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Sheridan Schools will appeal accreditation rating to state board

A southwest-Denver suburban school district has asked the Colorado State Board of Education to raise its accreditation rating, which would effectively take the district off the state’s “accountability clock.”

Superintendent Michael Clough officially sent the district’s position to the Colorado Department of Education today, after receiving the blessing from the district’s board of education Tuesday. Department staff will issue its position later this month. The two parties will meet with the state board March 11, Clough said.

Clough has flirted with the idea to appeal since last fall when Sheridan Schools was once again ranked among the lowest-performing districts in the state. Clough and other Sheridan officials believe the turnaround efforts of the last four years have been enough to stave off the loss of accreditation and a drastic intervention from the state.

He said after several conversations with his board and district partners, he was strongly encouraged to seek the appeal.

“I don’t believe we have anything to lose,” Clough said. “I’m always looking forward to talk about the good things that are happening in our Sheridan district. I can’t see the downside — other than the time it takes to be prepared.”

Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.

No school district has lost its accreditation — yet. But Sheridan Schools is one of 11 districts entering either year four or five of the accountability timeline.

Sheridan’s appeal is only the second of its kind. Mapleton Public Schools unsuccessfully pleaded with the state board to raise its accreditation rating last year.

In his appeal, Clough will make the case to the board that his district is preparing students for career and college at a higher rate than the state’s average. But given his district’s demographics — 80 percent of student qualify for free or reduced lunch and nearly 40 percent are English language learners — it takes more time and the methods used by Sheridan may not neatly match a limited the definition of “graduation.”

“At the end of the day, the formula doesn’t work for us,” Clough said. “And that’s why we’re asking for a consideration.”

Sheridan Schools offers three levels of diplomas: vocational, standard and advanced. Students who seek an advanced “21st Century Diploma” are those who have already met enough credits to graduate like other Colorado high school students but are still enrolled — taking college classes.

Those students may stay enrolled as Sheridan High School students up until the age of 21.

Clough believes those students, at the least, should be counted toward his districts graduation rate, even though they are still enrolled.

“Why do you have to use the word graduation?” Clough said. “We’re asking the board to look at it a little bit differently. We could have clicked the graduated box, but that would have ended our students’ educational opportunities.”

The state calculates a district’s graduation rate by numbers provided by the district, a spokeswoman for the department said. The decision of who has graduated from a Colorado high school — and therefore no longer qualified for free-public education — is left to the district.

Further, the state uses a district’s best graduation, up to seven years, from the previous school year. Sheridan clocked a 71 percent graduation rate at the seven-year mark. The state’s expectation is an 80 percent graduation rate.

Clough said Sheridan’s graduation rate has been historically low because it offered the high-school alternative program SOAR for its neediest students. That program has since become its own school and is evaluated separately from the district’s overall performance.

The state board previously invited districts furthest along on the clock to discuss their efforts at meetings scheduled for March, April and May.

Sheridan’s turn with the state board is scheduled for May 5. Clough, confident in his appeal, believes he won’t need to keep that appointment.

Sheridan School’s Appeal Position Letter


Sherdian 2014Appeal Position (PDF)

Sherdian 2014Appeal Position (Text)