Colorado

Beach Court kids’ scores plunge after move

A large number of Beach Court Elementary School students who scored proficient in fifth grade over a three-year period saw their scores drop out of the proficient category in sixth grade, an analysis conducted for Education News Colorado by I-News shows.

Beach Court Elementary students, shown in a photo from the school's website.

In 2009, for example, 76 percent of Beach Court fifth-graders scored proficient on state math tests. Just 29 percent of those same students scored proficient in math the following year when they entered sixth grade in a variety of middle schools.

By contrast, in Denver Public Schools overall, sixth-graders in 2009 scored 1 percentage point higher in math then they did fifth grade the year before – 47 to 46 percent.

In conducting the analysis, I-News studied student test score records obtained from the Colorado Department of Education. DPS has declined to provide any data or other information until after the state wraps up its investigation.

Earlier this week, Education News Colorado reported that Beach Court Principal Frank Roti has been placed on administrative leave while the state investigates testing anomalies at the school. Hallett Fundamental Academy is also being investigated. The I-News analysis of test scores did not find test score drops at Hallett similar to those at Beach Court.

Sources confirmed the district’s analysis of Colorado Student Assessment Program results included an examination of erasure marks on student answer sheets. Results showed the two schools far exceeded district averages in the number of wrong answers erased and replaced with correct responses.

The I-News analysis of Beach Court scores found that:

  • Between half and three quarters of fifth-grade students in 2007 through 2009 saw their math scores drop at least one level when they left the school and tested in sixth grade.
  • Between a third and almost half of fifth graders dropped a level in reading  over three years of testing  and a level in writing over two years of testing after leaving the school.

As a result, the percentage of fifth-grade students at Beach Court achieving proficiency in math, reading and writing dropped by a half or more between 2009 and 2010 when they were sixth graders in a different school

I-News looked at how fifth graders who took the tests at Beach Court in 2007 through 2009 fared on the CSAP tests the next year when they entered a new school in sixth grade.   The analysis compared how the same students scored – unsatisfactory, partially proficient, proficient or advanced. Between one and three fifth graders each year did not have scores the next year as sixth graders.

The biggest declines took place between 2009 testing at Beach Court and 2010 tests in sixth grade.  Thirty-seven of the 49 fifth graders, or 75 percent, fell at least one level in math.  The biggest drop was from proficient to partially proficient. Twenty of the 21 fifth graders fell below proficiency when they took the math test in sixth grade.  In addition, 13 of the 17 fifth graders who scored advanced on math at Beach Court fell to proficient  or lower after they left the school.

For reading in 2009, 22 of 49 students dropped a level the next year and 25 of 49 dropped a level in writing. As with math,  the biggest declines were from scoring proficient at Beach Court to scoring partially proficient in sixth grade.

The declines bucked the districtwide trends.

For all DPS schools, 46 percent of fifth graders scored proficient or better in 2009 in math, rising to 47 percent when they became sixth graders in 2010.

For all of DPS, the percent scoring proficient or advanced in reading rose from 48 percent in fifth grade in 2009 to 54 percent in sixth grade in 2010. In writing, the scores were the same in fifth grade in 2009 as they were in sixth grade for 2010 – 41 percent proficient or advanced.

Earlier years

About half of the fifth graders who took math tests at Beach Court in 2008 dropped a level the next year. For reading and writing, it was about 30 percent of fifth graders who lost ground the next year.

Just under half of the fifth graders dropped a level after taking reading and math tests in 2007 at Beach Court. A break down on proficiency levels was not available for writing. Only scale scores were used in the data base analyzed by I-News.

I-News also  analyzed scores for Hallet Fundamental School, but the database used by I-News did not include scores to compare the 2010 and 2011 years that are the focus of the investigation. The analysis found that most scores stayed the same or rose between fifth and sixth grades.

Reflections of a former Beach Court teacher

Bernadette Lopez taught third grade at Beach Court from 2005 to 2008, when she left to join the teacher-led Math and Science Leadership Academy. Lopez has since left teaching to enroll in law school.

During her three years at the school, Lopez said CSAP tests were closely monitored. Teachers picked up their boxes of tests in the morning before testing and the boxes were immediately picked up after testing was over.

She also pointed out that no teacher had access to the tests for all of their students. That’s because of testing accommodations allowed under state testing rules. So students who qualified for extra time, for example, or other special circumstances would be under the supervision of a different proctor.

“I never had access to 100 percent of my students’ tests,” she said.

Lopez said she heard about the cheating investigation and “felt really bad for the teachers who have worked so hard … it tarnishes what we did.”

“When I was there, things were on the up and up,” she said. “I never saw anything that would be suspect.”

But she also noted, “I don’t know what happens after someone picks up the boxes” of tests – “you turn in your box … you never see it again.”

“It’s almost too bad the district made such a big deal out of the school – it felt like there was so much pressure to keep scores up,” she said.

Lopez said the second year she taught at Beach Court, 89 percent of her third-graders scored proficient or advanced in reading; the next year, the figure was 100 percent. “I didn’t even think it was possible for all of my students to do so well.”

Still, if someone were trying to cheat, why falsely create 100 percent proficiency, which could create suspicion, she asked.

Lopez and other teachers pointed out that Frank Roti, the Beach Court principal, did not always have the best relationships with teachers.

“If teachers were aware of cheating going on, it probably would have been reported,” she said. On the other hand, if teachers felt nothing would really happen to a principal, they may not have felt it would make a difference.

“You’re going to have different kids every year, your scores are going to fluctuate,” she said. “If there is something to it, the pressure got to somebody.”

By the numbers

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Top 10

From forest preschools to a secret apology, here are Chalkbeat Colorado’s must-read stories of 2018

PHOTO: Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat
Megan Patterson works with children to make a dam in a creek during a recent "forest school" class.

We spend a lot of time at Chalkbeat chasing the news to keep our readers informed about controversial policy changes, fast-moving debates, and late-breaking decisions.

But we also relish the opportunity to dig deep into issues affecting students and families, shine light on innovative ideas, and hear from dedicated educators making a difference. With that in mind, we’ve gathered 10 of our best stories from 2018.

These stories don’t necessarily chronicle the biggest education issues of 2018, from teacher walkouts to unprecedented state interventions. But they are stories we think are important and insightful, and that we enjoyed reporting and writing. We hope you enjoy reading them.

No walls: Forest preschools let kids run free, but can they change to reach diverse families?

One day this past summer, about a dozen children frolicked by a Jefferson County creek — making pretend tea in small metal buckets, and building dams with sticks and mud.

They were students at Worldmind Nature Immersion School, where children spend all their time outside. So-called forest preschools like Worldmind are beloved by many families but face significant regulatory and logistical barriers in expanding their footprint nationwide. Here in Colorado, a pilot program could lead a new kind of child care license designed for them.

And being licensed could help the schools confront another problem: a lack of diversity among their students. Read more.

Colorado was never ranked 46th for teacher pay. Does this change the debate?

It was an oft-cited statistic: that Colorado, despite its booming economy, ranked 46th in the nation for teacher pay. The eye-popping number found its way onto social media posts and signs at massive teacher rallies last spring. News outlets latched on to it, too.

But it was wrong. Colorado was actually ranked 30th in the nation.

Our story breaks down how the mistake happened (hint: a new data system, an unrevised report) — and how groups with different agendas seized on the snafu to score points. Read more.

This is the letter of apology that Adams 14 leaders never sent

The Adams 14 district in Commerce City is arguably the most troubled and low-performing in Colorado. Just last month, state officials directed Adams 14 to hire an external manager to oversee the district’s operations for at least the next four years.

Back in September, Adams 14 officials considered taking a rare step: saying sorry to the community. But an apology letter was never signed nor sent out.

Chalkbeat obtained a copy of the letter, which makes mention of “various and conflicting priorities, coupled with constant turnover and organizational disarray.” Read more.

Rising test scores and dwindling trust: Denver’s Tom Boasberg leaves a complicated legacy

Colorado’s largest school district experienced a big change this year when longtime leader Tom Boasberg announced he would step down after nearly 10 years in Denver Public Schools.

Because of his school improvement strategies — some of which were controversial and heightened tensions with the community — the district that the new superintendent, Susana Cordova, will inherit in January is vastly different than it was a decade ago.

One tangible difference: Schools that once served as anchors of the community but struggled academically have been closed or replaced. That disappearance was on display on one of Boasberg’s last days, when he held his cell phone close to his mouth and enunciated each word so his GPS would understand his direction: “Montbello High School.” Read more.

Parents in one Aurora high school are visiting classrooms and giving teachers feedback

Like many schools in Colorado, Aurora’s Rangeview High School has a test score gap between white and black students. But the assistant principal there came up with a unique way to try to address it: by inviting black parents to visit classrooms and observe how students are — or are not — engaging with the teacher’s lesson, and then provide suggestions for improvement.

“We give true and honest feedback,” said one parent involved, “if they looked or appeared comfortable, how they interacted with the environment, the temperature of the room.”

Although the assistant principal considers the African American Parent Committee an experiment, she said it’s generating uncomfortable but necessary conversations. Read more.

How education reform became a wedge issue among Colorado Democrats this election year

For years, more moderate Democrats, often working in unison with like-minded Republicans, championed education reform efforts ranging from school choice to holding educators accountable for student performance.

But partly because of backlash against President Donald Trump and his education secretary, those strategies no longer fly with many Democrats — especially left-leaning Democrats who see them as undercutting public education and devaluing the work of teachers.

That sentiment was palpable in Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, and could shape the next legislative session, which starts in January. “Education is the issue that really stands to divide the left in a very substantial way,” one observer said. Read more.

How a Colorado school district turned things around at 10,000 feet above sea level

School improvement efforts look a little different high in the Rocky Mountains. While many of the strategies used by the 1,000-student Lake County school district are familiar to urban settings, they’ve been retrofitted to meet the needs of a district that’s 100 miles west of Denver.

For example, instead of firing teachers and principals who weren’t accelerating student learning fast enough, the district adopted a new curriculum and gave its teachers lots of training.

“The belief that the people are the problem is wrong,” the superintendent said. “Our teachers are professionals, and we believe in them. We’re proving that there is a framework or a pathway for rural schools to improve that’s about building capacity within your own community.” Read more.

7 things to know about how Colorado schools punish their youngest students

After state lawmakers rejected a bill to limit the use of suspensions in the earliest grades, Chalkbeat wanted to know more about the early childhood discipline landscape in Colorado. Data from the Colorado Department of Education revealed several trends.

Among them: Young black boys are suspended at disproportionate rates. Some rural school districts have the highest early childhood suspension rates in the state.

And despite nationwide debate about the impact of harsh discipline on young children and local efforts to bring the numbers down, suspensions in the early grades are actually going up. Read more.

In Denver’s gentrifying neighborhoods, some middle-class parents are avoiding the school down the block

Many neighborhoods in Denver are gentrifying, with middle-class families moving into what have historically been working-class communities. That type of demographic shift could easily lead to neighborhood schools that are more integrated by family income and race.

But that doesn’t always happen in Denver. Instead, data show that wealthier families – more often than low-income families – are using Denver Public Schools’ universal school choice process to send their kids to schools elsewhere in the city.

That’s a problem because research shows integrated schools boost test scores for students from low-income families without lowering the scores of those from wealthier ones. Denver officials want to see those benefits, but allowing parents to choose may be thwarting them. Read more.

Why this Colorado principal hand delivers birthday cards to more than 2,000 students and staff

Northglenn High School Principal Sharee Blunt is Colorado’s 2018 School Principal of the year — but perhaps even more impressive is the enormous number of birthday cards she hand delivers each year. If you’re one of those people who can barely remember your spouse’s birthday, you’ll be floored by Blunt’s annual feat.

In our interview with Blunt, part of Chalkbeat’s “How I Lead” Q&A series with distinguished school leaders, she talks about what she realized after a mother’s emotional reaction, and why she gave a teacher a pass during a lesson that went awry. Read more.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.