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Increases at top, bottom on DPS report cards

Ten more Denver schools celebrated Monday for having reached the coveted blue or green rating in the district’s School Performance Framework, its annual school report cards.

And while teachers and staff at those schools may have worn green and maybe a little blue to celebrate, there are most certainly not red shirts being worn by staff at the 11 schools – mostly at the elementary level – that slid to the lowest level, or red, this year.

Schools are ranked, from top to bottom, as blue, green, yellow, orange or red. For 2012, 15 schools received the top rating of blue or Distinguished, including eight schools with poverty rates topping 50 percent, and 68 schools received the green or Meets Expectation rating. At the other end of the ratings ladder, 18 schools were rated red or Accredited on Probation.

The annual district scorecard takes into account numerous factors, include student and parent satisfaction and college readiness, but mostly it examines student growth on standardized tests.

In the past two years, the number of blue and green schools in DPS has increased from 60 to 83. Superintendent Tom Boasberg said those numbers reflect the fact DPS has seen more academic growth than any medium or large school district in the state over the past two years.

All told, more than half – or 58 percent – of Denver schools are rated blue or green,  a 13-percentage-point increase over the past two years.

District leaders are most excited about what’s happening at the middle school level, especially at district-run neighborhood schools, which is why a news conference announcing the results happened at newly green-ranked Merrill Middle School in Southeast Denver. Several charter middle schools were also praised, including STRIVE Prep and KIPP.

“Merrill is emblematic of the tremendous progress we’re seeing in the district,” Boasberg said. “We have more than tripled the number of high-performing middle schools in the district. We’re seeing (growth) in all corners of the district, at all types of schools.”

Merrill among DPS middle schools moving up

Over the past three years, the number of DPS middle schools receiving the two top ratings has tripled, from 5 to 15.

Merrill Middle School Principal Amy Bringedahl attributed the school’s success to strong community support and parent engagement, the school’s high academic expectations, teacher collaboration and a creating a safe and supportive learning environment.

Bringedahl said the school also keeps class sizes small, extended the learning day this year by one hour so it can offer enrichment classes, such as tutoring, online reading programs, film history, advanced art and advanced band. The school, with a student body made up of 47 percent English language learners, also has a strong focus on the arts and technology. And its teachers are becoming ELA-certified and the school recently launched a pre-Advanced Placement program.

“Yes, we are green,” said Bringedahl, who made comments in the school’s innovative “smart lab” as she stood flanked by teachers, parents and students – most wearing green- and green shiny star balloons. “I’m thrilled we’ re all green.”

Assistant Superintendent Antwan Wilson said the work at Merrill began years ago under a prior principal.

“It’s really about identifying and selecting extremely talented leaders who, in turn, identify and support extremely talented teachers,” Wilson said. “The work you’re seeing at middle schools is really about our work to try to do the best job we can supporting our leaders.”

Lisa Filholm, mom of an eighth-grader, said her son has thrived at Merrill where he is blossoming in technology and guitar.

“You hear so much about what is wrong with education – education is broken,” Filholm said. “That isn’t happening at Merrill. Here my son is standing in this Smart Lab where he has done robotics and computer design. Technology at it finest at Merrill.”

Filmholm said the diversity at the school is an asset, along with the professionalism of its teachers.

“They seem to really like their jobs, which, as the parent of teenagers, I can’t really understand,” she said, only slightly joking.

Merrill sixth-grader Alexander Anadiotis praised his teachers.

“They make you feel so welcome in the class,” Alexander said, noting that he had 25 to 27 students in his elementary school classes but only 19 at Merrill. “They want you to strive … What you do with your education is up to you. They give you that freedom.”

“I have grown a lot of respect for different people of different cultures, and even my teachers. My teachers are going back to school. They’re doing this for us. Everything these teachers do, it’s all for us.”

Far Northeast also sees gains

Boasberg also called out the progress in the Far Northeast part of the city, where dramatic and controversial reforms appear to be working.

The superintendent pointed out that all of the new and turnaround schools in the Far Northeast were either blue or green in their first year. Those schools are DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School, KIPP Montbello College Prep, Collegiate Prep Academy, High Tech Early College, DCIS at Montbello, Noel Community Arts School, and McGlone and Green Valley Ranch elementary schools.

“This is an area that had seen performance not at a high level for years and decades,” Boasberg said. “I’m proud to report this year that the School Performance Framework for all eight new and turnaround schools in Far Northeast are green or blue. It’s absolutely remarkable.”

Boasberg said some of the jumps may also be due to dramatic enrollment increases in the district. He said those numbers would be announced next week.

“With the strong performance of these schools, it means more and more families are coming back to the district or staying in the district.”

However, the news was not all good, as was revealed when a reporter asked about schools dropping in rank this year.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in green schools and blue schools, but we’ve also seen an increase in red schools – a small increase – but nevertheless, one of our concerns. We have been working very hard at those schools, and looking at the targeted strategies we need.

“It’s important to be a culture of high expectations and collaboration.”

Highest, and lowest, scoring schools on Denver’s 2012 school report cards

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 110 of 116 points possible, or 95 percent.
  • The Denver School Performance Framework differs from the state’s accountability system, which also includes ratings. For more on the state system, see this Colorado Department of Education webpage.

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