Results rise in DPS, but far to go

Denver Public Schools on Tuesday celebrated state test scores showing its overall growth in reading, writing and math is more than double that of the statewide average since 2005.

It celebrated being home to two of the highest-growth schools in Colorado – Beach Court Elementary and West Denver Prep’s new Harvey Park campus, both schools with poverty rates topping 90 percent.

But if the Colorado Student Assessment Program results illustrate how far DPS has come in achievement in recent years, they also highlight how far the district still has to go.

DPS is outpacing most districts across the state in CSAP gains but it did not meet its own 3.5 percent annual growth goals this year. Fewer than half of its students are achieving at grade level in writing and math.

At its current rate of progress, DPS won’t be on par with state achievement levels for a decade.

“The growth has been very, very strong,” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. “Still, we’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do to bring the absolute numbers up.”

Growth in the growth

He highlighted “growth in the growth” or increases in DPS’ median growth percentiles – the rate at which its students are progressing compared to similar students statewide.

Click on graphs to enlarge.

To keep pace with the state, DPS students must be demonstrating a 50 in median growth percentile in every subject. This year, their rate is a 55 in reading and a 53 in both writing and math.

“Five years ago, it wasn’t just that our kids were behind the kids in the rest of the state in each of the subject matters but that, every year, they were falling further behind,” Boasberg said. “Their growth was below what similar kids across the state were growing.

“What we’ve seen in five years is a very consistent and strong increase in growth. So today, our kids’ overall proficiency levels are still behind those of the state but the gap is narrowing. Every year, by growing significantly faster than kids who look like them across the state, we are closing that gap.”

In 2001, when the state first administered reading exams across grades 3-11, 38 percent of DPS students were reading at proficient or advanced levels. The state’s rate was 64 percent, or a gap of 26 points.

Ten years later, in 2010, 50 percent of DPS students are reading at grade level compared to 68 percent of students across Colorado. That’s a gap of 18 points.

Education News Colorado looked at the ten-year change in reading proficiency rates for the state’s 20 largest districts and for its ten large poor districts – those with more than 5,000 students and poverty rates topping 50 percent.

Only DPS and Harrison District 2 in southeastern Colorado Springs achieved double-digit gains in those ten years, with each increasing reading proficiency rates by 12 percentage points. In DPS, two of those points came between 2001 and 2005 and 10 points were gained between 2005 and 2010.

In comparison, the state’s reading proficiency rate grew by four points while Jefferson County’s rate increased by three points and Douglas County’s by one point.

Success at the school level

Tuesday’s results show individual schools can sustain, and even replicate, their success.

A press conference was held at Beach Court Elementary in northwest Denver, the state’s highest-growth elementary school. The neighborhood school has been a media darling since 2005, when Principal Frank Roti proudly told a Rocky Mountain News reporter, “You’ll hear about our school.”

Click on graphs to enlarge.

This year, the school has a 96 percent poverty rate and median growth percentiles of 96 in writing, 92 in reading and 86 in math – far outstripping the state median growth percentile of 50.

Then the press was invited to West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus in southwest Denver. The first replication of the charter middle school outperformed the original Federal Boulevard campus, which has been the district’s highest-rated middle school in academic growth for three years.

DPS’ Top 10
Click here to see DPS’ take on the results, including a list of the top ten school performers.

The Harvey Park campus of the charter network has a 93 percent poverty rate and median growth percentiles of 95 in math, 89 in writing and 83 in reading. In its first year, it served 6th-graders only and is growing a grade a year.

Across the district, 72 percent of schools posted median growth percentiles in reading above the 50 mark. DPS analysts produced a list of its top 20 schools by growth – poverty rates for the schools range from 9 percent at Steck Elementary to 40 percent at Lincoln Elementary to 98 percent at Garden Place.

Boasberg said the range of poverty rates in the high-growth schools shows the quality of Denver principals and teachers across the district.

“You’ve got absolutely wonderful schools that are growing students who come in often at not a high level,” he said, “and schools that are taking kids coming in at a very high level and growing them extraordinarily well.”

Reform initiatives largely positive

State test results show several reforms initiated since 2005 continue to make progress, though others show little difference.

Click on graphs to enlarge.

At Bruce Randolph School in north Denver, the number of students achieving proficiency in reading grew by six points from 2009 to 2010 while math proficiency was up by four points.

Manual High School saw its reading proficiency increase by one point and its math proficiency by five points.

But at North High School, where a new principal was appointed and teachers were required to reapply for their jobs in 2007, there’s been little progress. The school is now slated for federal turnaround aid.

Schools on co-located campuses, which have been controversial, showed slight to no gains.

At Smiley Middle School, which began sharing space last year with Envision Leadership, reading proficiency grew by four points while math proficiency was flat. West High School, which shares space with Manny Martinez Charter, saw its math scores climb by a point while reading was flat.

Yet both Smiley and West saw strong gains in their median growth percentiles in reading, writing and math. Smiley, which had lagged state growth in all three subjects in 2009, shot past that 50-percentile mark to a 57 in reading, a 53 in writing and a 61 in math in 2010.

Three new schools lagged state averages in growth in both reading and math – Envision Leadership Prep, Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy and Manny Martinez Middle School. Envision and Martinez are charters.

Boasberg said the district is reviewing growth figures for the co-located traditional schools and the new programs: “If we don’t see growth, we will intervene.”

Moving forward, he said the district is targeting the performance of English language learners, which has declined in recent years. Chief Academic Officer Susana Cordova said DPS’ recent award of a $25 million federal Investing in Innovation grant, which focuses on reading skills for those students, will help.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede