The fundamental purpose of any public school system is to graduate students at a level of proficiency that enables them to meet the professional and personal challenges of the modern world. The purpose is not to have proficient 3rd, 5th, or 8th graders, nor to have academic growth that still leaves students unable to read, write, and perform math at the level necessary to fully participate in and contribute to our democratic society.
Many metrics along K-12 education may serve as indicators of potential success, but they are not goals. Students must leave the public school system at least proficient enough to face the tasks ahead. At the moment when students depart the K-12 system to enter college or career, it matters neither how proficient they were years before, nor the pace at which they have risen. Simply put: exit-level proficiency should be the primary goal of any public school system.
This is not to say that proficiency should form the ceiling of academic achievement. Quite the opposite: basic proficiency should be the floor of measurement – the foundation upon which students can then further build academic mastery, curiosity, and intellectual creativity. Students leaving our public school system will require a number of twenty-first century skills – collaboration, creativity, technical, leadership and others – many of which are difficult to quantify. We aspire to a school system where proficiency is guaranteed and our attention can be directed towards other metrics. But, given the current landscape of Denver’s public schools, we must first focus on bringing our students to proficiency.
Proficiency goals should apply to all students equally. Far too often, access to a quality education depends on demographics, income, geography, or school level. Inherent in any academic proficiency goal is the belief that all our children are equal, and they must all be given the same opportunities to succeed.
The most recent version of The Denver Plan – the primary strategic document for the district – lists five major goals and multiple supporting indicators. However, too few of these goals (and the accompanying metrics) either focus on or prioritize academic achievement. DPS can often meet the objectives in the Denver Plan regardless of a corresponding rise or decline in student academic outcomes. The current goals of the Denver Plan lack rigor, structure, and consistency (and we provide a detailed assessment of them in Appendix A).