What to expect as Colorado’s accountability timeline runs out for struggling schools, districts

The State Board of Education is holding a study session Thursday with four school districts that are about to pose a big test to the state’s accountability system.

The talks between the board and school officials are intended to inform board members as they begin a 16-month process to determine how the state will eventually respond to and attempt to remedy chronic low performance at about 30 schools for the first time since the system was created. The board held a similar set of meetings last year.

Since 2010, schools and districts have been rated by the Colorado Department of Education based on state standardized test scores and other measures, including graduation and drop-out rates. Schools and districts that fall in the bottom 5 percent are asked to improve.

If they don’t climb out of the bottom 5 percent in five years, the board is required to step in.

In the case of districts, the board must rescind accreditation, a move that puts student diplomas and federal funding at risk. In the case of schools, the state must recommend school improvement strategies to the local school board.

That means the first schools and districts that were identified as failing in 2010 are out of time. If students at those schools and districts don’t show enough gains on this spring’s state tests, the state will take action after the results from the exams come back in 2016.

As the state board begins to weigh its options, we take a look back at the five years since the “accountability clock” started ticking and what steps will be taken between now and Aug. 1, 2016, when it is entirely possible the state might strip a school district of its accreditation for the first time in Colorado history.