Struggling schools

Bottom ranked township schools saw big drops on ISTEP exam

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Township schools face many of the same challenges often associated primarily with inner-city schools, such as high poverty and other learning barriers.

Students at the lowest scoring township and small city schools in Marion County struggled mightily with the tough new ISTEP exam.

The merged city of Indianapolis and Marion County includes 11 separate school districts — Indianapolis Public Schools, eight township school districts and the small cities of Speedway and Beech Grove.

In those districts, are many schools where students posted top scores on the state’s ISTEP exam. Chalkbeat last week listed the ten township schools that had the highest percentage of students passing ISTEP last year. The ranking was part of a series of stories that have revealed the top 10 IPS schools, the bottom 10 IPS schools,  the top-ten charter schools in the city, lowest-scoring charter schools and top-rated township or small city schools.

This week, we’re listing the ten township or small city schools that had the lowest percentage of students who passed the exam.

These schools weren’t alone in seeing dramatic drops in scores between 2014 and 2015. The average Indiana school saw its passing score drop by 19 percentage points. But the ten schools at the bottom of the township and small school list saw their scores go down by much more than the state average drop.

All of them had passing rates well below the state average of 52.6 percent, and in several cases their passing rates were about half the state average.

As in past years, schools with high poverty and students with other barriers to learning struggled on standardized state tests.

All of the bottom 10 schools had more than the state average of 47.2 percent of students who come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. To qualify, a family of four cannot earn more than $44,863 annually.

Several of the lowest-scoring schools also had larger shares than the state averages of students in special education and or who were English language learners. The state averages in 2014-15 were 15 percent and 5 percent. Here’s the list:

Guion Creek Middle School

Guion Creek Middle School in Pike Township was on this list last year, and returned after its passing percentage on ISTEP dropped 24 percentage points to 30.7, ending three years of improved ISTEP passing rates.

Pike Township's Guion Creek Middle School ISTEP passing rate landed it among the county's bottom 10.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Pike Township’s Guion Creek Middle School ISTEP passing rate landed it among the county’s bottom 10.

The school serves about 902 students in grades 6 to 8. Of them, 57 percent are black, 35 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are white.

About 25 percent of students were English language learners and 14 percent were in special education in 2015-16, the last year for which data was available.

About 76 percent of students who attend Guion Creek come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, meaning their families earn less than $44,863 in income annually for a family of four.

Brook Park Elementary School, Lawrence Township

Brook Park Elementary School almost got off this list in 2015. The prior year, the Lawrence Township school had the lowest passing rate outside of IPS of any traditional elementary school in Marion County.

Brook Park Elementary ranks among the lowest ISTEP passing rates in Marion County.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Brook Park Elementary ranks among the lowest ISTEP passing rates in Marion County.

Brook Park moved up the ranking slightly in 2015 because it held steady on the new, tougher ISTEP. About 31 percent of its students passed the test, down 19 points from last year. That was the same drop as the average Indiana school while other township schools showed larger declines.

The school serves about 650 students in grades 1-6. The school had seen three years of improving test scores before the the 2015 test changes.

About 85 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. About 61 percent of students are black, 19 percent  are Hispanic and 14 are percent  white. About 14 percent of students who took the exam were English-language learners and 13 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Rhoades Elementary School, Wayne Township

An enormous drop of 33 percentage points — much larger than that of the average Indiana school — landed Rhoades Elementary School a place on the bottom 10 list last year.

Wayne Township's Rhoades Elementary School saw a big drop in test scores in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Wayne Township’s Rhoades Elementary School saw a big drop in test scores in 2015.

The Wayne Township school has very high percentage of students who live in poverty — 88 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is very diverse.

About 38 percent of the 787 students who attend Rhoades Elementary School in grades K-6 are white, 30 percent are black and 23 percent are Hispanic.

About 8 percent of students were in special education and 18 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Westlake Elementary School, Wayne Township

The tougher new ISTEP test hit several Wayne Township schools hard, Westlake Elementary School among them.

Westlake Elementary School is one of three Wayne Township schools that ranked in the county's bottom 10 on ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Westlake Elementary School is one of three Wayne Township schools that ranked in the county’s bottom 10 on ISTEP.

About 29 percent of students passed the 2015 test, down 32 percentage points from the prior year.

Westlake’s enrollment includes about 75 percent of students who come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school which has about 795 students in grades K-6, also serves a diverse population. About 37 percent of students are Hispanic, 34 percent are black and 23 percent are white.

About 12 percent of students were in special education and a huge 31 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

North Wayne Elementary School, Wayne Township

A 34 percentage point slide in the percentage of student passing ISTEP dropped North Wayne Elementary School into the bottom 10.

Low test scores dropped North Wayne Elementary into the county's bottom 10 when it came to passing ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Low test scores dropped North Wayne Elementary into the county’s bottom 10 when it came to passing ISTEP in 2015.

About 29 percent of students passed the test in 2015, down from 63 percent the prior year.

A large school, North Wayne serves 936 students in grades K-6. Schoolwide, roughly 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 57 percent of students are black, 31 percent are Hispanic and and 6 percent are white.

About 9 percent of students were in special education and 26 percent were learning English as a new language in 2014-15, the last year for which data were available.

Decatur Township School of Excellence

The Decatur Township School of Excellence was designed to tailor learning to individual middle and high school students as an alternative for those who feel like they didn’t fit well in traditional schools. But the district-run school in Decatur Township struggled on the new ISTEP.

Decatur Township School Of Excellence creates unique learning plans for students in grades 7-12/
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Decatur Township School Of Excellence creates unique learning plans for students in grades 7-12/

Its 29 percent passing rate for students in seventh and eighth grade was down 31 percentage points from the prior year, placing the school in the bottom 10.

The school serves about 166 students in grades 7-12. About 63 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 85 percent of the school’s students are white, 7 percent are black and 5 percent are Hispanic.

About 19 percent were in special education and 3 percent were learning English as a new language in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Stonybrook Intermediate Academy, Warren Township

Warren township’s Stonybrook Intermediate Academy continued to struggle on ISTEP in 2015, keeping it on the bottom 10 list.

Warren Township's Stonybrook Middle School struggled on ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Warren Township’s Stonybrook Middle School struggled on ISTEP in 2015.

About 28 percent of its students passed the tougher ISTEP, down 29 percentage point from the prior year. The school has struggled on ISTEP for several years.

Serving 576 students in grades 5 and 6, the school emphasizes hands-on learning and using technology in lessons.

About 83 percent of the school’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.  The school is about 65 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic and 12 percent white.

Students in special education made up about 19 percent of students while about 8 percent of students were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Sunny Heights Elementary School, Warren Township

A bigger than average drop in its ISTEP passing rate put Sunny Heights Elementary School back on the list of lowest-scoring township and small city schools in 2015.

Once an A school, Sunny Heights Elementary School is now struggling to get students to pass ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Once an A school, Sunny Heights Elementary School is now struggling to get students to pass ISTEP.

About 28 percent passed, down 26 percentage points from the prior year. It continued a long test performance slide for the Warren Township school, which was rated an A by the state in 2011 and featured by the Indianapolis Star as one of “five schools that beat the odds.”

About 478 students in grades K-4 attend the school. About 65 percent of students are black, 17 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent are white. About 75 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

About 15 percent were English-language learners, triple the state average and about 8 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

The district last year began a new effort to improve the school, including a new principal.

Lincoln Middle School, Pike Township

Another school with a bigger than average drop on its ISTEP passing rate in 2015 was Lincoln Middle School in Pike Township.

Lincoln Middle School in Pike Township was again ranked in the county's bottom 10.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Lincoln Middle School in Pike Township was again ranked in the county’s bottom 10.

About 26 percent of the school’s 841 students in grades 6-8 passed the test, down 26 percentage points from the prior year.

About 74 percent of the school’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch,

About 62 percent of the students are black, 24 percent are Hispanic and 6 percent are white.

About 18 percent of students were English-language learners and 16 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Snacks Crossing Elementary School, Pike Township

A huge 47-percentage point drop on its ISTEP passing rate put Snacks Crossing Elementary School at the bottom of this list even though it did not appear among the bottom 10 schools last year.

Snacks Crossing Elementary School saw a large drop in the percentage of students passing ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Snacks Crossing Elementary School saw a large drop in the percentage of students passing ISTEP in 2015.

Just 24.8 percent passed the test in 2015, down from almost 72 percent the prior year.

Snacks Crossing has 569 students enrolled in grades K to 5. About 69 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 71 percent of the school’s students are black, 20 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are white.

About 20 percent of students were in special education and 19 percent were learning English as a new language in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Academic Accountability

Coming soon: Not one, but two ratings for every Chicago school

Starting this month, Chicago schools will have to juggle two ratings — one from the school district, and another from the state.

The Illinois State Board of Education is scheduled to release on October 31 its annual report cards for schools across the state. This year, for the first time, each school will receive one of four quality stamps from the state: an “exemplary” or “commendable” rating signal the school is meeting standards while an “underperforming” or “lowest performing” designation could trigger intervention, according to state board of education spokeswoman Jackie Matthews.

A federal accountability law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, requires these new ratings.

To complicate matters, the city and state ratings are each based on different underlying metrics and even a different set of standardized tests. The state ratings, for example, are based on a modified version of the PARCC assessment, while Chicago ratings are based largely on the NWEA. The new state ratings, like those the school district issues, can be given out without observers ever having visited a classroom, which is why critics argue that the approach lacks the qualitative metrics necessary to assess the learning, teaching, and leadership at individual schools.

Patricia Brekke, principal at Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School, said she’s still waiting to see how the ratings will be used, “and how that matters for us,” but that parents at her school aren’t necessarily focused on what the state says.

“What our parents usually want to know is what [Chicago Public Schools] says about us, and how we’re doing in comparison to other schools nearby that their children are interested in,” she said.

Educators at Chicago Public Schools understand the power of school quality ratings.  The district already has its own five-tiered rating system: Level 1+ and Level 1 designate the highest performing schools, Level 2+ and Level 2 describe for average and below average performing schools, respectively, and Level 3, the lowest performance rating, is for schools in need of “intensive intervention.” The ratings help parents decide where to enroll their children, and are supposed to signal to the district that the school needs more support. But the ratings are also the source of angst — used to justify replacing school leaders, closing schools, or opening new schools in neighborhoods where options are deemed inadequate.

In contrast, the state’s school quality designations actually target underperforming and lowest-performing schools with additional federal funding and support with the goal of improving student outcomes. Matthews said schools will work with “school support managers” from the state to do a self-inquiry and identify areas for improvement. She described Chicago’s school quality rating system as “a local dashboard that they have developed to communicate with their communities.”

Staff from the Illinois State Board of Education will be traveling around the state next week to meet with district leaders and principals to discuss the new accountability system, including the ratings. They’ll be in Bloomington, Marion, O’Fallon, Chicago, and Melrose Park. The Chicago meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 5 p.m. at Chicago Public Schools headquarters.

Rae Clementz, director of assessment and accountability at the state board said that a second set of ratings reveals “that there are multiple valid ways to look at school quality and success; it’s a richer picture.”

Under auspices of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state school report cards released at the end of the month for elementary schools are 75 percent based on academics, including English language arts and math test scores, English learner progress as measured by the ACCESS test, and academic growth. The other 25 percent reflects the school climate and success, such as attendance and chronic absenteeism.

Other measures are slated to be phased in over the next several years, including academic indicators like science proficiency and school quality indicators, such as school climate surveys of staff, students and parents

High school designations take a similar approach with English and math test scores but will take into account graduation rates, instead of academic growth, and also includes the percentage of  9th graders on track to graduate — that is freshmen who earn 10 semester credits, and no more than one semester F in a core course.

Critics of Chicago’s school rating system argue that the ratings correlate more with socioeconomic status and race than they do school quality, and say little about what’s happening in classrooms and how kids are learning. Chicago does try to mitigate these issues with a greater emphasis on growth in test scores rather than absolute attainment, school climate surveys, and including academic growth by priority groups, like African-American, Latino, ELL, and students in special education.

Cory Koedel, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Missouri, said that many rating systems basically capture poverty status with a focus on how high or low students score on tests. Chicago’s approach is fairer than that of many other school systems.

“What I like about this is it does seem to have a high weight on growth and lower weight on attainment levels,” he said.

Morgan Polikoff, a professor at University of Southern California’s school of education, said that Chicago’s emphasis on student growth is a good thing “if the purpose of the system is to identify schools doing a good job educating kids.”

Chicago weights 50 percent of the rating on growth, but he’s seen 35 to as low as 15 percent at other districts. But he said the school district’s reliance on the NWEA test rather than the PARCC test used in the state school ratings was atypical.

“It’s not a state test, and though they say it aligns with standards, I know from talking to educators that a lot of them feel the tests are not well aligned with what they are supposed to be teaching,” he said. “It’s just a little odd to me they would have state assessment data, which is what they are held accountable for with the state, but use the other data.”

He’s skeptical about school systems relying too heavily on standardized test scores, whether the SAT, PARCC or NWEA, because “You worry that now you’re just turning the curriculum to test prep, and that’s an incentive you don’t want to create for educators.”

He said the high school measures in particular include a wide array of measures, including measures that follow students into college, “so I love that.”

“I really like the idea of broadening the set of indicators on which we evaluate schools and encouraging schools to really pay attention to how well they prepare students for what comes next,” he said.

Miseducation

In Colorado’s high-poverty schools, many teachers are just starting their careers

PHOTO: Yesenia Robles/Chalkbeat
A first-grade student reads in Spanish in a biliteracy classroom at Dupont Elementary in Adams 14.

This story is part of a partnership between Chalkbeat and the nonprofit investigative news organization ProPublica. Using federal data from Miseducation, an interactive database built by ProPublica, we are publishing a series of stories exploring inequities in education at the local level.

Koli Jamerson’s residency program gave her tools that she uses every day as a teacher, ideas for developing engaging lessons and for working with English language learners.

But it didn’t teach her how to help a student who explodes in anger because the police were at her house the night before on a domestic violence call or who cries all day because she doesn’t know where she’ll sleep that night.

Jamerson, now in her third year of teaching first grade at Altura Elementary in the Aurora school district, is still standing. She remains committed to her profession in large part due to the help of veteran teachers on her team, who provided advice as she found her footing those first couple of years.

“It helps keep things in perspective,” Jamerson said of her conversations with more experienced educators. “Otherwise, I would have been talking to a bunch of other teachers who were also drowning, and we would have drowned together.”

It’s getting hard for new teachers in Colorado to find those support systems, since the percentage of Colorado’s teachers in their first or second year in the classroom is among the highest in the nation. In 2015-16, the most recent year for which federal data is available, 17 percent of Colorado teachers were new to the classroom, compared with 12 percent nationally. Only Tennessee, Arizona, and Washington, D.C., rank higher. As recently as 2011, less than 11 percent of Colorado’s teachers were new to the classroom.

This information comes from a new interactive database from the investigative news organization ProPublica. It draws on data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and for the first time allows parents to easily search their school and district and compare it with others in the region. 

The rates of inexperienced teachers are even higher in certain rural districts and in districts where lots of students come from low-income families and face more challenges. Those districts also often have high numbers of students of color. In contrast, whiter, more affluent suburban districts tend to have low rates of inexperienced teachers.

And those numbers have significant ramifications for Colorado’s students: New teachers can bring energy and innovation to the classroom, and some, especially those with support and guidance, manage to thrive early on. But students with inexperienced teachers tend to have lower test scores on average, according to numerous studies, and new teachers often get lower scores in classroom management from their principals.

Most teachers will readily admit it takes several years to get your bearings in a profession for which no amount of classroom learning can fully prepare you.

“In reality, you get second grade one time, you get third grade one time, as a kid,” said David Singer, founder of Denver’s University Prep charter network, which has shown impressive test results even with plenty of relatively inexperienced teachers. “You deserve an excellent educator.”

Chalkbeat reviewed more recent state data that follows the typical federal definition of “inexperienced teachers” — teachers with less than three full years of classroom experience — and found that the broad trends remain true and in many cases are even more severe than they appear in the federal data. Statewide, one in four Colorado teachers was classified as inexperienced. Last school year, 31 percent of Denver Public Schools teachers were in their first three years on the job, compared with just 7 percent of teachers in the more affluent Boulder Valley School District.

The Adams 14 district, based in the working-class suburb of Commerce City, is one of the lowest-performing in the state. Last year, 45 percent of teachers there were considered inexperienced, compared with 8 percent in the south suburban Littleton district. 

In districts with so many new teachers, it becomes inevitable that students there will encounter educators who haven’t yet reached their prime.

“When a teacher is new to the profession, as with any profession, they’re not as effective,” said Allison Atteberry, an assistant professor in the research and evaluation methods program at the University of Colorado’s School of Education. “There’s a really steep learning curve in those first years. That can’t really be avoided. But if there are more of those teachers, then more students will be exposed to those teachers. And if you have districts with more at-risk students, that has major equity implications.”

Atteberry said the numbers don’t surprise her, and they reflect a perfect storm in the state’s teacher corps. Colorado has experienced rapid population growth, increasing the demand for teachers, at the same time that experienced teachers are retiring or changing careers. That means more new teachers in Colorado classrooms, even as fewer students are entering teacher preparation programs.

Colorado’s low teacher pay exacerbates retention problems. Colorado ranks 30th for teacher pay, and when those salaries are adjusted for cost of living, it falls to 44th. The competitiveness of its teacher salaries is the lowest in the nation, meaning that people who go into teaching take a bigger salary hit compared to their peers with similar levels of education. Nationally, 1 in 10 teachers will leave the profession after their first year, and many more never reach the five-year mark.

Districts around the state are asking voters to raise taxes this November in part to raise teacher pay. Better pay for educators is also a major part of the campaign for Amendment 73, a $1.6 billion statewide tax increase for schools that appears on the ballot. But Colorado voters have so far been reluctant to raise statewide taxes for schools, and critics say there is no guarantee the money will make it into teachers’ paychecks.

Atteberry said raising pay would help mitigate these trends. Beyond that, there isn’t a lot of solid research on the best ways to keep teachers in the classroom, she said, but coaching and support from other teachers can make a difference. Denver is trying a new program to ease the transition for novice teachers with more time spent observing and learning from veterans before getting sole responsibility for a classroom. But just as with teacher salaries, providing adequate coaching is expensive. And the more newcomers there are, the harder it is provide meaningful support to novices.

Denver metro area inexperienced teachers

DISTRICT Teachers with less than three years experience Students receiving subsidized lunches
Adams 14 45 percent 87.3 percent
Dougco 39 percent 12.4 percent
Sheridan 33 percent 90.4 percent
27J (Brighton) 33 percent 37.7 percent
Denver 31 percent 67.2 percent
Jeffco 31 percent 31.7 percent
Aurora 29 percent 68.7 percent
Englewood 29 percent 66 percent
Westminster 24 percent 81.4 percent
Mapleton 21 percent 60.6 percent
St. Vrain 15 percent 30.6 percent
Adams 12 11 percent 39.9 percent
Cherry Creek 9 percent 30.0 percent
Littleton 8 percent 16.8 percent
Boulder Valley 7 percent 19 percent

Source: Colorado Department of Education, 2017-18 school year

This year, for the first time, Annalee Peterson has her own fifth-grade classroom in Columbia Elementary in Colorado Springs, where a large portion of the students are homeless or face other challenges. Before starting an alternative certification process, she ran reading groups as a paraprofessional in the same building for four years. And years before that, she dropped out of a Teach for America placement in a Newark high school where she felt alone and unsupported.

Peterson said her certification program includes intensive classroom observation and feedback that has been invaluable as she made the transition from para to teacher. She also has a trusting relationship with her building principal, who encouraged her to become a teacher.

“I think every new teacher should have a mentor,” she said. “I see other teachers come in, and they don’t have it.”

Peterson said she also benefits from her school’s skilled full-time counselor, something many Colorado schools don’t have.

“If we have a kid with a fair amount of trauma, and they get triggered, they have someone they can go talk to,” she said. “And that’s a huge help. They are getting their emotional needs met, and when they come back to the classroom, they’re ready to work and ready to focus.”

The Adams 14 school district, which has spent eight years on a state watchlist due to its low-performing schools, has the highest rate of inexperienced teachers in the Denver metro area. The 7,000-student district has experienced a lot of turnover not just at the classroom level, but at the highest tiers of leadership.

With an urgent need to improve school performance, Mark Langston, the district’s new manager of educator effectiveness, tries to put a positive face on the large number of new educators that arrive each year.

“I’d rather have a phenomenal teacher for one year, than a bad teacher for many years,” Langston said. “Strong systems have a nice blend of experience.”

At the same time, he’s trying to improve the support those new teachers receive by making changes to the district’s five-day induction program to better meet their individual needs. The thinking is that a 40-year-old switching careers after running a business for 20 years might need different training from a 22-year-old recent college graduate. He’s also trying to match new teachers with mentors earlier in the school year.

But sometimes there aren’t enough mentors or he’s had to make exceptions to allow less experienced teachers to become mentors.

“They are mentoring each other,” said Barb McDowell, president of the Adams 14 teachers union, who says the churn takes a toll on teacher and student morale. “There are no veteran teachers there to help.”

Kevin Clark, a senior at Adams City High, said he always felt supported by his teachers in the district, but very few of them are still there as he enters his final year.

“For the seniors, it’s been rough,” he said. “We really value our support systems. The new teachers are trying to adjust and get their footing, but just because you send in a batch of new teachers, doesn’t mean everything is fine.”

The Denver schools with the highest percentages of inexperienced teachers in 2015-16 include a number of alternative high schools, high-poverty district-run schools, and charter schools. Some of the charter schools are part of high-performing networks whose students do well on state tests.

One of them is University Prep. The homegrown Denver network has two elementary schools, one of which posted the most academic progress in Colorado on state math tests in 2017. But in 2015, the network had just one school — and 42 percent of the teachers there were in their first or second year of teaching, according to the federal data.

At University Prep, some first-year teachers have taken part in a teacher residency program or in a program that has college students work as paraprofessionals while earning their degrees.

“When you think about that individual exiting their undergraduate [education] having spent four years in a building with master teachers, getting all the supports they need to grow, they’re ready to teach on Day 1,” said Singer, the network’s founder.

PHOTO: Eric Gorski/Chalkbeat
Students at University Prep Elementary’s flagship school in Denver

Even so, the network provides its first-year teachers with extra support, he said, such as real-time coaching in the classroom, opportunities to observe more experienced teachers, and help with how to plan a lesson or conduct a parent-teacher conference.

Atteberry said successful charter schools with high rates of inexperienced teachers may be doing something different in the hiring process, looking for “spark teachers who really want to make a difference.”

The high rates of new teachers at some charter schools raise questions, though, about how sustainable the work environment is, and some of these same “spark” teachers may never intend to make a lifelong career of it and instead move on to other challenges. Asked about turnover, Singer said some University Prep teachers have left to pursue careers in medicine and law.

Denver metro area data show another exception to the trend in Douglas County. It’s an affluent and sprawling district southwest of Denver where just 12 percent of students get subsidized lunches, a proxy for poverty. But in 2015-16, 31 percent of teachers were in their first or second year in the classroom, and in 2017-18, 39 percent had less than three years experience.

Kallie Leyba, president of the Douglas County Federation, the teachers union there, said Douglas used to be a “destination district” that teachers aspired to work for. But political upheaval, the election of a conservative school board that has since been replaced, and a “market rate” pay structure that remains have caused experienced teachers to leave in droves — some for much higher salaries in nearby Cherry Creek schools.

The Douglas County pay scale means that teachers with the same amount of experience might make very different salaries. Leyba herself faced the prospect of a lower ceiling on her salary when her building principal asked her to switch from a first grade to a second grade classroom because first-grade teachers are more in demand.

“Even though I knew this was a crazy system, it really hurt to feel like my value had gone down in the eyes of my principal,” she said.

What could Colorado do to get more of today’s inexperienced teachers to become tomorrow’s veteran educators?

Money is a big part of the answer. As it stands, Colorado teachers can earn significantly more money by moving to another state, and with teacher salaries less competitive here than elsewhere, teachers also look to other professions that offer less stress along with better pay.

“The No. 1 thing we should do is increase the prestige and value of teachers in society, and the way we signal that in our society is through salary and compensation,” Atteberry said. “That has a huge influence on who goes into the profession and on who stays.

“This is not an easy change because it costs a lot of money, and it also requires us to change how we think about teachers, but it is the policy that would be most effective.”

Chalkbeat reporters Melanie Asmar and Yesenia Robles contributed reporting to this story.