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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: August 2017

stay sharpOur hearts go out to the thousands of students, families and educators being displaced by Hurricane Harvey. We applaud the Dallas Independent School District and others that are welcoming displaced families and providing student supports. It is important that students get wraparound services during these times.

A+ Updates

New A+ Staff

A+ Colorado is thrilled to welcome Dr. Landon Mascareñaz to join our team as our new Senior Partner for Advocacy and Alliances. Landon comes to us from Denver Public Schools where he was Executive Director of Strategy Development and Family Empowerment in the Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE). He recently received his doctorate from Harvard University, where he wrote a capstone about the relationship between district improvement and family engagement. Before that, he was also a first grade teacher on the Navajo Nation in Church Rock, New Mexico and a former Executive Director of Teach for America – New Mexico. This past year he participated in the Pahara Next Gen Fellowship program and the Flamboyan National Family Engagement Fellowship. He received his B.A. from Lewis & Clark College and graduated from Dakota Ridge High School in Littleton.

A+ Colorado is excited to welcome our new Americorps VISTA Beth Dalton. Beth joins A+ Colorado as an AmeriCorps VISTA for external communications. Beth has worked in IT and as a librarian.  She has a passion for research and telling stories with data. Beth has a B.A. in Political Science from Claremont McKenna College and a Masters in Library Science from the University of Denver.

Summer Fellowships

Special thanks to our 2017 LEE Fellow, Richard Elkind, who spent the summer building the groundwork for a new project on school choice in Denver. A+ will continue to develop this project, focused on the diversity of school choices in DPS throughout the year. Richard is a teacher leader at Collegiate Prep Academy in the Far Northeast, we wish Richard and his students a great school year!

News to Share

Data Dump: What are We Learning?
Just as students were ushered into classrooms for the start of a new school year, the Colorado Department of Education released a treasure trove of information about how much Colorado students learned last year. Here are some of our (non-exhaustive) observations:

Statewide: Schools and Districts On the Up and Up
With three years of a comparable state test (CMAS PARCC), there are districts and schools with clear trends of improvement in terms of getting more students to master grade level content across grades and subject areas. In large districts, Adams 12 and Denver both showed sustained improvement, boosting proficiency rates in multiple grades and content areas by 4 to 8 percentage points over the past three years.

Smaller districts across the state also showed significant improvements: Steamboat Springs, Gilpin County (near Blackhawk), and North Conejos (south of Alamosa near the New Mexico Border), have each improved proficiency rates by double digits over the past three years in both English Language Arts and Math.

At the elementary school level, Gilpin County Elementary saw a nearly 30 percentage point improvement in English Language Arts proficiency rates since 2015. University Prep–Steele St. in Denver, had some of the biggest increases in proficiency rates and the highest median growth in math, and some of the highest growth in English Language Arts for students in the state. DCIS at Ford in Far Northeast Denver, has also seen big sustained improvement and high growth rates for students across subjects.

In middle schools, Clear Creek Middle School (in Clear Creek), Imagine Charter (in St. Vrain Valley), and Sterling Middle School (in Valley Re-1), Denver Green School (in Denver), and Murphy Creek (in Aurora) had some of the largest improvements in proficiency rates over the past three years in English Language Arts and some of the highest growth for students in English Language Arts.

In high schools, 11th graders took the SAT for the first time in 2017, a shift from the previously administered ACT. Of the 507 high schools with reported SAT results, 63% had average scale scores in evidence-based reading and writing that met the college and career ready benchmark (480), and 19% had average scale scores in math that met the benchmark (530) as defined by College Board. While there are a number of high schools with more diverse student populations that had high average SAT scores, we look forward to having data by students groups to understand which schools are truly preparing all students for college or career.

Doubling Down on Growth
The disaggregated achievement growth results released last week are particularly critical in understanding how schools and districts are serving different groups of students. The Colorado Growth Model allows us to looks at a specific student’s performance compared to their “academic peers,” students with similar past performance. Because growth is grouped by student performance, gaps in growth (or lack thereof) is a critical indication of how schools are serving all students in the building.


Districts that had higher than average growth for both students eligible and ineligible for free and reduced price lunch and small gaps between the groups of students include Limon Re-4J, Lake County, Steamboat Springs, Telluride, and Valley Re-1. Schools with high growth for students across socioeconomic backgrounds include Colorow Elementary and Warder Elementary in JeffCo, William Smith High School and Aurora Frontier K-8 in Aurora, O’Dea Elementary in Poudre, Strawberry Park Elementary in Steamboat Springs, and MLK Early College in Denver.

Denver Continues to Make Huge Strides
Denver in particular deserves praise. The district used to perform in the bottom quintile of all districts. For the third year in a row, across grades and subjects, achievement in Denver is around the middle of the pack when compared to districts across the state. In particular, moving elementary English Language Arts proficiency rates from 32% in 2015 to 35% in 2016 to 40% in 2017 is rapid improvement in the state’s largest system. While DPS deserves to be celebrated for making these strides, we are closely looking at schools that don’t seem to be rising with the tide, schools where gaps between student groups aren’t closing, and structural policy shifts to ensure the success of the district’s overall improvement efforts.  

One story we’ll be following in Denver is the initial success of the “year 0” turnaround schools– a cohort of schools that were given a year to redesign the school’s program, engage families and the community, and design a plan for implementation. Schmitt, Goldrick, and International Academy of Denver at Harrington each showed high growth for students in at least one subject, and have seen improvements in proficiency rates.

Aurora: Small Wins, Big Challenges
Aurora saw an uptick in proficiency rates of 1 to 2 percentage points across subjects and grade levels comparing 2017 to 2016. APS schools with consistent improvements in proficiency rates include Iowa Elementary, Vista Peak, Wheeling Elementary, and Dalton Elementary. Students at William Smith High School, Dartmouth Elementary, and Murphy Creek K-8 had some of the highest growth in the state.

At the district’s innovation schools, results were mixed: Boston K-8 and Aurora Central showed high growth in English Language Arts, and lower than average growth in Math. The district continues to have a significant number of schools that are amongst the lowest performing in the state, with little sign of improvement in either growth or proficiency rates.

Learning the Right Lessons?
Much of the press about the data has celebrated these (and many other) schools and districts results for students, as well it should. There is also attention paid to performance in the state’s lowest performing districts. But there are other stories that garnered less (or no) attention that are also worth talking about, where student achievement is moving in the wrong direction or flat. How do we have conversations at the state and local level when the data raises red flags, when students are losing ground, but are not yet the lowest performing schools in our system? It is imperative that we address issues in schools before they become catastrophic for students. How do we use these data to identify places that need more, or different supports?

CDE Hiding the most important proficiency data for school improvement
Last week’s data release was the most comprehensive and most timely that we’ve seen since Colorado’s shift to the CMAS PARCC assessment. We are still waiting for proficiency data by student groups to be released by the Colorado Department of Education. As we’ve written before, the practice of suppressing this data significantly complicate our understanding of how schools are serving students. For example, in 2015, the last time disaggregated proficiency data was released, over 90% of schools and districts had their data on emerging multilingual students hidden. Nearly 70% of schools and district data disaggregated by free or reduced price lunch was concealed.

In the aggregate results, nearly 10% of the school and district level information we used to have access to is also hidden. This means that at the school level, we don’t know whether over 48,000 Colorado students who took the test, have valid scores, and are in grades with more than 15 students, mastered grade level content or not. Schools without reported results include Kenton Elementary in Aurora (where all math proficiency data was suppressed), and Strawberry Park Elementary School in Steamboat Springs (a school that we highlighted last year for it’s significant improvement in proficiency rates).

This CDE practice of concealing data renders the information, at best useless, and, at worst, misleading. We are concerned that the release of the 2016 and 2017 disaggregated data will be equally as convoluted, raising serious questions about how schools and districts are serving, in particular, our most vulnerable student populations.

Denver Contract Negotiations
We continue to be concerned that neither the teachers union, DCTA, nor the school district have been appropriately focused on ensuring that Denver has a pay system that allows the district to recruit and retain the best teachers. Most of the negotiations have been focused on tinkering with the existing system rather than moving to a system that better serves teachers and students. For more information on how Denver’s pay system is working and what could be done to improve it, see our report A Fair Share: A New Proposal for Teacher Pay in Denver.

Upcoming School Board Elections
Consider A+ your go-to resource for school board elections in Denver and Aurora this fall. Stay tuned for a special 2017 School Board Election resource website, complete with School Board  101, candidate surveys, and engagement opportunities.

Upcoming Events
Colorado Black Round Table (CBRT) announced that the organization will recognize long-time, retiring MSU Administrator Dr. Percy Morehouse and the Denver Public Schools Board of Education at the regularly scheduled CBRT monthly meeting on September 9th at 10am in the New Hope Baptist Church Family Life Center. This recognition will be a part of a CBRT Community Education presentation by Dr. Sharon Bailey on the State of Education: A Black Perspective.

In addition, panels of Education and Community Leaders as well as Candidates for School Board will respond to Dr. Bailey’s remarks.

For more information contact John Bailey at 720-629-0964

Spotlight: Lessons for Turnaround

loveland, colorado

Lake County, which has bounced on and off of the state Accountability clock, and has engaged heavily with the Colorado Department of Education’s Turnaround Network, has shown dramatic improvement. Proficiency rates over the past three years have increased 9 percentage points in elementary english language arts, 10 points in elementary math, and 20 points in middle school english language arts. The district also had one of the highest median growth percentiles of all school districts: 66 in english language arts and 61 in math. While overall proficiency rates (20% in elementary ELA, 33% in middle school ELA, and 17% in elementary math) are still too low to declare a win, this year’s data offers evidence of successful turnaround. We hope that educators both within Lake County and across the state surface and share lessons learned, and what has worked so well to accelerate learning for students in that district.

A+ in the News

Colorado shied from taking aggressive action to fix its lowest performing schools. Will it be enough?, Chalkbeat

New online map puts Aurora school information in one place, Chalkbeat

Colorado K-12 students show some improvement on state math, English tests, but achievement gaps persist, The Denver Post

Colorado state test scores inch up, but wide socioeconomic gaps remain, Chalkbeat


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