Denver Public Schools Progress Report: Big Gains, Big Gaps, Big Ideas.

Welcome to Denver Public Schools’ annual checkup, where A+ Colorado (formerly A+ Denver) takes an in-depth look at student achievement in our state’s largest district.

Now that the Denver 2020 Strategic Plan is in place, DPS has a clear set of achievement targets against which it can be measured. This report reviews progress toward each of the five overarching goals, and explores the strategies the district has employed to reach these goals.

A note of caution: The 2014-2015 school year was a time of transition. The state of Colorado used new tests (PARCC) to assess student learning, replacing the TCAP and CSAP assessments of the past. PARCC, in an attempt to better measure and communicate students’ progress toward meeting Colorado’s Academic Standards, sets a higher academic bar for proficiency than previous assessments. This means that comparing proficiency levels from previous school years to this year poses challenges. Also, having only one year of data from the new assessments means neither the district nor state can issue school quality performance ratings this year. Still, there remains much to be gleaned by comparing relative changes in school and district performance, along with comparisons between districts and schools with similar student demographics.

Despite this year’s unique challenges, we now know more than we ever have about the state of Denver’s schools, and about what is working well, and not so well. We believe it is critical that the district engage more urgently and thoughtfully if it hopes to make meaningful progress toward its own ambitious goals.

Let’s be clear: There has been progress in DPS, particularly in comparison to other Colorado districts. But some student learning outcomes are stalled, or improving far too slowly for the district to be successful. We cannot emphasize that point strongly enough. Significantly increasing student performance. Creating strong schools, where most students perform at grade level or stand a realistic chance of getting to grade level. Eliminating the persistent opportunity gap. These are the challenges DPS needs to be confronting every day.

We hope this analysis can shed light on the positive developments that have resulted from the hard work of DPS educators, while also illuminating those places where the district needs to dig in, reflect on what is not working, and set a course with a higher probability of success.