Colorado’s state board gives Aurora Central one year to improve its ratings

The State Board of Education on Thursday gave final orders to Aurora Central High School in its efforts to keep improving student achievement, but only gave the school one year to increase its state ratings.

Aurora superintendent Rico Munn had cautioned the state board during a hearing on Wednesday that giving the school just one year doesn’t give officials much time.

Although other schools have had to answer to the state for low student performance, Aurora Central is one of a small number of schools to come back for a second hearing after initial interventions were not successful.

The state says it is giving Aurora a year to improve, but in fact, the new rating that it will consider will be based largely on state tests which will be given this spring, around March and April — less than six months away.

If Aurora Central continues to receive one of the lowest two ratings the state gives, then the motion states “in the 2020-2021 school year, the State Review Panel will review the school and the board may redirect action.”

Colorado Department of Education (Colorado Department of Education)

One of the suggestions the state board added to its order is that Aurora Central should hire outside experts on instruction who can help accelerate improvement efforts. By law the board can’t order the collaboration.

Munn told the state board Wednesday that the earliest he would expect the district to be able to hire a partner would be January or February, meaning they wouldn’t have much time to make a difference for the ratings that the board will consider.

Aurora Central was already on a state ordered improvement plan for the last two years, using an innovation plan which gave the school autonomy in hiring, budgeting, and scheduling. School officials say the changes that the school has seen so far, such as improved graduation, decreased teacher turnover, and improved parent engagement are a result of that plan.

Officials said Aurora Central’s work needed more time to result in better student achievement on state tests. State board members acknowledged that some improvement has been made, but doubted the plan had enough power to make quick changes in student achievement.

“We are pleased that the State Board recognizes the strong improvements, both large and small, we have made at Aurora Central when it comes to school climate and culture,” Munn said in a statement Thursday. “Turnaround work, especially at a comprehensive high school as unique as Aurora Central, takes time. But we have a staff that is dedicated to putting in the time and effort needed to strengthen our academic and student success outcomes every day.”

State Board member Val Flores cast the only vote against the orders. She attempted to amend the motion to give the school two years instead, but had no support for that proposal.

Read the full order, here.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that a few other schools also failed to meet state deadlines for improvement last year.