Most schools perform OK, others need to catch up
Thirty out of 41 District 51 schools met or surpassed state standards in testing performance and growth this year, according to reports released Wednesday by the Colorado Department of Education.
Each year since 2010, the department has reviewed Transitional Student Assessment Program scores at each school in the state and awarded a grade of sorts based on test performance, year-over-year growth in test scores, and how closely test score growth in subgroups like low-income or minority students matches test growth for other students. High schools are also graded based on whether their graduation rate is at least 80 percent and if the average ACT score at the school meets or surpasses the state average.
The result is not a letter grade but a plan assignment. Schools that meet or exceed most state targets in the above categories are assigned a “performance” plan, meaning school personnel write a plan for continuing or improving on their success.
Those close to meeting those targets have to make an “improvement” plan.
Schools with a bit more catching up to do must create a “priority improvement” plan, while the schools in the bottom tier must create a “turnaround” plan.
Turnaround and priority improvement schools receive increased state oversight and face dramatic staffing changes or closure if they remain on a lower-level turnaround plan for more than five consecutive years. Chatfield Elementary was placed on a priority improvement plan in 2011 but moved up to an improvement plan in 2012 and a performance plan this year.
Chatfield Principal Jacqueline Stapher called the transformation “a journey” that involved implementation of a program that encourages positive behavior in students, increased teacher training on reading and writing and interventions before, after and during school tailored to each individual student.
The school is focusing on math this year and teachers are studying how to implement Common Core standards. Communication among staff is key to making the changes work, Stapher said.
“What we do is so incredibly complex that we have to trust each other to an incredible degree and work together for the benefit of the kids,” she said.
No District 51 schools were assigned turnaround plans this year but two were assigned priority improvement plans: R-5 High and Grande River Virtual Academy.
This is R-5’s first year on a priority improvement plan. R-5 Principal Anna Goetz said the rating is skewed because the alternative school mostly serves 11th- and 12th-graders, who do not take TCAP tests. Just four student tests were used to make this year’s plan assignment.
“I was not expecting a two-level drop so we did some pretty deep analysis,” Goetz said. “When we got deeper, what we found was we had improved from the prior year in almost all categories except for the academic area that was based on just four students.”
Because R-5 is an alternative school, its score uses TCAP performance and growth data, ACT scores and graduation rate but also is based on truancy rates and attendance.
Despite improvement, the school did not meet state goals for attendance or dropout rate but met targets for graduation rate and came near the state goal for ACT scores.
Grande River Virtual Academy had a priority improvement plan assignment in 2012 and 2013. Principal Sharon Kallus said the online school, now in its third year, is fine-tuning its operations.
Starting in October, middle- and high-school students began coming to the school’s site at Broadway Elementary on a monthly basis to discuss various subjects, explore college applications and build greater bonds with schoolmates and staff.
The school also is offering more one-on-one help at the site, and the application process has been changed to better pinpoint which families are best suited for the self-discipline-heavy nature of online schooling.
“We hope to see some good results. There are still some bumps but we’re trying to figure out what’s best,” Kallus said.
Nine District 51 schools were assigned improvement plans this year, down from 10 last year. Three schools moved down from performance plans last year to improvement plans this year: Clifton Elementary, Dual Immersion Academy and Grand Mesa Middle School. Four schools moved up the ranks from improvement to performance: Central High, Chatfield, Mesa View Elementary and Rim Rock Elementary.