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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: December 2018

stay sharpAs the we find ourselves in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, A+ asks some hard questions reflecting on education throughout the state, before things become quiet as students and educators get the much needed break they deserve before 2019 takes off.

A+ Updates

November Education Policy Networking Series: What’s Next for Denver Public Schools?

A+ team member Landon Mascareñaz participated on a panel with Josh Scott of RootEd and Janiece Mackey of Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Action (YAASPA). The panel discussed the current and future state of education in Denver and answered questions from the audience. The event was hosted by the CU School of Public Affairs. Listen to their tough questions and thoughts on the future of Denver Public Schools.  

A+ Visit: The Academy of Advanced Learning

The team at A+ had the pleasure of touring The Academy of Advanced Learning (AAL), a new k-8 charter school nestled in the heart of Aurora. The school is headed by Mike Miles, former superintendent of Dallas Independent School District and US Army veteran and diplomat. AAL is housed in a refurbished Hobby Lobby space with an innovative learning strategy and a remarkable learning culture. Unlike most new charters or district schools serving mostly low-income students of color, AAL teachers are nearly all experienced teachers and have a great deal of control over how they teach the Colorado state standards. With 37% of their students meeting or exceeding standards in English language arts, and 26% in Math, AAL is outperforming the district average by about 10 percentage points in each test area. Additionally, AAL had a median growth percentile of 72 in ELA and 80 in Math, placing them well within the top schools in the state for growth.

The first part of the day begins with direct instruction where teachers are given the freedom to decide how they are teaching the subject matter, but still required to measure what the students are learning with a daily demonstration of learning (DOL), similar to a check for understanding or an exit ticket but highly aligned to the learning objective for the day. These DOL’s are clear, and printed in several areas of the classroom for students and observers to reflect on each day. Additionally, there are several job coaches throughout the school who are there to analyze lesson plans and provide support to teachers and students. Each of these coaches holds a bachelor’s degree and have the opportunity to move up within the school. Interestingly, the primary teachers are paid about $10,000 above Aurora Public Schools pay scale and nearly all of the teachers returned after the first year (this is highly unusual for a first-year charter school).

The entire school is laid out in an open classroom structure with large windows allowing a view into the instruction and students’ everyday learning. After direct instruction, the kids break out into independent learning, aimed at teaching students to “learn how to learn,” or in groups based on where they land on 1 of 4 levels of learning. These levels include: L, S1, S2, & A.

The various classroom subjects include courses aimed at closing the reading and writing gap, science, a focus on problem solving, and information literacy skills. The school’s recess curriculum includes zumba or a trip to Lava Island, an indoor children’s amusement center, in partnership with The Academy. Additionally, a notable highlight of the collaboration between The Academy and Aurora Public Schools includes the food services who prepare and deliver the meals each day to ensure students are receiving healthy and nutritious meals regardless of location within the district.

The educational program around “personalized learning” is a concept the academy focuses their instruction on for students. This approach aims to provide a “best fit” education for each student depending on their needs, strengths, and interests to engage and meet them where they are on the learning scale. There are only 3 rules students must abide: 1) Respect all teachers and staff members at all times. 2) Not take away from the education of other students. And 3) Not bully. Three simple rules which most students seemed to easily understand and follow. The visit was summed up by a few conversations with the students who appeared engaged and pushed to new limits, “I like this school because my old one seemed easy and I feel challenged here.”

News to Share

Right to Know, A Continuous Challenge for Families & the Community

The Colorado Department of Education solidified the rules it will use in future public data reporting. The rules, explained below, fall far short of expectations for what would make the public data sets usable and reliable. Indeed the current application of reporting rules and definition of what constitutes personally identifiable information still have major challenges, which A+ outlined in a recent letter sent to CDE staff.  By CDE’s own analysis, the adjustments CDE will implement in 2019 continue to suppress much of the disaggregated achievement data.

We are disappointed the Department has signaled they will not engage on the reporting rules going forward. Despite requests from A+ and others, CDE held only one small working group meeting to discuss changes to the rules after the 2018 release. Big questions still remain as to what data sets will be impacted by reporting rules; the findings of the external evaluation about data reporting that CDE commissioned this past summer; or whether CDE will remedy any past data releases where there are vast amounts of data suppressed. Sign up to get updates from the Right to Know coalition and stay in the know on next steps to use your voice.

We hope to partner with CDE to address these challenges and find solutions that protect students’ personally identifiable information and provide usable and valid public data. And we hope these questions will still be on the table as the Department invests much needed time and resources to make what data is reported more accessible and useful to communities. Interested in weighing in? Join CDE’s working group about data communications.

CDE’s public reporting rules for 2019: the rules continue by and large with current practice, aggregating at the school and district level in data sets and keeping the minimum n-size at 16. They will retain complementary suppression, reducing the minimum cell-size from 4 to 3. And they will combine emerging multilingual students who are categorized as NEP or LEP into a single reporting category.

SuperSearch Finalist for Denver Public Schools

These have been a busy few weeks in Denver with the announcement of Susana Cordova as the sole finalist for the Superintendent role in Denver Public Schools (DPS), a school district serving more than 90,000 kids. The following week, DPS hosted a Q&A forum with citizens who have served on the District Accountability Committee (DAC) and the Strengthening Neighborhoods Committee. It was a great meeting exemplified by a strong facilitation by the DAC co-chair Kristen Barnes and strong questions from the committee members.  The meeting provided great engagement that ran on time, included tough questions and showcased community leaders who have committed serious volunteer time to DPS.

On Tuesday, the final community meeting with Susana Cordova was hosted at George Washington High School. The meeting was tense at times with a number of community leaders and parents demanding that Cordova do something immediately about closing achievement gaps and in particular address the inequities for Black students in NE Denver.  Cordova agreed that the district had not done enough and needed to do far more to raise achievement for low-income, Latinx and Black students. When pressed on issues of school choice, Susana shared how important it is that every student is able to attend a school that makes sense for them – big, small, innovation, district or charter, dual-language or IB. At the end of the meeting, Cordova stayed behind to meet with many of the folks who still wanted to discuss key issues with her. A+ team member, Landon Mascareñaz, shares his thoughts in the 74 on why Cordova is the right pick to lead DPS into the next chapter.

The board will make a final decision on December 17th.

Charting a New Path in Adams 14

The State Board of Education ordered that Adams 14 hire an External Management Organization to oversee district operations. This is the first time in Colorado that State Board has directed a district to pursue oversight from an outside organization. The hope is that this shift will ignite positive change for Adams 14 students who lag their peers across the state across nearly every academic measure, and who have experienced serious dysfunction in schools.  We would like to thank the state board for showing political courage to pursue big changes to support students in Adams 14.

Here are the next steps (and what to expect) as Adams 14 moves forward:

  • Early December: Adams 14 released a Request for Proposal to solicit potential EMO partners
  • December: Adams 14 selects a Community Review Team who will review EMO proposals and will make a recommendation
  • December: Potential EMO partners respond to RFQ
  • January: Candidate Review Team narrows pool to three finalists
  • Early February: Candidate Review Team recommends finalist and negotiates contract; sends to Adams 14 Board for approval
  • Early February: Adams 14 Board approves recommended EMO and contract
  • February 15: State Board of Education notified of EMO selection and contract and will vote to approve EMO selection.

A+ is cautiously optimistic about this process and believes it will still require even more courage from the State and local Board. In particular, the district must pick a provider with significant expertise and must be given enough ownership to truly manage the district. The worst situation would be an expensive provider with neither the resources nor the maneuverability to deliver for students in the district. A+ will continue to monitor this situation and keep folks updated.  Read our previous letter to the State board on a possible path forward.  

The Open System Podcast: Restoring Dignity to Students

As some readers know, our team member Landon Mascareñaz regularly publishes podcasts on his website The Open System. The podcast and website explores themes of family engagement, feedback loops between systems and communities and ways to make our education system work for the communities they serve.  This month, he interviews Dr. Blake Noel, who recently completed his doctorate at the University of Michigan. This podcast explores fundamental issues at play in our schools: race, teacher practices and student dignity. And most consequentially, Dr. Noel offers a powerful way to adjust these dynamics and to restore dignity and respect to students.  

Aurora Public Schools Blueprint

The Aurora School Board will be receiving an update on the findings from the first phase of the of the Blueprint APS process. The first phase involved a community engagement process aimed at identifying a range of scenarios for the district to pursue to best serve the community moving forward. We look forward to seeing the final report presented to the board this month.

A+ Data Dive

There is a lot of data that gets thrown around every single day, and it can be hard to know where to focus. We wanted to feature one chart this month that we thought was important and shouldn’t get lost in the noise.

This month we wanted to highlight Academy 20’s emerging multilingual students. The district has some of the highest academic achievement statewide for emerging multilingual students. Pair this with a relatively large emerging multilingual student population and high English language proficiency growth and academic content mastery in English language arts and math across Elementary, Middle, and High Schools and it is clear that Academy 20 is doing some great work across the board with their emerging multilingual students. Keep it up!

Learn more about which districts are beating the odds for their emerging multilingual students check out our report on emerging multilingual students in Colorado.

What type of data dive would you like to see in next month’s newsletter?

Dying to know what the graduation rate is for your school? A nerd at heart, and want to know about specific data in schools? Sign up to be a part of the Community EdData Hub, launching in 2019, where you can sign up for services to ask A+ the hard hitting data questions you’ve been dying to know.

*You will only receive emails about this initiative if you sign up for this new listserv.

School Spotlight

A+ Visits the Outliers: Eaton

Located just north of Greely on Highway 85, Eaton School District RE-2 serves approximately 1900 students in five schools. Primarily a community with strong agriculture roots, the district is growing gradually as NE Colorado, and nearby cities Greeley and Fort Collins continue to expand. In our 2018 Outliers report, Eaton School district popped as a district outperforming the state in results for kids.  

Specifically, from 2015 to 2017, Eaton School District increased already relatively high rates of students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations in elementary English Language Arts to 57%, well above the statewide proficiency rate.

In elementary Math, Eaton is an exemplar for students meeting or exceeding expectations at a much higher rate than students in similar districts across the state with the largest improvement, an 18 percentage point advancement.

In our visit to Eaton to learn more about their success, A+ was invited to sit in on the bi-weekly meeting that brings together administrators from all five schools as well as the Superintendent and district staff.  We learned about a culture of accountability and alignment that stretched from kindergarten classrooms all the way through 12th grade. Teachers, administrators, the Superintendent, and the School Board all commit themselves to setting individual academic achievement targets for each and every student- a practice that has existed in the district long before requirements from the state. In addition to the careful attention paid to each student’s academic success, the district has also set high expectations for both student and family engagement. One of the seven goals the School Board set for the district this year was:

The percent of students engaged in extracurricular, school-sponsored activities will be 95% at EHS and 85% at EMS. 95% of the parents/guardians in the elementary schools will be engaged in school-sponsored activities.

This deep commitment to understanding not just how students are performing academically, but to make sure that they and their families are meaningfully engaged in the school community are no doubt a key component to the district’s success.

The district also stressed that their data systems aren’t fancy or expensive- just Excel spreadsheets and knowledgeable and committed staff that deeply value understanding how each student is doing- a model that can be replicated in any district across the state.

Eaton has also leveraged partnerships with local service clubs, nearby Poudre Learning Center, University of Northern Colorado and CSU, and informal learning opportunities with surrounding districts and administrators from schools in the Patriot League sports conference.

When asked about the number one gripe with state level education requirements, the UIP process was cited as the least helpful and most time consuming. For a district that clearly has a strong culture of accountability, perhaps the state could learn from Eaton and explore better ways to ensure that all kids have access to excellent and continuously improving schools.

Save the Date: How We Evolve 

Purchase Your Ticket to the Best Education Party of the Year

A+ in the News

I’m a Denver high school principal. Here’s what we need in our next Superintendent, Chalkbeat

Mascareñaz: Why Susana Cordova Is the Right Pick to Lead Denver’s Schools Into the Next Chapter, The 74

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