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More schools slip in Denver school rankings

Update: DPS has updated scores for some of its high schools after the Monday, Sept. 16 meeting, due to an error in the scoring for AP classes and tests. Ridgeview High School’s parent engagement score was also updated.

Eleven new Denver schools have slipped to the lowest tier on Denver’s school report cards, a ranking that means added scrutiny and likely intervention for the schools.

That’s one takeaway from the district’s presentation of the overall trends of their School Performance Framework (SPF) ranking at a school board work session Monday night. The full list of schools and their rankings will be released publicly on Friday.

The district’s report indicates that, among other things, the number of high schools that met or exceeded expectations did not change from last year and that few schools moved off the district’s list of low performers.

“We’re very concerned about some of our schools slipping into red and the lack of progress in some our turnarounds,” said Denver Public School Superintendent Tom Boasberg. “We are clear that in on some of our red schools, we as a district didn’t do what we needed to, in terms of support, guidance and non-negotiables.”

The school rankings, which include both a score on a 100-point scale and a color-coded status, are district-generated. The state, which uses a different performance framework, will be releasing its scores later this year. Under the district formula, schools can receive a ranking of anywhere from red meaning they are on probation to green meaning they meets expectations, with orange and yellow for schools that are on the watch list. The highest achieving schools receive a ranking of blue.

Since 2010, there has been a steady increase in the number of elementary and middle schools scoring at either green or blue, although the rate of increase slowed this year. At the high school level, the number of high-scoring schools decreased, with just 12 meeting expectations or better.

School performance

A total of 25 schools across the district that scored red based on last year’s SPF scores remained red this year. According to SPF scores, 11 of the 15 traditional district-run schools that were ranked as red or on probation in 2012 retained that ranking. The 11 schools that slipped from a higher score to red brought the total of failing district-run schools to 22.

Only five schools were lifted off probation on this year’s ratings. That list includes one alternative pathways school, Justice High School in Northwest Denver, which moved up to an orange ranking. Of the four traditional schools that moved out of the lowest tier, all jumped at least two rankings. One, Smith Renaissance School, showed a 30 percent score increase, achieving a green ranking.The other three schools, Ashley Elementary School, Barrett Elementary School and Johnson Elementary School, moved out of probation and are now ranked as yellow.

Ten of the district’s alternative pathways schools are also either on probation or priority watch. Only one, Ridge View Academy, met expectations this year, following the district’s scoring adjustments. Emily Griffith Technical College, an alternative pathways school that had previously met expectations, slipped in the ranking this year.

The continued low performance of those schools raised questions about the district’s approach to alternative education.

“When I look at our alternative SPF scores, I just ask myself, ‘what are we really doing with these kids?'” said board member Anne Rowe.

District officials said they plan to ramp up support as well as standards for the schools in the hope that the additional attention will raise achievement.

“I am tremendously appreciative of the work of alternative schools,” said Boasberg. “This year, we are looking at the individual attention many are already giving students and a combination of social and emotional supports alongside pushing academic challenges.”

Changes in scoring

Some of the drop may come from a change in the way the SPF scores are formulated. This year’s rankings included whether students were taking the required number credits in a calendar year, a metric for whether students were on track to graduate. Board member Andrea Merida objected to this system, saying it ignored the complexities that students in alternative programs face.

“When we say students are not taking enough classes, that is a bureaucratic question, not a student-centered question,” said Merida. “We need to make sure programs are adaptive to student’s needs.”

Both Merida and Arturo Jimenez, another board member, questioned the utility of the SPF scores, which include data on parent and student engagement as well as student proficiency and growth scores. For high schools, measures of post-secondary readiness contribute to their scoring as well.

The inclusion of both proficiency and growth scores drew praise from board member Happy Haynes.

“I’m happy to see multiple measures,” she said. Although, she said, “I worry that we have the right balance.”

Haynes also objected to the lack of college remediation data in the post-secondary readiness measures, an absence driven by lag time from the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

“It’s devastating not to have a measure of remediation,” Haynes said. The number of students requiring college remediation will not be released until the coming spring and older numbers were not included in this year’s scores.

This absence also sparked outcry from other board members, including Jeannie Kaplan and Andrea Merida. Kaplan suggested that school leaders that worked hard to prepare kids for college won’t be rewarded.

“The rules changed after the game started,” Kaplan said.

Other changes to the data collection included the use of ACCESS growth and achievement scores as well as the reintroduction of DRA2 and EDL2 scoring.

The current data have been released to principals, who will be responsible for presenting it to faculty this week. The final results will be released on Sept. 20, after which schools will lead meetings with students and parents. School rankings will also be sent to families by mid-October.

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