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Students at Mrachek Middle School in Aurora work to solve a math problem. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Students at Mrachek Middle School in Aurora work to solve a math problem. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Colorado backs off controversial proposal to change schools rating system

PUEBLO — After outcry from education advocacy and civil rights groups, Colorado schools will continue to be rated based on how well different groups of historically underserved students perform on state tests, the State Board of Education decided Wednesday.

A majority of the seven-member board, in a straw poll, told state education department officials to continue to assign separate points on the state’s school rating system based on how well different groups such as English language learners and special education students fare on state tests.

Department staff had proposed only assigning points to one “combined subgroup” of all five categories at-risk students. The proposal came from a recommendation from a committee representing school districts, charter schools and professional education associations that studied the issue at the department’s request.

The recommendation responded in part to longstanding criticism of the state’s school rating system. Some school officials believe it’s unfair for one student’s results on state tests to be counted multiple times if the student falls into more than one of the subgroups.

“We want to make sure they truly represent what’s happening in your districts, from rural all the way up to metro school districts,” said Kirk Banghart, Superintendent of the Moffat Consolidated District No. 2, who also served on the committee.

A coalition of 23 education reform, advocacy and civil rights groups, however, feared that by not assigning points to each group, schools would ignore the special needs of each group.

“We know that strategies addressing the needs of an African American student are very different than addressing the needs of an English language learner or a student with disabilities,” said Christine Alonzo, executive director of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization.

The state’s rating system is used to monitor chronic low performance of schools and school districts. Those that languish at the bottom of the ratings for five years face state sanctions. Schools could be shut down or turned over to a charter school. School districts could lose their accreditation, putting federal funds at risk.

The state is tweaking the rating system this year after a one year timeout because of a change in state assessments.

The State Board is in Pueblo for its monthly regular meeting. On occasion, the board takes its meetings to other parts of the state. The board is expected to hold its August meeting in Grand Junction.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the board voted on the state’s recommendation. It took a straw poll. Four members supported keeping the current rating system, while three supported a hybrid. No formal vote was recorded.