Originally appeared in the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Flypaper
By Christopher Rom
A short new report by A+ Colorado evaluates the recent gains of Denver Public Schools (DPS) in a way that education leaders elsewhere might beneficially heed.
First, we see that more DPS students met grade level proficiency for Math and ELA in 2016 than in 2015. Then the authors list the highest achieving schools, as well as those schools that made the biggest jumps in proficiency rates. A scatter plot shows a demographic index and elementary school ELA proficiency rates. Here the serious thinking begins.
We see that a large number of DPS schools are besting their peers around the state with comparable demographics. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing great. For example, Knapp Elementary, a district-run school, had fewer than 35 percent of its students read and write at grade level, yet it’s far above the state average for schools with similar concentrations of poor and multilingual students. Knapp also makes the podium when the authors rank schools by growth rates.
The authors conclude by showing the rate at which Denver needs to improve to meet its 2020 goals, and we see how much heavy lifting lies ahead. From 2015 to 2016, DPS increased the number of third graders proficient in ELA by +3 percentage points, but it would have to improve by +12 percentage points per year from here on out to get to where it says it wants to be in 2020. Faced with that kind of challenge, some might give up on the goal. Others might dig into the data and find the best ways to move forward. For those who plan to keep improving, this report is a great place to start.