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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: October 2018

stay sharpTrick or treat season is upon us and we have plenty of news to go around. We’re covering the unmasking of Denver’s SPF ratings, a Halloween Eve report release, and a (hopefully) less scary road ahead for Adams 14 school district.

A+ Updates

Many Languages, One Future

A+ Colorado is thrilled to announce the upcoming release of our report on the state of emerging multilingual students in Colorado. This report illuminates which Colorado districts are best serving emerging multilingual students – students who speak a language other than English and are learning English through targeted services in public schools. As we often see, there is tremendous variability within the state, with Denver County having one of the largest populations of emerging multilingual students, nationwide, while other districts in Colorado have few emerging multilingual students. We grapple with the nuances of Colorado’s diverse student populations, and the several different standards by which we measure emerging multilingual students’ success, to see which districts have had the most success and draw attention to our remaining questions. Stay tuned for our findings on this significant Colorado community, which will be released on October 30.

News to Share

Adams 14: Making a Case for Change 

Last week, A+ Colorado presented to both the Adams 14 Board and the State Board of Education regarding the state of education in their district. Adams 14 is located just northeast of the Denver metro area, and is the 26th largest school district in Colorado, serving over 7,000 students. In both presentations, we walked board members through a recent data analysis we conducted that explained the dire outcomes in Adams 14 schools, for too many kids and for far too long.  We also shared in both settings a letter that A+ Colorado’s Board of Directors sent to the state board two weeks ago – making the case for bold and transformative change in Adams 14. The A+ Colorado Board of Directors argued for the creation of a strong, coherent turnaround plan and clear accountabilities around ownership. They also made the case for deeper community involvement and ownership in any process moving forward. For far too long, state policymakers and local education groups have watched the Adams 14 troubles from a distance – A+ Colorado is now making the case that the time to act is now, given the state turnaround clock and community pressure, to make big changes.  

At both meetings, community groups and advocates spoke about the need for major changes and shifts.  While it is too simple to make the case for a “community divided” story on these changes (KIPP placement, state actions) it is important to mention that groups and organizations are mobilizing around the issues.  The recent Chalkbeat article covers the concerning situation quite well: focusing on the flip-flopping of Superintendent Abriego against the advice of his own staff, the falsehoods shared by the District Accountability Advisory Committee (DAAC) that were unchallenged during the board meeting and how sadly politics seem to be keeping Adams 14 from doing what is right for kids. A+ Colorado is concerned about any process where mistruths are stated, and doubly concerned when it is done in the shadow of avoiding big decisions that could actually be better for kids. Families and children in Adams 14 deserve better from their leadership.

Denver’s Report Cards

Denver released its School Performance Framework results last week, revealing increased expectations for what makes a quality school. Here at A+, we’ve long been advocating for a higher bar that is more reflective of the underlying achievement of students. This all came to a head last year when we found a large disconnect between the early literacy data from formative assessments and the literacy standards measured by the state’s summative assessment. This year’s release addressed this and other issues. Indeed, only 43% of schools earned a green or blue rating, the lowest rate since the SPF’s debut in 2011. This is due to a) raised expectations for measures of academic proficiency; b) the reduced weight and realignment of early literacy information with state standards; and c) business rules around academic gaps where schools cannot earn a blue or green rating if students of color, emerging multilingual students, students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, or students with disabilities face significantly disparate outcomes relative to their other peers in the school.

Read our take on this year’s results, about DPS’s promise kept and where we go from here.

2018 Election: Ballots and Mills and Amendments, Oh My! 

Ballots will be showing up in mailboxes across Colorado this week as decision time nears for Colorado voters. Aurora Public Schools will be asking voters for additional funds for expanded mental health services, money for recruiting and retaining teachers, and expanding after school programming. A+ Colorado encourages APS voters to approve this measure which will contribute up to $35 million in additional annual funding, a much needed boost to the state’s fifth largest school district as it seeks to accelerate academic improvements for its over 40,000 students.

School districts are increasingly turning to voters for mill levies and bonds to help bolster funding in a state that ranks a disappointing 39th in per pupil funding in the country. Top of mind for many districts is attracting and retaining high quality teachers, a growing challenge as the cost of living in many Denver metro area districts and tourism driven mountain towns prices out teachers whose average pay ranks in the bottom half of states in the country.

Clearly funding is an issue in schools and districts across the state and it appears we’re reaching the boiling point for action as evidenced by the fervor over Amendment 73. While the policy proposal of Amendment 73 offers an imperfect solution to the complicated challenge of Colorado’s tax and funding model, if voters choose to reject it, it’s only a matter of time before the issue surfaces again and the state is pushed towards a (hopefully) more holistic solution to our funding quagmire.


A+ Visits the Outliers: Schools Who Are Beating the Odds

Last spring, A+ Colorado released our report Outliers that dived into district data across Colorado to see where districts are succeeding and thriving with students of all backgrounds.  Coming out of the report, A+ was curious about the next set of questions: What is making these districts do better than their peers? What can they teach us and other districts about increasing performance?  To answer these questions, we reached out to a dozen districts that were Outliers and set up meetings with district leaders and their board. These visits are intended to highlight these Outlier districts and look under the hood at their success stories and what is working for their students.

Last week, our first leg of the tour took us to visit Cañon City. About 45 minutes southwest of Colorado Springs, nestled right next to the Royal Gorge, Cañon City is in Fremont County.  The major industry is corrections, with seven unique prisons within the county. An older, whiter and mostly lower-income community, Cañon City represents a smaller district that is showing big gains in a few areas.  We had a chance to sit down with their Assistant Superintendent of Academics, Adam Hartman and learn about what they were doing. We learned that they are doing the important, hard data-driven work of instructional improvements and investments at the school level in technology.  We also learned about the major investments they’ve made in culture and core values, shared coherence around problems and how to approach issues in a “students first” way. Later that night (after a quick trip to the Royal Gorge) A+ presented our data to their board.  It was an opportunity to celebrate their progress and to see where they can still improve. It was a powerful learning experience and we are looking forward to future district meetings. Congratulations to Cañon City educators, principals, board and district leaders for creating conditions for change and for students.  

We will continue to share our reflections on the experience in our newsletters.


A+ in the News

Cañon City School Board Takes a Closer Look at State Assessment Results, Cañon City Daily Record

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