New website rates schools A to F

A coalition of foundations and advocacy groups on Monday unveiled a website that grades Colorado schools from A to F in what organizers say is an attempt to make it easier for parents and community members to understand how schools are performing.

A screenshot from

Tim Taylor, president of Colorado Succeeds, said the grades are based on the same criteria used by the state in its accountability system, which last week issued ratings dividing schools into four categories ranging from “performance” to “turnaround.”

Taylor, who gave reporters a sneak peek of the website Friday, said those labels and the state’s highly detailed portal are not easy for the average parent, community member or student to understand or navigate.

“We just didn’t think you should have to be such a savvy consumer,” he said, adding, “It’s easier to compare vacuum cleaners in Consumer Reports” than Colorado schools’ performance.

Taylor and some others also have been critical of the state accountability system because it gives more than 60 percent of schools the top rating of “performance.” That means schools earning 40 percent of the points possible under the state system are in the same category as schools earning 90 percent of points possible., which was developed with the Center for Education Policy Analysis at CU-Denver’s School of Public Affairs, uses the same criteria as the state’s accountability system, which is based largely on performance and growth on annual state exams.

Then the web tool overlays a stricter grading scale on the state results. So schools earning a “turnaround” label, or the lowest rating, under the state system also earn the lowest rating on the Colorado School Grades scale – an F.

But the Colorado School Grades scale slices that wide swath of other schools into narrower bands. While the state puts more than half its schools into its top category of “performance,” only 10 percent of schools – or the 186 schools earning 90 percent of points possible on the state system – rate an A. Only 38 schools, those with a 98 percent or above performance, get an A+.

In addition to an overall grade, the site lists grades for academic proficiency and academic growth and provides a snapshot of student demographics.

The website, which is in English and Spanish, allows users to compare schools and it ranks them overall. For example, it lists Denver’s popular Bromwell Elementary school in Cherry Creek as 47th out of the state’s 1,467 elementary schools. It also provides lists of Colorado’s top ten elementary, middle and high schools.

Taylor said the website has been in the works for about a year and carries a cost of about $1 million, though most of that comes in in-kind contributions of advertising. Today’s website unveiling begins a statewide 10-week media campaign that includes billboards, radio and TV ads.

“We just figure it’s another tool in the toolbox,” he said. “Somebody may find this useful and helpful.”

Colorado has used letter grades for schools before. Under former Gov. Bill Owens, the state rated schools from “E” for excellent to “U” for unsatisfactory. Those “grades” soon gave way to more descriptive labels.

And other states have adopted the more straightforward A through F approach, notably Florida, which Taylor said helped plant the seed for Colorado School Grades.

But reducing schools to a single letter often draws criticism from those who argue education is too complex for such simplistic labels. Owens’ “E” through “U” ratings sparked concerns that schools given a “U” would be stigmatized, driving away quality teachers and prompting families to flee.

Taylor said the site includes links to the state’s more detailed data and provides suggestions for parents and community members to take action to improve their schools.

“The opportunity is to get people involved to help schools get better,” he said. “Nobody wants their kids to go to a D or F school. We hope they’ll say, make our school a B or an A, make our school better.”

In addition to Colorado Succeeds, the coalition behind consists of Get Smart Schools, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, Stand for Children Colorado, Metro Organizations for People, Professional Association of Colorado Educators, A+ Denver, Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce, ACE Scholarships, Independence Institute, Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, Daniels Fund, The Anschutz Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, Morgridge Family Foundation, Adolph Coors Foundation and Donnell-Kay Foundation.

Disclosure: Three members of the coalition – Daniels Fund, Donnell-Kay Foundation and Walton Family Foundation – provide funding to Education News Colorado.

How schools fit into the scale vs. state system ratings and grading curve
  • A+ – 98% of points possible and above – 38 schools
  • A – 92-97.9% of points possible – 110 schools
  • A- – 90-91.9% of points possible – 38 schools
  • B+ – 85-89.9% of points possible – 91 schools
  • B – 70-84.9% of points possible – 275 schools
  • B- – 65-69.9% of points possible – 92 schools
  • C+ – 55-64.9% of points possible – 182 schools
  • C – 25-54.9% of points possible – 549 schools
  • C- – 15-24.9% of points possible – 179 schools
  • D+ – 13-14.9% of points possible – 38 schools
  • D – 7-12.9% of points possible – 95 schools
  • D- – 5-6.9% of points possible – 29 schools
  • F – 4.9% and below – 76 schools
    State accountability system labels and grading curve
  • Performance – 40-100% of points possible – 1,144 schools
  • Improvement – 15-39.9% of points possible – 301 schools
  • Priority Improvement – 5-14.9% of points possible – 147 schools
  • Turnaround – 4.9% and below – 55 schools

*Total number of schools varies by system. excluded schools with missing or incomplete data while the state assigned ratings to new schools based on district data or deferred to district ratings for other reasons. Alternative schools are excluded.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”