high school

Denver students taking longer to graduate, even as other districts report improvements

Colorado’s annual release of graduation data showed some metro area school districts making gains while others, like Denver’s district, posting decreases in on-time rates.

Statewide, four-year high school graduation rates inched up again, reaching a new high with 79 percent of all students graduating on time in 2017. Another 10.1 percent, or almost 6,500 students, are still enrolled in high school and could still graduate after five, six or seven years.

Numbers show that might be happening in some districts, including Denver Public Schools. The district, which has posted gains for several years, had a 66.6 percent graduation rate in 2017, a drop from 67.2 percent in 2016.

At the same time, the district’s five-year and six-year graduation rates went up. In 2017, the highest rate, of 76.7 percent, was among students graduating high school in six years, up from 74 percent the previous year.

Colorado ranks low compared to other states in graduation rates, but the annual improvements follow a similar national trend. In 2015, Colorado changed the minimum bar for graduation requirements, and school districts are in the process of changing their own requirements to match for the Class of 2020. School districts are free to set their own requirements for graduation, as long as they meet the state’s minimum bar.

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg said district officials are continuing to dig into the data, but said the district is balancing competing goals in helping students take their time to earn college or career experiences before graduation, while trying to raise the on-time graduation rate.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t show gains this year,” Boasberg said. “We do have a number of programs….where students will not graduate until their fifth or sixth year, so it is not surprising to see the slight dip in the 4-year rate. But we want to make sure all of our measures continue to increase.”

Graduation rates for Colorado’s five largest school districts

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

Aurora Public Schools, another large district, has shown increases in both on-time and five-year or six-year graduation rates. The district, which posted one of the highest increases among metro area districts in graduation rates last year, had a relatively large increase again in 2017.

In 2017, 67.6 percent of Aurora students graduated on-time, up from 65 percent that did the previous year. The district’s highest graduation rate, of 78.2 percent, is for students graduating after six years of high school.

Last year’s increase in Aurora was one of the factors that allowed the state to raise the quality rating for the district, moving it off the state’s watchlist for chronic low performance.

Other struggling districts that are already under state-ordered plans for improvement after years of low performance had mixed results. Westminster Public Schools, for instance, posted a slight increase in graduation rates with 57.8 percent of students in 2017 graduating on time.

But the Commerce City-based Adams 14 district, also on a state-ordered plan, saw a decrease in the number of students graduating on-time, as well as those who graduate in five or six years. The graduation rates are one factor in the state’s quality ratings each year. If the 2018 rating the state gives Adams 14 doesn’t improve from previous years, the state may consider further action against the district including merging it or turning over management to a third party.

The state on Thursday also released dropout rate numbers. Statewide, although a slightly higher percentage of students are graduating, the rate of students who are dropping out has remained the same.

In the metro area, many school districts were able to decrease the number of students who dropped out in 2017. Adams 14 had a 7.9 percent dropout rate in 2017, down from 8.2 percent in 2016. Aurora had a 2.5 percent dropout rate in 2017, down from 3.4 percent in 2016.

Denver schools had a slight increase in the number of students dropping out. In 2017, 4.2 percent of Denver students dropped out of school, up from 4 percent in 2016.

Statewide, district officials are also considering data as it breaks down by race. Gaps in Colorado narrowed as graduation rates improved for all groups of students of color, but they decreased slightly for white students, compared to 2016.

Statewide graduation rates for 2017 by race

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

Look up individual school graduation rates for 2017 and 2016 in the table below.

Look up district-level graduation rates for 2017 and 2016 in the table below.

Assessing assessments

New York legislators overhaul teacher evaluations, removing mandatory link to state test

PHOTO: Chalkbeat file photo
A New York City principal takes notes on her computer during classroom observation for new teacher evaluations.

State lawmakers easily passed a bill Wednesday that scraps the use of state tests when evaluating New York teachers, but even supportive lawmakers raised concerns about potential loopholes that could subject students to more high-stakes testing.

The union-backed bill is a reversal of a 2015 deal Gov. Andrew Cuomo reached with lawmakers, which tied teacher evaluations to performance on state testing, seen by many as a political move not rooted in education policy. Strong backlash over that deal led many families to opt out of state tests, and eventually led to a state moratorium on using certain state assessments for teacher evaluations.

The bill allows local districts and their teachers unions to decide what kind of assessments should be used to evaluate teachers and requires State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to decide on a “menu” of alternative assessments for local districts.

The proposal, which now goes to Cuomo’s office for approval, jumps ahead of work the Board of Regents is attempting. Before the session started, the Board of Regents planned to extend the state-assessment moratorium by one year and created work groups to hash out the best policies for assessments and evaluations. Sen. Shelley Mayer, a Westchester Democrat and chair of the Senate education committee, said Wednesday she recognizes the Regents’ work, but “as legislators, we are doing what we are charged to do in making necessary changes in state law.”

“Since 2015, when these provisions were initially adopted, parents, teachers, and the legislature have — in a bipartisan way — have all recognized a flaw in this law,” Mayer said.

In a statement, Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie called the bill’s changes “common sense reforms” that will help teachers “prioritize the needs of their students.”

State Department of Education officials will “work to implement the new law” and will “continue to engage stakeholders in the process,” Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state education department said in an email.

The bill is not likely to have a drastic effect on New York City schools, since the district already chooses from a menu of local measures to evaluate teachers. United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, who praised the legislation dismissed concerns about the bill leading to more testing, at least in New York City, because of how it already uses alternative local options.

“You should be active in making sure your school district is using performance indicators that are not tests, if you believe in that,” Mulgrew said.

Despite the bill’s passage — unanimously in the Senate — even supporters expressed concerns about allowing local districts to select their methods for evaluating teachers. What if another type of standardized test shows up on the “menu” that the state commissioner creates? Or, what if local districts decide they want to use more standardized tests?

“There are serious concerns that this bill will actually double the amount of testing (one tests for student achievement, the other teachers), while making it harder to compare across districts,” said Nathaniel Styer, a spokesman for teacher group Educators for Excellence, in a tweet.

When a similar question was raised on the Assembly floor, bill sponsor Assemblyman Michael Benedetto doubted the chances that local districts would agree to more testing.

Wary lawmakers also raised concerns about the bill not going far enough to decouple state assessments from teacher evaluations, formally called Annual Professional Performance Reviews or APPR.

The New York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of parents and teachers who oppose standardized testing, believes that this law would subject students to more tests, a view shared by Sen. Robert Jackson, a Harlem Democrat. Jackson and Queens Democrat Sen. Jessica Ramos both voted to support the bill nonetheless, but cautioned that it “does not go far enough” to eliminate the use of assessments completely.

“We have an opportunity to take a couple more weeks before budget season  begins in earnest to really workshop these ideas,” Jackson said. “With so much riding on reforming APPR, we owe it to students, teachers, parents, and other  advocates to get this one right.”

measuring up

Gateway is only Memphis charter school flagged as low-achieving on district scorecard. How did your school do?

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman/Chalkbeat
Gateway University is already at risk of closure after a Shelby County Schools investigation found a slew of misconduct at the high school.

Most Memphis schools improved in academic achievement and student growth in the second edition of Shelby County Schools “scorecard.”

About two-thirds of 186 district and charter schools improved their score on the district’s tool that helps parents examine school-level data and compare it with other Memphis-area schools in Tennessee’s largest district.

The district grades each school on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the most favorable. The tool relies on state data on test scores, academic growth, graduation rates, ACT scores, and other factors like attendance and suspension rates. But the district’s scorecard differs from the state’s report card in that it only compares Memphis-area schools with each other. The state compares the district’s schools with others across Tennessee.

The scorecard is also the district’s main measurement of charter schools, which are managed by nonprofits using public funds. Only one charter school, Gateway University, fell below a 2, the district’s threshold for charter schools to remain in good standing. The school scored 1.64.

None of the high school’s students performed on grade level in math on the state’s test TNReady. Less than 2 percent scored proficient in English, making it the worst performing of 54 charter schools in the district.

Gateway University, now in its second year, is already under investigation for a slew of accusations including awarding students grades for a nonexistent class, hiring an employee who did not clear a background check, and having an inactive governing board. Shelby County Schools administrators have recommended the school board close the charter school. The board will likely hold a hearing Tuesday afternoon and vote that evening.

Last year, the district flagged seven low-performing charter schools at risk of closure, but all have improved academics and other measures enough this year to escape the district’s watchlist.

However, the state uses a different yardstick and has placed four of those charter school on its list of lowest performing schools. The school board delayed a vote in October to close those schools and has not released a new date for a decision. (The other three schools either closed, converted to a different governing model, or are still in operation.)

Even if those charter schools didn’t improve, the district could not have used last year’s state test scores as a factor in closing them. A series of technical failures of the online test led state lawmakers to ban use of the scores in judging schools.

To view individual school report cards, search here.