Colorado

Charters at top, bottom of DPS ratings

New charter schools rank at the very top – and the very bottom – of Denver’s latest school report cards released Thursday.

West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus, the first replication for the high-scoring charter network, topped the list of all city schools on DPS’ School Performance Framework, which considers achievement and growth on state tests along with factors such as student attendance and parent satisfaction.

The Harvey Park campus achieved 98 percent of possible points on the SPF, the highest score ever, while the original West Denver Prep campus achieved 88 percent – ranking it no. 4 on the schools’ list. Both campuses are in southwest Denver.

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At the other end of the spectrum is Manny Martinez Middle School, an Edison charter school that, like the Harvey Park campus, opened in fall 2009. Both charters are middle schools sharing space in traditional school buildings.

But the similarities appear to end there. Martinez achieved only 5 percent of possible points on the SPF, the lowest score of any school in the three-year history of the ratings.

‘Completely unacceptable’ performance

And while DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will highlight the achievement of West Denver Prep in a morning news conference at the Harvey Park campus, he’s taking a stern tone about Martinez.

* DPS this year created a subcategory of Accredited on Watch, called Accredited on Priority Watch, to spotlight the lowest-performing schools in the Watch category. It also better aligns with the state school ratings to be released in December. Of the 61 Watch schools, 22 are on Priority Watch.

Boasberg said DPS is talking with Edison “about what’s needed to see significant improvement” at Martinez, located inside West High School in downtown Denver.

“I think kids in this area need to see a dramatically better option this year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the performance is completely unacceptable.”

Some school board members, including Arturo Jimenez, who represents the area, voiced concerns about using Martinez as the default middle school for students who previously attended nearby Greenlee K-8.

DPS board members voted last November to approve a turnaround plan for Greenlee that removed middle school grades this fall. Those students are given the choice of Martinez or, further away, Dora Moore School.

Click here to see the presentation to the DPS board, including how the SPF is compiled and dollars attached for staff.

Boasberg said DPS has shown its willingness to intervene in low-performing schools, including charters. In the past two years, the district has closed or restructured its five lowest-scoring charters on the SPF – Amandla, Data, Skyline, P.S. 1 and Northeast Academy.

“We have a single accountability framework that treats all schools equally, district-run or charter,” he said. “And we have full capability with both district-run schools and charter schools that are not meeting student needs to intervene as necessary.”

Progress at the bottom

Thursday’s SPF ratings for 132 traditional schools, including charters, and 11 alternative campuses mark the third annual release of the school report cards.

Schools are given one of four possible ratings – Distinguished, Meets Expectations, Accredited on Watch or Accredited on Probation.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

Since 2008, the number and percent of schools given the top rating of Distinguished has increased slightly, from ten schools in the first year to 12 this year.

But the biggest movement has come in the lowest category of Accredited on Probation, also known as the “red” schools.

In 2008, 30 traditional and five alternative schools were given that rating, or 24 percent of all schools. In 2010, that’s dropped to 12 percent or 14 traditional and three alternative schools.

Boasberg credits the focus on closing or reforming the lowest-performing schools, plans that have sparked heated opposition in some communities.

“I think that really shows the turnaround strategies are working,” he said. “We know the turnaround strategies are politically controversial. But we’re seeing in these two years a dramatic reduction in our lowest-performing schools.”

That “is really helping lead to the significant increase in growth that we’re seeing across the district” on state exams, he added.

Results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program released last month show Denver’s overall growth in reading, writing and math is more than double that of the statewide average since 2005.

Interventions, incentives tied to ratings

Of the 14 traditional “red” schools on the 2010 list, seven already are slated for closure or are in the midst of reform work.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

That includes Rishel Middle School, which will end its program after this year, and Montbello High School, the lowest-scoring high school on the SPF, which is slated to receive federal turnaround dollars.

The other seven schools include the new Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, which shares a building with West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus, and a neighborhood school in the “red” for a third straight year – Oakland Elementary in far northeast Denver.

Boasberg said any “red” schools that haven’t already received a visit from a Colorado Department of Education diagnostic team can expect one.

“The primary purpose of the school performance framework is really to help school communities -teachers and principals and parents – understand where the school is succeeding and also understand where the school needs improvement,” he said.

“And to give the level of information and detail and disaggregation that allows schools to plan how to make sure they’re … maintaining their areas of success and focusing on their areas that need improvement.”

The SPF ratings also are used to determine some performance pay for teachers and principals in DPS. Charter schools do not participate in either the teacher or principal plans, known as ProComp.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]


a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.