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.

Find your school

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]


Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.