NORTH DENVER — Denver Public Schools released the results of the eighth School Performance Framework (SPF) on October 27 at one of NW Denver’s rising star elementary schools, Trevista at Horace Mann. Principal Jesús Rodríguez and his team embraced the opportunity to showcase their students to visitors as the young welcoming committee greeted them at the blue doors with full-on eye contact, handshakes and welcoming smiles. The ECE students opened the formal presentation with a joyful dance choreographed to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
Trevista has a good reason to be happy. The Northwest Denver school was rated Red in 2013. This year DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Denver Board of Education Vice President Barbara O’Brien joined Trevista Principal Jesús Rodríguez, Trevista teachers and students to celebrate that school’s first-ever Green rating, highlighting the school as an example of strong growth.
“I know how hard it is to get here,” O’Brien, who served with community members and families on the Northwest Working Group to improve area schools, told the Trevista team. “It’s heroic work and we all thank you for what you’ve done.”
Rodríguez said the school is determined to reach the very highest rating, or Blue. “Last year, we painted our doors blue because we want everyone … to see that we are on a mission to be blue,” he said. “We know we have a long way to go, but the determination of our staff and community make the future bright blue for us.”
The 2016 SPF Results
Not all schools felt as happy as Trevista as the SPF color-coded “stoplight” system ratings dropped in 40 percent of DPS schools by at least one color rating according to a Chalkbeat analysis by reporter Melanie Asmar. The analysis did not include the district’s alternative schools or early education centers.
The SPF evaluates a comprehensive set of factors to create a color rating for each of the district’s nearly 200 schools. The SPF is similar to a report card for each school, rating how well the school supports student growth and achievement and how well it serves students and families. It helps a school focus on its strengths and highlights where improvement is needed. Of the four factors it evaluates (Academic Growth, Student Achievement-also known as “Status,” Equity, and Parent Satisfaction), Growth is weighted the most heavily.
The 2016 SPF is the first released by the district since the implementation of more rigorous academic standards and assessments. Boasberg has supported the tougher standards as more in line with what students truly need to be prepared for success in college and career.
In 2016 the results showed 7% Distinguished (Blue), 43% Meets Expectations (Green), 28% Accredited on Watch (Yellow), 7% Accredited on Priority Watch (Orange) and 16% Accredited on Probation (Red).
DPS did not have an SPF in 2015 because the state moved from the TCAP test to CMAS. Overall school ratings have been historically based on two year’s worth of growth data to help equalize “one-off” situations that might swing the data pendulum. Boasberg acknowledged at a Board meeting prior to the SPF result release that because of the switch to PARCC tests, and only one year of growth data there would be greater swings in school ratings.
“Overall, the number of Green and Blue schools are down this year, which comes as no surprise with new state standards,” he said. Approximately 50% of schools were ranked as Green or Blue in 2016, a 10% drop since 2014. The numbers could have been worse were it not for a last-minute school board decision to lower the bar on the percentage of students who were required to meet or exceed expectations on the PARCC tests.
Some positive wins and challenges for equity
Boasberg focused on the positive and celebrated “the extraordinary progress that some of our schools are making” by acknowledging the Principals of Fairview Elementary, Trevista, University Prep Charter School, Collegiate Prep Academy, DSST: College View High School Charter and Respect Academy, a multiple pathways school.
“Clearly one of the things these schools have in common is overwhelmingly serving students who come from families in poverty and helping … those students achieve extraordinary growth,” Boasberg said, telling the assembled school leaders: “The work that you are doing to drive the growth of our students is the most important work we have in our society today, and I speak on behalf of our whole community in thanking you for that work.”
Boasberg noted the significant gaps among students by ethnicity, race and income: “Our commitment as public schools is to ensure all of our kids succeed, and it is fundamentally a civil rights mission.”
For the first time this year, DPS schools are receiving an equity rating based on how well they are supporting students in poverty, students of color, English learners and students with special needs. In 2017 all schools will be required to meet or exceed expectations in this category to reach an overall Blue or Green rating.
Some hits and misses for Northwest Denver
In addition to Trevista’s Green ranking, Valdez also moved from Yellow to Green. Fairview Elementary is another NW neighborhood school that moved the needle from Red in 2014 to Green in 2016 based on very high growth scores. “This means we are closer to ensuring that our students who struggle the most with poverty have a great education,” said Fairview Principal Antoinette Hudson, whose school is on the edge of the Sun Valley neighborhood. “Setting high expectations for student learning is extremely important.”
North High School was another shining NW example of a High School that moved from Yellow in 2014 to Green this year. An exuberant FB posting with a green fireworks display had the community cheering the school on. Nicole Veltze, the firecracker Principal that set the rocket in motion before passing on the torch to her highly capable AP, now Principal Scott Wolf, said, “Congratulations Viking Team! Thanks for showing it was possible. So proud!” Another friend of North, Lynne Van Bebber Rerucha said, “This has & continues to be, a great school without the totally fake & scarcely valid scores from tests created for nefarious reasons. Get excited about real kids doing lots of cool things that will help their lives and love of life long learning. North High School is great because kids and teachers continue to give it their all.”
Lake International Academy, a Middle School, moved from Red to Yellow, a two-color jump since 2014. Of significance, the school had a Green rating in Growth which is a core focus for the educators that measures how much students grow from year-to-year compared to their peers. It has its work cut out for it earning a Red mark in Parent Satisfaction. That, however, is changing dramatically as highly involved families from Brown and Valdez are entering the middle school and focusing on bringing parent engagement to a new high.
While parent satisfaction is measured on the SPF, parent engagement is not. That factor, however, has undoubtedly helped bring once-failing schools like Brown International Academy and Skinner Middle School into some of the most coveted neighborhood schools of choice.
For other NW schools, there were some unexpected blows that hurt. Some of the most highly regarded neighborhood schools like Skinner, Bryant Webster, Ana Marie Sandoval and Edison dropped from Green to Yellow.
Although Boasberg noted that some schools dropped in their SPF ratings due to new state standard testing, the overall results can be dinged based on a variety of factors including a lack of response or poor responses in parent satisfaction surveys that pull down the overall ranking.
A classic neighborhood example is Skinner Middle School, which has proven to be an outstanding educational option for the neighborhood and includes Honors Classes and a robust enrichment program. Its waiting lists for admittance have been feared by those who wished to “choice in,” and a great point of dispute for the NW Working Group last spring as they debated the new Middle School enrollment zone.
Skinner lost its Green ranking by .13% based on a 1- point drop in the parent satisfaction survey. The school was faulted for lack of communication which shocked many parents given the fact that the school texts, emails, and calls multiple times per week. It also has one of the most active parent communities in the neighborhood that has raised over $ 80,000 since 2014 to help supplement technology, and other classroom needs not covered by the school’s budget. At the recent Parent/Teacher conferences, 89% of the families came a statistic that startled the new Assistant Principal Lindsay Young who has been at four different DPS schools. She said, “I have never seen that kind of involvement and engagement by families at conferences or Back-to-School Nights.” Unfortunately, this kind of engagement doesn’t get reflected in the SPF, and begs the question, “Why?”
Principal Michelle Koyama and her teachers are solidly focused on the school’s results in growth. Koyama noted, “We are green in growth which matters the most to us. We are growing our students who come to us at ‘meets expectations,’ and are growing them to ‘exceeds expectations.’ We are also growing our students who are coming to us at the opposite end from ‘does not meet expectations’ on up.” Both she and the parent community are concerned that this ranking will adversely affect morale when all indicators continue to point up for the school.
DPS Board issues an SPF cautionary warning
The school board, too, knows that there are some sharks in the water when it comes to many of the DPS schools dropped rankings. Families often make decisions about school choice based on “color.” Boasberg warned caution at the last board meeting saying, “As we talk to parents and community members, we say, ‘Yes, the SPF is important, but the most important thing is to go visit a school, talk to parents, talk to students.’ People do care deeply about the SPF. It does tell an important story. But it’s important that we tell that with humility and we tell that with caution.”
Deputy Superintendent, Susana Cordova noted, “There are great things happening in different schools with different color ratings. The SPF gives us specificity on where we can improve. Families are encouraged to attend our next Board meeting with a Focus on Achievement Study Session to learn more specifics.”
Focus on Achievement
The Focus on Achievement school board meeting will be held November 3 at 4:30 p.m. in the Emily Griffith Campus, 1860 Lincoln Street.
To learn more about how DPS monitors, supports and holds schools accountable at greatschools.dpsk12.org. The site also is available in Spanish.
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