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State Board gets preview of district ratings

Colorado education officials expect 25 school districts will be in the two lowest categories of accreditation when the current round of rating the state’s districts is completed. Currently, 23 districts are rated as priority improvement or turnaround.

Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen on Wednesday gave the State Board of Education a preview of the accreditation process. Final ratings for districts will be released in November.

State law sets five accreditation levels – distinction, accredited, improvement, priority improvement and turnaround. Districts that remain in either of the last two categories for five consecutive years are subject to state sanctions, including district reorganization, management by an outside entity, conversion of one or more district schools to charters or innovation schools, or closure of schools.

Of the 23 districts currently in the two lowest categories, there are 17 in priority improvement and six in turnaround. Colorado Department of Education officials are projecting 19 in priority improvement and six in turnaround, a total of 25, when the current round of accreditation calculations is completed. For 2010, the first year the current system was in effect, 24 districts were in the two categories.

But the cast of characters is expected to change somewhat when the new ratings are final this year. Seven districts are expected to move out of the categories and six to drop into them, said Alyssa Pearson, director of CDE’s accountability and data analysis unit.

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As the accreditation system moves towards its fourth year, the clock is ticking for some districts. A total of three districts are projected to enter their fourth year of turnaround status next July 1. Twelve districts in both categories will be entering year three, according to the department.

Owen said the department is working to step up its efforts to help struggling districts improve or change their instructional programs and to find grants to support those efforts.

“We have to be prepared to have some of those discussions” about tough choices, Owen said.

Pearson said the department has been analyzing the trends for districts that have been rated in the two lowest categories since the accreditation system launched.

Eight of the districts studied show upward trends in their performance indicators, and four of those have moved out of the five-year clock. “We feel like they’re headed in the right direction,” she said.

A dozen other districts have shown flat or downward performance. “We really have to start paying more attention to them,” she said.

And another 13 districts display inconsistent performance, going up one year and down the next, she noted.

After a school year ends, CDE calculates district performance based on test scores, student growth, achievement gaps, and college and career readiness of high school students. Individual schools are rated in a parallel process, though they have only four possible categories – performance, improvement, priority improvement and turnaround – rather than five.

District and school ratings were made available to districts within the last two weeks, and districts have until Oct. 15 to appeal any ratings. Districts don’t have to notify CDE if they don’t plan to appeal.

Because the appeal window is open, Owen said CDE considers all ratings as “preliminary” and he declined an Education News Colorado request for a list of the district ratings.

Some districts, including Adams 50 Westminster and Pueblo City, have released their ratings. “They shouldn’t be saying that,” Owen said, but he acknowledged, “The districts aren’t told they can’t say that.”

Last year, about 30 appeals of district and school ratings were filed. Commissioner Robert Hammond said about five were granted, none to districts. Aurora had a successful appeal of its district rating the year before. No appeals have yet been filed this year.

District ratings will be presented to the state board at its November meeting, and school ratings will be released in November or December, Owen said.

Colorado school districts with the state’s two lowest ratings in 2011


  • Adams County 14
  • Karval
  • Mountain BOCES
  • Pueblo City*
  • Vilas
  • Westminster Adams 50*


  • Aurora
  • Aguilar
  • Canon City
  • Center
  • Charter School Institute
  • Denver
  • Englewood
  • Huerfano
  • Ignacio
  • Julesburg
  • Mapleton
  • Monte Vista
  • Montezuma-Cortez
  • Rocky Ford
  • Sheridan
  • Weld County RE-1
  • Weld County RE-8

* Denotes districts that have announced they have moved out of turnaround category.