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Accountability proposal passed by Senate Ed

The Senate Education Committee Thursday unanimously approved a bill that could change the way the performance of alternative education campuses affects the ratings school districts receive under the state’s accountability system.

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The measure, which originated with the Colorado League of Charter Schools, would give the State Board of Education the flexibility to consider the “the unique circumstances” of alternative campus students when assigning ratings to districts under the state’s five-level accreditation system.

Alternative education campuses are defined in state law as schools that serve at least 95 percent “high risk” students or 95 percent special education students. (High risk is defined by several categories, including being a dropout, having a criminal record, substance abuse, homelessness and several others.)

There are 76 such schools in the state, including 51 run by districts, 19 charters and six run by other agencies. They enroll more than 14,000 students, about 6 percent of the high school population.

The state rating system for schools makes special allowances for the needs and challenges of such students when alternative campuses are accredited every year.

But no adjustments are made when the performance of alternative campus students is combined with that of other students to calculate a district’s rating.

Senate Bill 13-217 sponsor Sen. Evie Hudak said that can have the effect of “bringing down” a district’s rating and therefore discourage districts from opening such schools. Hudak is a Westminster Democrat and was an author of the state accountability and rating law, passed in 2009.

Accreditation systemThe state annually ranks and accredits districts and schools based on student test scores, academic growth of students, achievement gaps and graduation rates and ACT scores.There are five levels for districts:

  • Accredited with Distinction
  • Accredited
  • Accredited with Improvement Plan
  • Accredited with Priority Improvement Plan
  • Accredited with Turnaround Plan

There are four rating levels for schools:

  • Performance
  • Improvement
  • Priority improvement
  • Turnaround

Vinny Badolato, lobbyist for the charter league, testified that the current system can have a disproportionate effect on district ratings, “especially for smaller districts. … Some districts have decided they can’t afford to have these schools on their books.”

He cited the case of the New America School alternative campus in the Mapleton Public Schools, which accounted for 25 percent of the district’s high school enrollment.

Because of district concerns, the league worked with the district to have the school transferred to supervision by the Charter School Institute, a state agency.

Mapleton leaders have broader concerns with how the state accreditation system handles districts with high concentrations of poverty and English language learners. The district unsuccessfully appealed its 2012 state rating all the way to the state board (see story).

Accreditation has become a growing concern for some districts and schools as the state moves into its third year of ratings. Districts and schools that remain in the two lowest rating categories for five consecutive years are subject to possible state intervention, including possible closure of schools or conversion to charters.

SB 13-217 wouldn’t dictate specific changes to how performance of alternative campus students affects district ratings. Rather, it gives the state board the authority to come up with policies on the issue.

The bill goes next to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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