For Colorado schools on verge of state intervention, PARCC scores provide first clues of promise or peril

They did it.

The staff and students at M. Scott Carpenter Middle School, one of Colorado’s lowest-performing schools, boosted their test scores after a year focused on literacy, using technology to speed up learning, and building relationships between students and teachers.

“There was a challenge, and we met it,” said Chadwick Anderson, principal of the unincorporated Adams County school, which is operated by Westminster Public Schools. “It’s a credit to our kids and how hard they worked, and the staff at Scott Carpenter being committed to consistent classroom structure and instructional practices.”

While it’s still too early to tell whether Scott Carpenter made enough progress to ward off state intervention for chronic low performance, district- and school-level data from last spring’s state standardized tests released Thursday are providing the first clues.

After a one-year timeout because of a change in state assessments, Colorado’s accountability system is back on. Schools that have received a failing grade from the state for five consecutive years face sanctions that could include closing schools or handing off management of districts to third parties.

Schools on that list that showed increases on their spring test scores, such as Scott Carpenter, have a fighting chance. But schools that lost ground, such as Aurora Central High, are all but certain to face consequences.

“I don’t necessarily expect that to change,” said Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn, referring to Central’s fate.

Here are a few other data takeaways about the 30 schools and eight districts on the accountability clock.

Scott Carpenter might be saved, but the fate of Westminster Public Schools is less clear.

Colorado’s accountability system rates schools and districts independently of each other. So while Scott Carpenter might have made enough progress to jump off the list, its school district is still in jeopardy. That’s because the district lost ground on math tests.

Oliver Grenham, Westminster’s chief education officer and a vocal critic of the state’s accountability system, said he’s waiting for the state to provide growth data before taking any action.

Student growth is Colorado’s most valued data point. It measures how much academic progress students make year-to-year compared to their peers. About 75 percent of a school’s state rating is determined from growth data.

“The context of the education system has totally changed. And we as a school district do not know where the goalposts are.” Grenham said.

State officials have not said when they’ll release growth data.

Pueblo City Schools, the largest district facing sanctions, posted moderate gains on both English and math tests.

The 17,665-student district in Southern Colorado improved on 10 of 14 tests. That’s good news following a summer of controversy following the sudden resignation of Superintendent Constance Jones.

The district made its strongest gains on math tests. More students passed the state’s math test this year in every grade except for sixth. Meanwhile, elementary school students made progress in English, while middle and high school students lost ground.

Most of the Pueblo schools on the state’s watch list had mixed results. But Roncalli STEM Academy stood out for gains on every test.

HOPE Online — mostly — delivered on high-profile promise of increases.

Last spring, Aurora Public Schools decided to end its relationship with HOPE Online Learning Academy, a multi-district charter school with learning centers in the district. Superintendent Munn said his recommendation to shut down the learning centers was part of his broad school improvement effort.

HOPE, which has been on the state’s accountability watch list for five years, asked the State Board of Education to step in. The charter school’s leaders promised increased test scores, and the State Board overturned Aurora’s decision to shutter the learning centers.

HOPE mostly followed through. HOPE posted gains on five of the seven English tests. Meanwhile, more students met or exceeded state expectations on five out of six math tests.

Other Denver-metro districts, Adams 14 and Sheridan, lost more ground on tests than they gained.

The picture is grim for the remaining metro-area school districts on the state watchlist. In the 7,500-student Commerce City-based Adams 14 School District, students made gains on only three of the seven English tests. And the number of students who met the state’s benchmarks dropped across the board.

Meanwhile, the Sheridan School District lost most of its ground on English tests. Every grade in the 1,500-student district lost ground except for ninth. In math, scores jumped in three out of seven tests, most noticeably. The largest jump, 7 percentage points, was on the fourth grade test.