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Denver to include equity in annual rating

Starting in 2016, Denver Public Schools’ school report card will include a new category: Equity.

And for the first time, non-white Denver students will be referred to as students of color rather than minorities on the district’s School Performance Framework. That category will be expanded to include Asian and multiracial students, who were previously included in a category with white students.

The idea is that including equity alongside the current three measures (Engagement, Growth, and Status) will spotlight gaps between groups of students within schools on the School Performance Framework, or SPF, and encourage schools to serve all their students well.

“In order to better align the SPF with Denver Plan Goals and to call attention to achievement gaps that exist within DPS, we’re proposing to add the equity indicator in 2016,” said Maegan Daigler, an accountability manager in the district’s Assessment, Research, and Evaluation department, at a meeting of the district’s board last night.

DPS uses the framework to inform decisions about everything from school closures to teacher compensation.

Increasing equity and closing gaps in achievement between students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, and their peers is one of the priorities in the district’s Denver Plan 2020.

“It lifts it up and aligns to a lot of what we were talking about in terms of equity and working with students in our opportunity quartile,” Happy Haynes, the Denver school board chair, said of the change. The opportunity quartile refers to students in the bottom 25 percent of the district in academic performance.

The equity rating will be based on measures of differences between groups’ graduation rates, test scores, and growth, most of which are currently included in other sections of the framework. Schools will have to earn a yellow, the third-highest rating, in equity to be deemed a blue or green school (the two top ratings).

The changes mean a number of schools schools will have lower rankings than they do under the current system, according to officials. The district is temporarily removing schools’ overall ratings next year, due to changes in state standardized testing, but plans to reinstate overall ratings in 2016-17. (Read about other changes planned for the 2016 SPF in last night’s presentation to the board.)

Many schools’ scores on the SPF are already likely to drop next year: The district plans to give schools’ status — their test score proficiency percentages — a heavier weighting than in the past, which means some schools with lower overall test scores but higher growth will see their rankings go down. And schools around the state are expecting test scores to go down due to new, more difficult assessments tied to the Common Core State Standards.

At a meeting of the school board Thursday night, board member Michael Johnson raised concerns that changing the requirements will make it harder for the district to reach its goal of having 80 percent of students in schools in the two highest rating categories by 2020.

“We’ve raised the bar and moved the goalpost,” said Haynes.

“That’s worth considering,” said DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg. “But we’ve had discussion about the fact that status matters and we want to know how our kids are doing.”

Board members and officials said the idea is not to punish schools but to more accurately reflect what’s happening for all the district’s students.

Board member Barbara O’Brien said that the district needs to hold schools accountable as it plans to give more independence to individual schools. “They have to go hand in hand,” she said.

She said the hope is that information about achievement gaps will encourage schools to make changes. “We’re presuming that with better information, some schools are going to change what they’re doing to address that problem, that it’s not going to be static,” she said.

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