District 51 rank slips in analysis by state

Small declines in student performance and achievement caused School District 51’s state accreditation to drop a level in preliminary Colorado Department of Education data released this week, though district officials may appeal the state’s judgment before the ratings are finalized later this year.

Accreditation ratings for Colorado schools and school districts are determined by student performance on standardized tests, academic growth, graduation rates and other post-graduation outcomes, like college attendance.

While District 51 successfully appealed preliminary state ratings in 2014 and 2016 to earn a performance rating, Chief Academic Officer Tony Giurado said it’s too early to tell whether the district will again appeal the preliminary improvement rating.

In 2016, District 51 successfully appealed the district rating as well as the rating of 15 schools, based on coding errors and low participation rates, Giurado said.

The early state ratings also show that four of District 51’s lowest-scoring schools improved enough to get off the state’s accountability clock, a five-year time frame for schools and districts labeled “priority improvement” or “turnaround” to either improve or face state intervention, restructuring or closure.

Chatfield Elementary, Dos Rios Elementary, Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary and Juniper Ridge Community schools all improved enough on state tests to move out of the lowest two ratings.

The biggest improvement was at Juniper Ridge, a new charter school that has struggled to perform on state tests since it opened in 2013.

Administrative Director Patrick Ebel said he was “elated and overjoyed” to see that Juniper Ridge went from being at the bottom of the state’s rating system, as a turnaround school in 2016, to earning a performance rating, the highest of four ratings, in preliminary 2017 results.

“I knew we were going to grow,” Ebel said. “I had predicted that we would be ‘priority improvement’ or ‘improvement,’ so ‘performance’ surprised me, but I was very pleased.”

Ebel said the biggest change in last year’s Partnership for Readiness in College and Careers (PARCC) test was that Juniper Ridge students could take the test with a pencil and paper instead of on a computer.

The school’s Waldorf-based education philosophy means that students don’t start using computers in the classroom until middle school.

“Being able to take the test on paper for those younger kids allowed them to demonstrate the knowledge that they had,” Ebel said.

The rating boost was mostly due to an increase in academic growth. Student achievement is still lacking at Juniper Ridge, but Ebel said he’s confident that achievement will keep improving.

There were five District 51 schools that scored in the bottom two categories in the preliminary state results.

Fruita 8/9 and Fruitvale Elementary schools were labeled as turnaround schools based on 2017 PARCC scores. Pear Park Elementary, Nisley Elementary and Tope Elementary were labeled as priority improvement.

Those ratings could be appealed and changed by the time final results are submitted to the state Board of Education in November or December.

District administrators will spend the coming weeks diving into state data, said Executive Director of High Schools Matt Diers, in order to decide whether to appeal ratings as well as identify how to improve.

“It’s the usual mixed bag and we just want the opportunity for our district and schools to be judged fairly,” Diers said.


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