too.

Denver Public Schools chose University Park Elementary on Monday to celebrate the progress of schools moving up on its School Performance Framework, including the host school, which jumped from the district’s “meets expectations” or green ranking to its “distinguished” or blue rating.

On the “stoplight” scorecard of the SPF, intended to allow parents to see performance at a glance, red is the lowest rating, then orange, followed by yellow, green and blue – the highest rating.

“University Park is a very special place,” Principal Dana Williams said. “We know every student in this building, as the adults. We care about each student and we share accountability for their learning. We make sure that we monitor their progress toward meeting very rigorous targets and we have the confidence that they all can, and will, meet those targets.”

Second-grade teacher Jamie Archambault didn’t seem content to be “blue.”

“If there’s a place to go beyond distinguished,” she said, “we want to go there.”

The data used by DPS to evaluate individual schools show the highest number of schools ever to receive its highest ratings, and the fewest grading out with poor marks.

“We’re delighted to see, for the first time, more than half of our schools are green or blue,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said. “And we’re very pleased to see a significant increase in that, from last year to this year.”

The ratings released Monday show a 7.7 percent increase in the number of DPS schools rated in its two highest categories.

Plenty of improvement still needs to occur, Boasberg said: “We still have 47 percent of our schools that aren’t green or blue schools and, clearly, we need to close that gap.”

Highlights cited by Boasberg include:

• 34 DPS schools increased by at least one framework level.

• 53.2 percent of DPS schools are now rated as blue or green – meaning “distinguished” and “meets expectations,” respectively.

• Those schools rated red – or “accredited on probation” – dropped from 15 to 12.

Boasberg also pointed out that, of the 12 schools rated in the DPS system as on probation, six are targeted for phase-out, including Manny Martinez Middle School, or restructuring, such as West High School.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

“The primary importance of the SPF is as a management tool,” the superintendent said. “It’s to provide guidance to teachers and parents and principals where are we doing well … and where are we struggling.

“We recognize that schools are very complex organizations, and we want to have something that captures the different elements of where they are succeeding, and where are they struggling.”

Differing ratings on the SPF system carry varying levels of incentive-based compensation for the schools’ principals and assistant principals.

A principal at a “distinguished” school, for example, can earn a $10,000 bonus and an assistant principal at a top-rated school can earn a $7,500 bonus. The next level, “meets expectations,” nets a $6,000 bonus for a principal and a $4,500 bonus for an assistant principal.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

DPS school board member Theresa Peña said the progress she sees reflected in the new SPF data is “huge.”

“I was out visiting schools a lot at the end of last spring,” Peña said. “They’re working their butts off and crossing their fingers that it’s making a difference for the kids. Everything feels like that but, until you get the data, you don’t know.

“The work of the Denver Plan is finally getting the reaction that we knew it would. We knew that it was a seven-to-10-year plan, and we’re in year five of it. So to see this great growth and this kind of outcome of all the incredible work of our schools, and our kids, I’m just thrilled.”

There was a slight increase in the number of schools rated yellow, or “accredited on watch.” They grew from 40 to 43.

“This is the fourth year for the SPF,” Boasberg said. “I think what this progress of more and more green schools, more and more blue schools, and far fewer red schools is a real indicator of the progress we are seeing on so many other fronts in the district.”

Click on graphic to enlarge.

DPS board member Jeannie Kaplan noted that members of the media were offered a preview and briefing by Boasberg of the data on Friday afternoon – with publication of the numbers embargoed by the district until 12:01 a.m. Monday – and said she and fellow board members have not yet received a similar briefing.

“We received the SPF at 4:26 Friday afternoon. The press received results and a briefing at that time,” she said. “I find it inappropriate that the press would get a briefing before the governing Board of Education gets its briefing. Without any explanation of the results, I hesitate to comment on the SPF.”

Board members were e-mailed by Jennifer Walmer, Boasberg’s chief of staff, late Friday afternoon and reminded of a “focus on achievement” meeting set for this Thursday, at which the SPF results will be discussed. In that same e-mail, board members were also offered a one-on-one briefing on the material.

When asked about that offer, Kaplan said, “I don’t believe in a private briefing. I think this should be done in public.”

Peña was dismayed by her colleague’s reaction.

“It’s disappointing that, once again, we have colleagues focused on adult interests and not recognizing the hard work of our parents, teachers and school leaders,” said Peña, who is finishing her second four-year term and will go to work Dec. 1 as executive director of The Denver Education Compact, Mayor Michael Hancock’s education initiative.

“That to me is what every single adult in this district, from the administration and the board on down, should be focused on – the outcome for kids.”

Comparing growth among 20 largest districts

The district also released data showing that it ranks at the top in median growth percentile among the top 20 districts by enrollment in Colorado, broken down by students receiving federal lunch subsidies, an indicator of poverty, and those who are not.

Denver’s median growth percentile for its free-and-reduced lunch students was 51 percent, edging out the Cherry Creek School District at 50.7 percent and Mesa County Valley School District 51 at 50.3 percent.

The corresponding figure for Denver students not receiving lunch assistance was 57.7 percent, with the St. Vrain Valley School District a close second at 56 percent and the Poudre School District next at 55.7 percent.

“Pretty remarkable to see that of the 20 biggest districts in Colorado, whether you’re looking at children in poverty, or middle-class children, children in Denver public schools outperformed their peers, on average, in the other big districts in Colorado,” said Boasberg.

Find your school’s rating

How the ratings are calculated

  • The ratings are based on points are awarded for growth, status, post-secondary readiness, student engagement, school demand and parent engagement. Each category is weighted differently, with student growth carrying about two-thirds of the weight, followed by status – whether or not students are performing at grade level. The remaining categories carry less weight.
  • Rankings are then based on the percentage of points earned out of the total possible. For example, Steck Elementary earned 131 of the 137 points possible, or 96 percent.

Scoring the categories

  • Distinguished or Blue – means a school has earned 80 to 100 percent of points possible
  • Meets Expectations or Green – means a school has earned 51 to 79 percent of points possible
  • Accredited on Watch or Yellow – means a school has earned 40 to 50 percent of points possible
  • Accredited on Priority Watch or Orange – means a school has earned 34 to 39 percent of points possible
  • Accredited on Probation or Red – means a school has earned 33 percent or less of points possible

Learn more