New state ranking systems say School District 51 is ‘so-so’

A slew of new school ratings systems that measure the quality and performance of Colorado schools is out. The picture the ratings systems paint of Mesa County School District 51 is neither great nor terrible.

Faithful backers of School District 51 can keep the bubbly on ice and the Prozac in the medicine cabinet. Like so many schools and school systems around the country, School District 51 is, by these measures, decidedly average.

An optimist might say the district is “meeting the mark.”  A critic would probably use the word “mediocre.”

A couple weeks ago, I started my own trek through the maze of school ratings sites as part of weighing choices for my kids. Chase is off to middle school next year, and with Emme closing in on the end of her first-grade year, I wanted to know: Is what she’s getting now the best we can do?

But, as I kicked-the-empirical tires on potential schools for my own, I got curious: How does my school district back home stack up?

When you deep-dive into Google, you quickly discover opinion on individual ratings systems — and the idea of ranking schools at all — is fiercely divided.  Parents love them because information is power, but defenders of the status quo in public education (read that, unions) take a different view.

A critic of one popular new ranking system — “Colorado School Grades” — encapsulated the most common criticism of school grading systems in general and Colorado School Grades in particular. “It’s arbitrary,” said Rod Lucero, an associate education professor at Colorado State University. “We can’t ever distill academic success into a letter grade or a test score,” he said, apparently unaware of the cruel reality that life frequently forces so-called arbitrary decisions such as win or lose, hired or not hired, A or F, succeed or fail.

Opposition notwithstanding, Colorado School Grades has become a hugely popular tool for parents.

The verdict from Colorado School Grades on School District 51?

We are (clap-clap) so-so.

School District 51’s high schools scored average or slightly above. Grand Junction High School, my alma mater, landed a C, ranking 200 out of 327 Colorado high schools. Central High School fared poorer, with a C- ranking (257 out of 327), while Fruita and Palisade had higher marks — both receiving a B, which tied them for the 98th best high school in the state.

One particularly worrisome factoid in the School Grades analysis: The remediation rate for District 51’s four primary high schools is disconcertingly high. Remediation rate represents the percentage of high school graduates from a particular school that must retake high school-level course work in order to be ready for college. Some 53 percent of Palisade graduates were in this category. At Central, the remediation rate was 48 percent, while at Grand Junction and Fruita it was 34 percent.

This remediation deficiency probably helps explain why a different rating system, the one used by U.S. News and World Report, did not list Central, Grand Junction or Fruita on its list of Top 100 schools in the state. Palisade, bolstered by its widely-recognized International Baccalaureate program, ranked No. 40 in the U.S. News survey of Colorado. Bully to Palisade IB.

The Colorado School Grades system treats area middle schools generally better than their high school counterparts — Redlands Middle School received an A (ranked 28th out of 491 middle schools statewide); West, East, Bookcliff and Broadway middle schools all got Bs; Fruita 8/9 and Mount Garfield Middle School netted Cs.

Elementary level grades followed the trend. Scenic excelled and received an A, but Pomona, Tope, Wingate, Rim Rock, Shelledy and Taylor were all assigned Cs.

One true standout across the various ranking systems: New Emerson School at Columbus was, among other accolades, named the 10th best elementary school in the entire state by School Digger, a separate school rankings system that ranks schools nationally.

But School Digger had a less flattering distinction for School District 51 as a system. By its analysis, we are the 69th best school district in Colorado. Not exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to hear chanted at a district-wide pep rally.

The ranking is probably a fair, if not exactly precise, reflection of the state of our schools in District 51. I, for one, received a fantastic education, as do so many thousands of kids every day.

But can we do better? The loud-and-clear answer to that question from all these various school rankings systems is, no question. Because “we are 69” is nothing to brag about at all.

Josh Penry is the former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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It is simply mind boggling to me why the Daily Sentinel continues to allow Mr. Penry to be a contributor to this newspaper when he has chosen to live in Denver.  I would much rather hear from people who have chosen to make Grand Junction (and communities surrounding GJ) their home.  I don’t care if he grew up here. Once you leave, you have made a choice to be part of another community. Bet involved there.  If you want to have a positive impact on District 51, then move back here and get involved. Otherwise, please comment on Denver Public Schools, or whatever schools your privileged children attend. There are reasons why schools achieve the grade they do. C’mon back Mr. Penry, lets spend a day or two in the schools and we will find out together.  I’ll clear my schedule.

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