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Colorado schools fare about the same year-over-year in accountability rankings

Most of Colorado’s K-12 schools saw little change in their annual rankings by the Colorado Department of Education, and if that trend continues as many as 40 schools and their districts could face consequences from the state’s education department by 2016.

The results of the annual evaluations, or school performance frameworks, were approved by the State Board of Education and made public Tuesday afternoon.

Seventy percent of schools statewide are performing at the state’s highest level. Nearly 20 percent are ranked at the second level, 7 percent at the third level, and 3 percent at the lowest level.

Those results — which include charter, innovation and online schools — exclude designated alternative education campuses that serve high risk student populations.

Charter schools performed slightly better than the average: 75 percent were ranked in the top category, but about 10 percent were ranked in the bottom two categories, mirroring the statewide performance.

Innovation schools fared worse: 63 percent were classified among the best, while nearly 15 percent were ranked in the bottom two categories.

Online school outcomes were the most mixed and had the largest bloc of schools in the lowest categories: 21 percent were ranked above the rest while nearly half, or 48 percent, ranked in the bottom.

While there was also little year-over-year movement in alternative school rankings, the overall results were more mixed. About 40 percent of alternative education campuses were ranked on top, while nearly 13 percent were ranked at the bottom.

Schools — alternative or not — placed in the bottom two classifications, or “priority improvement” and “turnaround,” are placed on a five year watch, often referred to as the “accountability clock.” Schools must show significant growth or the school’s governing district maybe subject to a series of actions by the state’s school board, including having the district’s accreditation downgraded.

The state board does not accredit individual schools and the law which established the processes, the School Accountablity Act of 2009, restricts the authority of the state education department to mostly the district level.

A total of 190 schools are on the accountability clock. More than 80 found themselves there for the first time, and 40 are entering year four of the five year clock, Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen told the state board.

Most of those 40 schools showed no improvement over last year.

“We want to see student outcomes improve quickly,” Owen said in a later interview with EdNews Colorado. “We don’t want them to wait. The hope is the clock puts pressure on these schools and districts. The outcomes that are happening are not acceptable to the state and these communities.”

Of the 40 schools entering year four on July 1, 2014, online schools make up a disproportionate amount of schools. Online schools account for 2 percent of all schools in Colorado, but 12.5 percent of online schools are entering year four.

The state may take action as early as July 1, 2016, if any of those schools don’t improve before then.

At that point a review panel will make recommendations to the state that the school be converted to a charter, awarded innovation status, be closed or managed by some entity other than the district. The state would direct the local district on the recommendations.

Schools and districts are allowed to appeal their ranking. This year 27 schools in 13 districts asked for their status to be upgraded. Thirteen schools appeals were approved, nine were denied and two rescinded their appeal.

Schools and districts that request appeals must provide the state with additional data demonstrating progress toward statewide performance indicators including achievement and college readiness, as well as evidence the institution successfully met its goals agreed to with the state the previous year.

Simultaneously, some districts, including Denver Public Schools, requested the state to lower rankings for 34 schools.

Owen told the board the requests were generally made to reflect the respective district’s own rankings.

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