Colorado

DPS' response to the credit recovery controversy

Editor's note: This post was submitted to Education News Colorado by Antwan Wilson, Denver Public Schools' assistant superintendent, office of post-secondary readiness. It offers the district's response to this blog post from EdNews Publisher Alan Gottlieb, and this article from Westword. I wanted to take this opportunity to address the concerns raised in recent media reports about the credit recovery at North High School. The issues raised in the report are very serious ones, and we are actively investigating the claims and reviewing our overall credit-recovery procedures.  Should we find violations of our guidelines or ethical standards or the need to implement clearer or stronger policies, we will take action to ensure the integrity and rigor of that program and all of our programs.  We certainly recognize that for our diplomas to have value, our programs must be - and be seen as - rigorous. In addressing the concerns about rigor, it’s important to take a minute to discuss the purpose of credit recovery and where it fits in our overall high school programs. To date, that investigation has determined at a minimum that there were serious deficiencies in following procedures and keeping records during the 2009-10 school year. First, a word on rigor.  Over the past several years, the Denver Public Schools has significantly strengthened the rigor of its high school programs. The district has increased the number of credits required for graduation from 220 to 240 (the highest in the state to our knowledge) by adding a fourth year of math and additional lab-science requirement, among other changes. We have nearly doubled the number of students taking and receiving college credit from Advanced Placement courses over the past five years, and we have also nearly tripled the number of students concurrently enrolled in college-level courses. The percent of concurrently enrolled students receiving As, Bs, or Cs in these college level courses (and therefore college credit) is over 80 percent. And these increases cross all racial and socioeconomic groups. Our district also has posted double-digit gains in math and reading proficiency on state assessments over the past five years. Our mission at DPS is to ensure that all of our students graduate high school and successfully pursue postsecondary opportunities and become successful world citizens.  This is an important mission in that it sets a high bar that requires that we implement a system district-wide that meets the needs of all of our students regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what their previous academic performance may have been. Aligning mission to Denver Plan This mission aligns with the 2010 Denver Plan goal of being the best urban school district in the country.  It says that we recognize and appreciate the diversity within our student population and the many unique needs of our students and we are making it our responsibility to construct a system that prepares all students for success in the college and career opportunities they seek. READ THE REST OF THIS STORY IN THE BLOG ARCHIVE
Colorado

The graduation-proficiency gap in DPS

The recent Westword article on Denver North High School's manipulation of its graduation rates, the  belief that "juking the stats" likely spreads beyond a single school and a sage comment at the end of Alan's post wondering what other Denver high schools were affected all indicate that this is a topic where rhetoric might benefit from a closer relationship with data. At its crux, the question is if graduation rates tell us something meaningful about how district schools are performing academically. And it sure looks like they do, but not in the way one might have hoped. For what the North debacle -- and a previous yet related controversy over Lincoln High School -- bring into question is twofold. First, does a high school diploma signify a reasonable, baseline level of student achievement; and second, is the rise in DPS's graduation rate spread evenly throughout the district or is being used by some schools to mask a lack of academic rigor and proficiency. To answer the first question, we need to see if there a pervasive gap  -- particularly at certain schools -- between a school's graduation rate and the ability of its alums to read, write, and do math at grade level.  As one teacher at North commented for the Wesword article, are we reaching a point where someone could say "Oh, they went to North? They'll give a diploma to anyone" - and for how many schools might this be an issue? So here is a quick graph comparing respective 2010 graduation rates (data here) and 2010 average proficiency rates* (from CDE's schoolview.org) at a number of notable, open-enrollment DPS high schools. The red line indicates the trend; the schools above the line will have more students who graduate with solid academic skills; those below the line will have more graduates who lack basic proficiency. How far you are from the line shows the gap: well above the line pretty much guarantees a close correlation between graduation and at least a base level of academic ability; well below the line increases the likelihood that a diploma has little relation to academic skills. READ THE REST OF THIS STORY IN THE BLOG ARCHIVE