These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

A+ Denver: 2015 Round-up

Happy Holidays!
There has been as much education news as snow this week. Denver, our state, and nation are in the midst of a variety of important changes.  We have our first PARCC scores, a change in Denver Public School leadership, a new state commissioner, and a new federal education law: “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA). This will be our last update for 2015: read the entire year-end round-up or skip directly to what you want to know.
Progress on PARCC
PARCC scores were released last week which show that many schools and districts are far from preparing most kids to be college and career ready. A+ is in the midst of an analysis comparing recent TCAP and PARCC scores for the entire state to determine whether schools are improving.
Our preliminary analysis of achievement trends from TCAP to PARCC over the last three years shows that there were a number of schools serving low-income students that have made remarkable progress in getting students to proficiency in math/reading/writing. On the list of schools in the Denver Metro area that have made progress or are outperforming similar schools in at least one subject area and that deserve a deeper dive include Ashley (DPS), Columbine (DPS), Dartmouth Elementary (Aurora), DCIS at Ford (DPS), Explore (Mapleton), Kunsmiller (DPS), McGlone (DPS), North Arvada Middle School (JeffCo), Rocky Mountain Prep (DPS), Sheridan Green Elementary (JeffCo), University Prep (DPS), and Welby (Mapleton).

At the district level, Denver, Charter School Institute, and Adams 12 showing gains in multiple grades and subjects when compared with other districts across the state.  However, we are disappointed to see that many of the lowest performing districts and are not making much progress.  Of districts accredited with priority improvement plans (those districts that are “on the clock” so to speak), there is really only one bright spot: Sheridan’s elementary english language performance shows improvement relative to other districts across the state.

Yet by and large, “turnaround” efforts in Commerce City, Aurora, and many in Denver, have not made discernible progress over the last year. This is even after having millions of dollars invested in their efforts and a large of body of knowledge of what is required to improve these schools.

We expect to have a detailed list of schools statewide making progress shortly after the new year and are looking forward to sharing more about our learnings as we dig deeper into the data.

Reshuffling DPS
Meanwhile, there have been some significant changes at DPS with Superintendent Tom Boasberg taking a six-month sabbatical, current Chief of Schools Susana Cordova taking over as interim Superintendent, and Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust resigning. A+ congratulates Susana and looks forward to continuing to work with her in her new role.  We also want to send a huge thank you to Alyssa for raising the quality of innovation schools and supporting DPS in developing some of the best charter authorizing practices in the country.
This year is a critical year for DPS as it attempts to make the transition from a “command-control” centralized district to one that is built around performance management, effectively shifting the locus of control to schools. It will require outstanding school leaders and switch in mindset for the district. Key to these changes and accelerating student achievement will be having a school performance framework that better indicates progress towards the district’s strategic plan along with regular performance reviews of schools and programs.
Denver, like most districts, has a hard time being reflective about their own initiatives. The goals set by the DPS board in the 2020 plan are ambitious but attainable if the district accelerates rather than slows down improvement efforts.According to the PARCC results (and remember the standard for proficiency is higher), there is currently only one school in DPS that has reached the Denver Plan’s goal for 80% literacy proficiency in 3rd grade, and next to none of those kids are low income. We also recently presented a review of the data for the far NE Denver turnaround efforts that will be included in a larger report coming out soon. Look for a progress report on DPS from A+ early next year after we have fully digested all of the PARCC scores.
Commissioner Crandall
Keeping with the theme of leadership transitions, on Monday, the Colorado State Board of Education chose a lone finalist for the Commissioner, Rich Crandall, a former Arizona Legislator and business leader. We are excited to work with Commissioner Crandall to ensure that all of Colorado’s students have a quality “thorough and uniform” public education as our state’s constitution requires. Due to ongoing conflicts, it has been difficult for the state board to fulfill it’s role as a leader of policy and implementation for the state.  We hope that with a new commissioner that we can get back to the state’s business of improving student achievement (NAEP and other scores have been mostly flat).

We are entering an interesting time at the state level: many of our improvement efforts from school turnaround, teacher effectiveness, new graduation requirements, literacy improvement, higher standards, and others are hitting classrooms. It is critical that we have a strong state department providing information about how these policy changes are affecting student learning. We also need CDE to hold districts accountable and to provide them with targeted support to ensure  all of Colorado students have a fair shot of getting one of the 75% of jobs in Colorado that will require a post-secondary degree. It is important for all of us to remember that there are more than 25,000 students graduating every year in Colorado unprepared for college or career even though we have one of best educated adult populations in the country.

Farewell to NCLB
Last, Congress and President Obama recently signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new and improved NCLB. A+ strongly supports the new law which preserves many of the data transparency requirements while also updating the metrics that were legislated by 2001 law. We also support the shift of the responsibility for school improvement efforts from the feds to the states though we remain very nervous whether states will step up to their responsibility. Colorado is an interesting case in that we have had lots of reform activity at the state level, yet we have had no substantive intervention in those districts that are failing their students. We are approaching the end of the five-year accountability clock for districts to improve their failing schools. The big question is whether our state will do anything once their time is up, or if we will continue to enable some districts in failing their students.
We look forward to continuing to work with all of you, share research on what is working and advocate for a quality, public education for all of Colorado’s kids.
We will be closed between the Christmas and New Years holiday and look forward to continuing this work in 2016. If you’re looking for more to read over the break, check out our recent stories about the career training in the Navy, state data transparency, and Northfield High School.
Have a great break,
A+ Staff