left behind

What Colorado’s numbers tell us — and don’t tell us — about who needs remedial work in college

D'Evelyn School (Wikipedia)

It’s understandable if you missed the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s latest report on a key measure of how well public high school graduates are prepared for college.

The state’s annual report on remediation rates dropped the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, when folks were thinking more about backyard barbecues than longitudinal trends.

The report warrants attention, however. As Colorado’s state tests have changed over the past decade — making it more difficult to track progress — the remediation report provides consistent data over time.

Not only that, but remediation rates are among the most important measures of how well schools are preparing kids for post-secondary education. This is where falling behind literally costs students — remedial coursework in college isn’t free, and student don’t earn credit for it.

Sure, the remediation data has limitations. The state tracks only students who enroll in Colorado public colleges and universities, meaning students who leave the state or attend private universities in Colorado are not counted.

This year’s report, looking at remediation rates for the high school class of 2014, found that 35.4 percent of graduates needed remedial coursework, up from 34.2 percent the previous year. It was a disappointing step backward following years of positive movement.

The report also underscored longstanding racial disparities. At two-year institutions, 82 percent of black students and almost 70 percent of Hispanic students required remediation. The figures for those racial groups at four-year schools were 52.5 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

Here are a few takeaways from this year’s report, which you can read here:

School-level remediation data is incomplete and district-level numbers are nonexistent.

The state’s data set has plenty of blank spaces. No remediation stats are made public for about 200 high schools. That’s because if a cohort of students numbers 16 or below, state officials obscure that data out of concern that students might be personally identifiable.

Schools without enough data to report include many small schools and alternative schools. (The overall statewide remediation rate does take in students from all schools, including these.)

Of schools with large enough cohorts to be included in the report, Greeley’s Jefferson High School, an alternative school, had the highest remediation rate — 88 percent. As school leaders told The Greeley Tribune, the five-year-old high school is showing improvement.

Six of the 10 schools with the highest remediation rates are in Denver Public Schools, which serves a high proportion of students living in poverty and is the state’s largest school district:

 

DPS calculates remediation rates differently than the state.

For one, the district includes all high school graduates and completers in its calculations — starting with measuring where students are at while they are still in high school — not just those who head off to college.

The state defines students as needing remediation based on scores on tools such as the ACT, SAT or Accuplacer; if they enroll in a remedial course; or if they enroll in a Supplemental Academic Instruction Course while enrolled in a related 100-level course.

Along with some measures used by the state, the district relies on other factors the state doesn’t consider, including grades students get in low-level college courses, as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate scores. As a result, under the DPS definition, fewer students are likely to be identified as needing remedial work.

In a February report to the school board, DPS reported that its district-wide remediation rate had declined from 62 percent for the class of 2014 to 50 percent for the class of 2015.

“We know we have made gains in certain areas,” said Kim Poast, executive director of the district’s Office of College and Career Readiness. “There is still work to do compared to the rest of the state.”

Because the state conceals some schools’ numbers to address privacy concerns, the Colorado Department of Higher Education does not release district-level remediation data, leaving no way of knowing how Colorado school districts compare.

Michael Vente, a research and policy officer/analyst with the State Department of Higher Education, acknowledged this is a key missing piece of information. He said the department plans more detailed discussions of its policy of suppressing data, and in the future would like to provide school districts better information on their performance.

One school in Jefferson County had a remediation rate of 0 percent. No other school in Colorado can make that claim. But should it come with an asterisk?

As principal of D’Evelyn Junior Senior High School, Anthony Edwards has plenty to be proud of.

For 12 years running, the school has had the highest ACT test scores among public, non-charter schools in Colorado. Nearly every D’Evelyn graduate enrolls in college.

“We need engagement from everyone,” Edwards said in explaining the school’s success. “Teachers need to be hardworking, parents need to value and support the school, and students have to be engaged. It takes a team to get the results we’ve been getting.”

This year, D’Evelyn stands alone as the only Colorado high school in the state’s remediation report with a 0 percent remediation rates:

 

As a Jeffco “option school,” students who want to attend must enter a lottery (those who attend a feeder school, Dennison Elementary, have a preference). There’s a liberal arts curriculum, a dress code and a closed campus. Students are required to show courtesy and respect for high moral and ethical standards, and patriotism is emphasized.

A statement explaining the school’s philosophy describes a program “based on the belief that all students, not just an elite group, should be held to rigorous academic and behavioral standards, and that all students can achieve in a challenging program.”

D’Evelyn’s student makeup does not, however, represent the increasing diversity of Jefferson County, especially socioeconomically.

Last school year, about 6 percent of D’Evelyn students qualified for a government-subsidized lunch, a proxy for poverty, state data shows. About 31 percent of Jeffco students do. The free and reduced- price lunch population of Dennison Elementary is similarly low.

According to state figures, about 53 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches need remediation, while 31 percent of those who don’t qualify need remediation.

Geography is one reason for D’Evelyn’s school makeup. The school is in the wealthier southwest suburbs. Transportation is likely one hurdle for low-income families, said Edwards, who previously worked at Jefferson High School, which has a high number of poor students.

Edwards was quick to say that D’Evelyn does not prescreen its students, a claim from those skeptical about its impressive track record. The school does no marketing or recruitment.

A couple of years ago, Jeffco staff asked whether the school would participate in an event showcasing options in the district. Edwards said the school chose not to send a representative.

Asked whether the school’s small number of students living in poverty is a concern, Edwards said he expects the ranks of those students to grow as the county changes. The school, he said, has taken steps to prepare, including creating a peer mentoring program and tutoring.

“Some of the discussions we’ve had is, ‘How do we maintain our expectations as our populations and demographics switch?’” he said.

As is the case with traditional district-run schools, charter schools run the spectrum.

DSST, the Denver-grown charter network that is poised for a big expansion, had the lowest remediation rates in the city and the 13th lowest in the state: about 15 percent, according to the state report. That falls short of the state’s DSST numbers for the class of 2013 (7.5 percent) and 2012 (11 percent).

More striking were the poor results for KIPP, part of a national network of high-performing charter schools founded in the mid-1990s by two Teach for America corps members. State data showed 70 percent of 2014 KIPP Denver Collegiate High School graduates (or 21 of 30 students) required remediation.

Kimberlee Sia
Kimberlee Sia

Kimberlee Sia, executive director of KIPP Colorado Schools, said school officials were taken aback by the dip because of progress in other measures such as dropout, graduation and its internal remediation rates, which like DPS numbers are calculated differently.

Some KIPP graduates — including those who enrolled in the Community College of Denver — and others enrolled in technical colleges weren’t included in the state tally, Sia said.

KIPP has taken a number of steps to address remediation rates, she said, including tutoring, a greater focus on citing evidence in writing and interim assessments starting in ninth grade.

Schools under the state Charter School Institute — which has authority over charter schools not overseen by districts — could be found on both ends of the remediation spectrum.

Colorado Springs Early Colleges’ remediation rate was just 8 percent – the fifth best rate in the state. The school has a free-and-reduced-price-lunch student population of about 30 percent. Pinnacle Charter School, which has been operating nearly two decades in north Denver, had a rate of 67 percent. About 60 percent of students there qualify for subsidized lunches.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”

 

back to the future

On display at Automotive High School: A plan to revitalize technical education

PHOTO: Monica Disare
At vocational education panel at Automotive High School

Brooklyn’s Automotive High School has long offered students the chance to learn how to fix a car’s engine or replace its brakes. But a different type of “vocational ed” was on display Thursday, when a neuroscientist, theoretical physicist and artificial intelligence engineer were among those gathered to talk about the future of career and technical education.

They were invited by Kate Yourke, founder of a program called Make: STEAM, which attempts to inspire learning by connecting students with hands-on activities in the sciences and arts.

Yourke says she has seen the demographics of Williamsburg and Greenpoint change and, at the same time, watched Automotive High School transition from a well-respected community hub to one of the lowest-performing schools in the city.

Yourke wants to help the school, in part by offering students the kind of technical education that will energize them. While she hopes to work with several schools in the neighborhood, Automotive is at the top of her list.

“I’ve always had this school in my heart because it’s incredible,” she said. “It’s an incredible place.”

Nationally, there has been a push to redefine vocational education and include career paths like computer science that, unlike traditional vocational ed, require more than a high school degree. (These newer programs, however, are often to difficult start in New York City.)

Yourke hopes that high-quality, hands-on learning will give students a deeper understanding of the world around them, crucial preparation for any career path.

Even complicated topics like theoretical physics can be broken down for students, she added. “There’s no reason why you can’t access this information in a way that they’re going to make meaning out of it,” she said.

To that end, Yourke is running a “Festival of Curiosity” on Saturday at Automotive High School, where students can participate in activities like making hot air balloons or learning to sew.

“I think the school needs to serve the community that it’s in,” Yourke said. “It needs to be a resource for our children.”