moot point

The Douglas County voucher case is finally over

The Douglas County school board on Monday voted to end the district's voucher program and directed the district to seek an end to the protracted legal case. (Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Elections have consequences, and this week the Colorado Supreme Court delivered on one: Years of litigation over Douglas County’s private-school voucher program are officially over.

In practical terms, the Douglas County School Board already made this decision in December, when new members elected on an anti-voucher platform voted unanimously to end the controversial program. On Thursday, the Colorado Supreme Court dismissed Taxpayers for Public Education vs. Douglas County School District as moot at the request of both parties.

The Douglas County Choice Scholarship program was created in 2011 but put on hold by the courts before families could take advantage of it. The Colorado Supreme Court had previously ruled that the program violated the state constitution. Then, the United States Supreme Court ordered the Colorado Supreme Court to revisit the case in June 2017 after ruling in favor of a church-run preschool in Missouri in a case that raised similar legal questions.

Missouri and Colorado both have so-called Blaine Amendments that prohibit state tax dollars from aiding religious practices. In the Missouri case, the high court found that the state must allow churches to participate in state programs when the benefit meets a secular need. If the Douglas County case had been reheard, it likely would have revolved around the ways classroom instruction in a religious school is similar to or different than infrastructure issues like paving a playground.

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision and that the misuse of public school funds to pay for private education in Douglas County is over,” said Taxpayers for Public Education President Cindy Barnard, the lead plaintiff in the case, in a press release about the decision. “The dismissal of the appeal, together with the election of a new anti-voucher slate of school board members in the Douglas County School District, ensures that the district’s focus will now turn to using public dollars to strengthen public schools.”

The ruling also vacates all previous rulings in the case by the state Supreme Court and lower courts.

“We are thankful to finally put this behind us and be able to put our focus on the real priorities facing this school district,” School Board President David Ray said in a press release.

Ross Izard, director of policy for ACE Scholarships, which provides private school scholarships for children from low-income families, noted on Facebook that there was “something poetic” about the case being dismissed during National School Choice Week.

“While anti-choice activists celebrate the ‘victory’ of getting dismissed the constitutionally incorrect case they launched, tens of thousands of people in thousands of communities around the country are celebrating the rapid expansion of educational opportunity,” he wrote. “Which side is winning?”

 

test scores

How did your school perform on TNReady tests? Search here for results

Student's group

Nearly 700 schools – more than 40 percent of schools in Tennessee – improved in student performance across most grades and subjects, according to a state release of 2018 test results. And 88 school districts or 60 percent met or surpassed student growth expectations.

Test score data for every public school in Tennessee was released Thursday by the state Department of Education.

You can search our database below to find out how students in your school performed. The results show the percentage of students in each school who are performing at or above grade level.

Note: The state doesn’t release data for an exam if fewer than 5 percent of students scored on grade level or if 95 percent of students were above grade level. An asterisk signifies that a school’s score falls in one of those two categories. 

colorado accountability

Test results can spell relief or gloom for state’s lowest performing schools and districts

File photo of sixth-grade students at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City. (Photo by Craig Walker, The Denver Post)

All three school Colorado districts under the gun to improve their academics showed some gains on test results released Thursday — but the numbers may not be enough to save one, Adams 14, from facing increased state intervention.

Of the three districts, only the Commerce City-based Adams 14 faces a fall deadline to bump up its state ratings. If the district doesn’t move up on the five-step scale, the state could close schools, merge Adams 14 with a higher-performing neighbor, or order other shake-ups.

The school district of Westminster and the Aguilar school district, also on state-ordered improvement plans, have until 2019 to boost their state ratings.

The ratings, expected in a few weeks, are compiled largely from the scores released Thursday which are based on spring tests.

District officials in Adams 14 celebrated gains at some individual schools, but as a district, achievement remained mostly dismal.

“We continue to see a positive trend in both English language arts and math, but we still have work to do,” said Jamie Ball, manager of accountability and assessment for Adams 14.

The district’s high school, Adams City High School, which has its own state order to improve its ratings by this fall, posted some declines in student achievement.

District officials said they are digging into their data in anticipation of another hearing before the State Board of Education soon.

In a turn likely to invite higher scrutiny, district schools that have been working with an outside firm, Beyond Textbooks, showed larger declines in student progress.

In part, Ball said that was because Beyond Textbooks wasn’t fully up and running until last school year’s second semester. Still, the district renewed its contract with the Arizona-based firm and expanded it to include more schools.

“Its a learning curve,” said Superintendent Javier Abrego. “People have to get comfortable and familiar with it.”

For state ratings of districts and high schools, about 40 percent will be based on the district’s growth scores — that’s a state measurement of how much students improved year-over-year, when compared with students with a similar test history. A score of 50 is generally considered an average year’s growth. Schools and districts with many struggling students must post high growth scores for them to get students to grade level.

In the case of Adams 14, although growth scores rose in both math and English, the district failed to reach the average of 50.

Credit: Sam Park
PARCC, district on state plans
Credit: Sam Park

Westminster district officials, meanwhile, said that while they often criticize the state’s accountability system, this year they were excited to look at their test data and look forward to seeing their coming ratings.

The district has long committed to a model called competency-based education, despite modest gains in achievement. The model does away with grade levels. Students progress through classes based on when they can prove they learned the content, rather than moving up each year. District officials have often said the state’s method of testing students doesn’t recognize the district’s leaning model.

“It’s clear to us 2017-18 was a successful year,” said Superintendent Pam Swanson. “This is the third year we have had upward progress. We believe competency-based education is working.”

The district posted gains in most tests and categories — although the scores show the extent of its challenge. Fewer than one in five — 19.6 percent of its third graders — met or exceeded expectations in literacy exams, up from 15.9 percent last year.

Students in Westminster also made strong improvements in literacy as the district posted a growth score of 55, surpassing the state average.

Westminster officials also highlighted gains for particular groups of students. Gaps in growth among students are narrowing.

Schools still on state ordered plans for improvement, and deadline for improvement

  • Bessemer Elementary, Pueblo, 2018
  • Heroes Middle, Pueblo, 2018
  • Risley International Academy, Pueblo, 2018
  • HOPE Online Elementary, Douglas 2019
  • HOPE Online Middle, Douglas, 2019
  • Prairie heights Middle, Greeley, 2019
  • Manaugh Elementary, Montezuma, 2019
  • Martinez Elementary, Greeley, 2019

Look up school results here.

One significant gap that narrowed in Westminster was between students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a common measure of poverty, and those who don’t. In the math tests given to elementary and middle school students, the difference in growth scores between the two groups narrowed to three points from 10 points the year before, with scores hovering around 50.

Results in individual schools that are on state plans for improvement were more mixed. Three schools in Pueblo, for instance, all saw decreases in literacy growth, but increases in math. One middle school in Greeley, Prairie Heights Middle School, had significant gains in literacy growth.

The Aurora school district managed to get off the state’s watchlist last year, but one of its high schools is already on a state plan for improvement. Aurora Central High School has until 2019 to earn a higher state rating or face further state interventions.

Aurora Central High’s math gains on the SAT test exceeded last year’s, but improvement on the SAT’s literacy slowed. The school’s growth scores in both subjects still remain well below 50.

Look up high school test results here.