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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.