Denver reschedules vote on controversial school rating system

Van Current, 6, left, and Natasha Williams, 7, read quietly together at Denver Green School.
Van Current, 6, left, and Natasha Williams, 7, read quietly together at Denver Green School. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

The Denver school board is delaying until August a vote on overhauling the district’s controversial school rating system. 

The board was originally set to vote Thursday on scrapping the district’s system, known as the school performance framework, in favor of using the state’s school ratings. A proposal called for the state ratings to be paired with additional information meant to give families a more nuanced picture of Denver schools.

Board President Carrie Olson said she delayed the vote because of two factors: the coronavirus pandemic, which some parents said interfered with their ability to weigh in on the issue, and the protests in Denver and nationwide sparked by the police killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis. The death of George Floyd was a catalyst for the school board to unanimously vote Thursday to phase police officers out of Denver schools.

“Particularly in the context of COVID-19 and the racial trauma that is 100 years in the making, right now is not the right time to bring this forward, even though it is absolutely the right work to do,” Olson said Thursday of the proposed school ratings changes.

The district’s ratings have been criticized as costly to produce and complicated to understand. Others say they foster unhealthy competition among schools and limit a school’s narrative to a single color-coded rating. Both the state and district ratings are largely based on standardized test scores, though Denver’s ratings take more factors into account.

The Denver school board and the State Board of Education use school ratings to decide when to intervene in low-performing schools. Some Denver families use the ratings to decide where to enroll their children in a district that encourages school choice.

Denver would save money by using the state’s ratings, which are calculated at no cost to districts, wrote the 30-person committee tasked with “reimagining” the ratings. Using the state’s ratings would also provide “clarity and consistency” for families, it wrote.

The committee also recommended the district share a trove of other information about each school’s academics, culture, and student well-being. That information could include average class sizes, the ratio of mental health staff to students, or even the reliability of a school’s buses.

State ratings are usually released in December, based on standardized test data from the previous spring. State tests were canceled this spring due to COVID-19, and the Colorado Department of Education has said it won’t issue school or district ratings this year.

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