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

November Newsletter: Keeping you informed about A+ Denver

Dear Members and Friends: 

Election ad season is over. The mattress and car commercials are back.

What did the elections mean for Denver schools?

Compared to past elections, the stakes were lower this year in Denver. That said, we should all celebrate that the Denver Preschool Program was refunded. With the reelection of our governor and slight changes in the legislature, we do not anticipate any dramatic changes in the educational direction of Colorado. However, there remain some big questions with the new State Board of Education make up. A majority of the State Board of Education have expressed dismay with the PARCC tests, Common Core, some aspects of the educator effectiveness law (SB 191), and parts of the state’s school accountability laws. It is hard to say what the State Board may do as they cannot change these laws, but it could possibly enable districts to opt out of the requirements, slow implementation, and/or change rules related to these landmark laws. This may have larger implications for Denver Public Schools as it continues to be the reform leader in Colorado. We would also not be surprised if there were some tweaks to the state’s testing framework in the coming legislative session given the increasing concerns regarding the amount of testing — remember most testing is done at the school or district level. We believe that there are too many tests (some are redundant), but it is critical that we have a testing regime that provides timely information to students, parents, and communities about what students know and can do. We will keep you updated.

A+ Denver Updates

Improving the School Performance Framework
The School Performance Framework (SPF) was created eight years ago as a tool for the district to evaluate schools. It combines dozens of measures – from test scores to the kinds of classes offered to student growth – and comes up with a numeric score. That score is then converted to a descriptor and color, e.g. “Meets Expectations” = Green. Those labels have also become a tool for parents and students to use when choosing a school. Hence, while a color designation might be perfectly valid for the district’s purposes in evaluating a school, it could be misleading for parents and students. For example, there are several schools labeled “Green” where fewer than half of students are reading at grade level. A+ and other organizations are working with the district to adjust the SPF so that it is a meaningful measure for those choosing schools for their children. The Education Trust just put out a similar story. We look forward to working with the Denver School Board to improve the SPF.A Spotlight on Southwest Denver: ¡Ya Basta!
Southwest Denver has few excellent schools, a reality that A+, DFER Colorado, Latinos for Education Reform, Colorado Stand for Children, Together Colorado, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos and DPS are trying to change. As part of the campaign, we supported Rosemary Rodriquez in hosting a community discussion last week to raise awareness about the low performing schools in the region and to begin the discussion on solutions. We want to applaud Rosemary and other DPS board members in their steadfast insistence on better schools in Southwest. We will keep you updated with our thoughts in the coming months as DPS unveils its plans to address this part of the district.

Happenings in Denver

Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology….
Colorado’s latest assessment of student knowledge in Science and Social Studies is a powerful reminder that most of our schools have a long way to go in preparing students for today’s world. Only 20% of Denver’s fifth graders met expectations in Science and just 12% of Denver’s seventh graders hit the bar in Social Studies. We saw some bright spots in schools like DCIS, DSA, GALS, Morey, DSST and Odyssey. These data points make us wonder if the downside of the increased accountability for literacy and math has been that other subjects suffer? Or is it that we have never taken a close look at these subjects to understand whether performance is meeting our growing expectations? Regardless of the reason, these results highlight the need for Denver schools to do a better job of providing a rich, well-rounded education for all students.

In Other News

Conjuring the ghost of Socrates
In case you missed it, NPR’s Eric Westervelt started a new series last week on 50 great teachers. The first segment was about finding Socrates in some Bay Area classrooms. The story did a remarkable job of capturing how effective teachers can channel the Socratic Method to teach kids to ask good questions and challenge assumptions. The series is a wonderful reminder of the power of great teaching.Great Principals = Great Teaching = High Achieving students
It is nearly impossible to have a great set of teachers without a great principal or group of school leaders at the helm. Principal turnover has slowed slightly in some Denver schools but is still unacceptably high in schools that serve high percentages of low-income students. Chalkbeat Colorado recently did an excellent job describing the challenge in Denver. Based on new research from the School Leaders Network, we estimate that DPS could save millions of dollars and dramatically increase student achievement by further reducing principal turnover, particularly in high needs schools.

Cheers,A+ Denver