Schools’ climb hits a bump
A month after School District 51 celebrated its first year with full district accreditation, the district has its first turnaround school in four years, Juniper Ridge Community School.
Turnaround is the lowest rating available for schools under a Colorado Department of Education grading system debuted in 2010. The state reports, called performance frameworks, rate individual schools as performance, improvement, priority improvement or turnaround buildings based on standardized test performance and test score growth for all students and for subgroups (low-income, minority students, etc.).
The state also issues performance frameworks marks for districts. This year, District 51 moved up from being an improvement district to simply an accredited district for the first time since the ratings began four years ago. The state revealed district ratings in November and released school ratings this week.
Juniper Ridge opened as a district charter school in fall 2013 and administered its first Transitional Colorado Assessment Program tests this spring. The results were not encouraging, with fewer than half of the 81 third- through sixth-grade students who took the tests scoring at or above grade-level. The school failed to meet any test score or test score growth benchmarks set by the state.
After seeing the school’s test scores, Juniper Ridge Administrative Director Patrick Ebel said he wasn’t surprised by the turnaround classification. But he was surprised the state decided to enforce it by making the school write a turnaround plan and publicly labeling the school rather than holding off on a rating until the school had a few more years of data.
“I’ve talked to many people, and they say this is the first time they have ever seen a school in its first year assigned a turnaround plan,” Ebel said. “If you think about it, it’s not fair to put a school on turnaround with a group of students they haven’t even had a full year by the time they take the test.”
Ebel said the school soon discovered after collecting its student population that nearly 15 percent of its students needed special education. He also believed test scores weren’t very high because the school’s curriculum draws from Waldorf education methods, meaning students focus on experiential learning and rarely use textbooks in younger grades. While the school teaches to Colorado and Common Core standards, concepts are taught in a different order at Juniper Ridge compared to traditional schools. That means standardized test questions won’t always match what students have learned that year.
Ebel said other Waldorf-based charter schools in Colorado have had the same issues with test scores, particularly in earlier grades and when the schools are new. He said the school plans to put together its own formative assessments to test students on the concepts they’re learning in class and use those results to show the state kids are growing year to year.
“I do believe students are making a lot of progress,” Ebel said. “Next year we’re going to say (to the state), ‘Here are the factors going on here and we feel we should have some time to show what we’re doing is effective for student learning.’ “
R-5 High School was the last, and until now, only, District 51 school to get a turnaround plan assignment, back when the frameworks system was introduced. The alternative high school was re-classified the following year as an alternative education campus, which means its report takes into consideration most of the other measures used in regular frameworks but also earns points for attendance, GED completion and graduation rates up to seven years after a student starts ninth grade.
R-5 has remained above a turnaround designation since the change was made. This year, R-5 is the district’s sole priority improvement school, one step above turnaround. Both turnaround and priority improvement schools can face losing half of their teaching staff and their principal, getting shut down or getting re-organized in another way if they remain on lower-level plans for five consecutive years.
The district had two priority improvement schools last year but the other priority school, Grande River Virtual Academy, moved up to an improvement designation this year. The district has 10 other improvement schools this year: Central High; Grand Mesa and Mount Garfield middle schools; and Chatfield, Clifton, Dos Rios, Rocky Mountain, Shelledy, Taylor and Tope elementary schools.
Nine schools in the district were on improvement plans last year. Two schools, Chatfield and Central, went from performance status in 2013 to improvement this year. The only one to move off the improvement list to a performance plan in 2014 was Dual Immersion Academy.
Dual Immersion is among 30 District 51 schools on performance plans this year, down one from 2013’s tally. Caprock Academy, which is a state charter school in Grand Junction, is on a performance plan this year as well.
To view each school’s report, visit http://www.schoolview.org.