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Mapleton loses rating appeal

The State Board of Education has denied the first-ever district appeal of a state quality rating, leaving the Mapleton Public Schools in the second-lowest category.

Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio

Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio

The case raised issues about both the operation of the rating system and about the effect of student poverty and language deficiencies on academic achievement.

“It’s the outcome we expected,” Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio said after the vote.

Ciancio said she hopes the appeal will “start the conversation” about what she believes are needed changes in the system for annually accrediting and rating districts and schools.

Based on the district’s academic performance in 2011-12, the Department of Education last fall rated Mapleton as a “priority improvement” district for the 2013-14 school year. CDE administration denied an appeal by Mapleton, which then took the case to the board. That will be the second year for Mapleton on that status. Mapleton has asked that its status be upgraded to “improvement,” the middle category in the state’s five-level system.

State rankings

  • Accredited with distinction
  • Accredited
  • Accredited with improvement plan
  • Accredited with priority improvement plan
  • Accredited with turnaround plan

The state board can order interventions and changes for districts that remain in the two lowest categories for five years. The state can intervene earlier in some cases when districts decline from “priority improvement” to “turnaround.”

In her presentation to the board, Ciancio emphasized her district’s academic progress.

“Mapleton’s achievement is trending in the right direction,” Ciancio said. “Mapleton’s results are trending up while the state’s are largely flat.”

Because of that, Ciancio argued, Mapleton should be labeled as an “improvement” district and that “priority improvement” should be used for districts that aren’t making progress.

“We are serving our kids well. … You see the trends going in the right direction. We believe the [accreditation] formula is flawed.”

Ciancio criticized the state rating system on a number of grounds.

She said CDE relies too heavily on computer-determined results without application of “professional judgment” about the improvement efforts being made by individual districts.

The state’s three-year span for measuring student academic growth is too short, especially for English language learners, she said.

The way the state system rolls data about students at alternative education centers into a district’s rating is an unfair drag on district results, she said.

During their presentation, CDE officials praised Mapleton’s efforts but said district academic performance remains low and doesn’t justify a rating change.

“They’re doing incredibly hard work,” said Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen. “But Mapleton’s performance overall is still very low.”

Owen also warned that granting Mapleton’s request would weaken the state system.

“You have the responsibility to safeguard the statewide education system that prepares all students,” he said. “That responsibility is being tested today.”

CDE officials noted that they had calculated Mapleton’s performance without using student data from the district’s two alternative schools and that made no difference in the rating. Ciancio acknowledged that was true.

“The district must be accredited with priority improvement,” Owen said.

He added that if district leaders want “improvement status,” “They have to earn it.”

The state’s written response to the appeal reported that Mapleton scored 47.4 percent of the possible points on its 2012 rating, down from 47.7 percent in 2011 and from 50.7 in 2010. The state says Mapleton needs to reach 52 percent to rate at the improvement level, and CDE documents suggest several tactics the district could use.

Board member Marcia Neal, who represents western Colorado, said Mapleton has three more years to improve its rating to avoid state intervention.

“I am tremendously impressed with the work Mapleton has done,” Neal said. “At the rates you’re going I have no doubt you will meet that.”

Neal said granting the appeal would encourage other districts to file appeals and “undermine” the rating system.

The only ‘no’ vote was cast by board member Deb Scheffel of Douglas County. She’d asked if the board could delay the decision for 30 days to gather more information. SBE Chair Paul Lundeen of Monument noted that the law allows the board to wait 30 days but that gathering evidence outside of the hearing isn’t allowed.

Mapleton background

Mapleton is a 7,700-student district in the southwest corner of Adams County. Just over 72 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, the commonly accepted indicator of poverty and of being academically at risk. The district’s student body is 70 percent minority. The district has tried a number of reforms, including turning itself into an “all-choice” district with small special-focus schools.

In 2009-10, the first year included the rating system, Mapleton was labeled as “priority improvement.” On appeal, the Department of Education upgraded that rating to “improvement.”

Districts are rated in four areas: achievement (TCAP scores), growth (student improvement over time), growth gaps (growth differences between ethnic groups) and postsecondary and workforce readiness (high school graduation rates and ACT scores).

Data for district ratings are gathered during each school year and published late the following fall. The new ratings go into effect the following July, a year after the data was gathered.

CDE’s 2012 rating of Mapleton found the district did not meet achievement standards, did meet growth requirements and was “approaching” goals for growth gaps and for postsecondary and workforce readiness.

Mapleton’s appeal paperwork notes that the percentage of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch rose from about 49 percent to nearly 70 percent in 2011. The district’s documents also noted changes in Mapleton’s rating system for students at academic risk. The percentage of students rated “zero” – no risk – dropped from 48 percent in 2004 to just under 15 percent in 2011.

Board rejects Cherry Creek charter appeal

In other action Tuesday, the state board voted 6-1 to reject an appeal from Infinite Charter Academy, which had been denied a charter by the Cherry Creek Schools.

Cherry Creek denied the application because it concluded that Infinite was a conversion of a former private Muslim religious school, Crescent View Academy. State law prohibits conversion of any private school, religious or not, to a charter.

Infinite Charter argued that Crescent View closed as a full school in 2006, contracted with the Hope Online charter to run a learning center in its building and that Crescent View has been operating only a religious-oriented after-school program.

The arguments and the documents in the case were contradictory and confusing, as is often the case in charter appeals, and the SBE ultimately sided with the Cherry Creek board, denying Infinite a charter.

Update – On Wednesday the board voted 7-0 to uphold a decision of the Westminster school board that denied a charter to the PODER Academy charter school.