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Charter Schools At Top, Bottom Of DPS Rankings

By Nancy Mitchell, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO

New charter schools rank at the very top – and the very bottom – of Denver’s latest school report cards released today.

West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus, the first replication for the high-scoring charter network, topped the list of all city schools on DPS’ School Performance Framework, which considers achievement and growth on state tests along with factors such as student attendance and parent satisfaction.

The Harvey Park campus achieved 98 percent of possible points on the SPF, the highest score ever, while the original West Denver Prep campus achieved 88 percent – ranking it no. 4 on the schools’ list. Both campuses are in southwest Denver.

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At the other end of the spectrum is Manny Martinez Middle School, an Edison charter school that, like the Harvey Park campus, opened in fall 2009. Both charters are middle schools sharing space in traditional school buildings.

But the similarities appear to end there. Martinez achieved only 5 percent of possible points on the SPF, the lowest score of any school in the three-year history of the ratings.

‘Completely unacceptable’ performance

And while DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will highlight the achievement of West Denver Prep in a morning news conference at the Harvey Park campus, he’s taking a stern tone about Martinez.

Boasberg said DPS is talking with Edison “about what’s needed to see significant improvement” at Martinez, located inside West High School in downtown Denver.

“I think kids in this area need to see a dramatically better option this year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the performance is completely unacceptable.”

Some school board members, including Arturo Jimenez, who represents the area, voiced concerns about using Martinez as the default middle school for students who previously attended nearby Greenlee K-8.

DPS board members voted 4-3 last November to approve a turnaround plan for Greenlee that removed middle school grades this fall. Those students are given the choice of Martinez or, further away, Dora Moore School.

Boasberg said DPS has shown its willingness to intervene in low-performing schools, including charters. In the past two years, the district has closed or restructured its five lowest-scoring charters on the SPF – Amandla, Data, Skyline, P.S. 1 and Northeast Academy.

“We have a single accountability framework that treats all schools equally, district-run or charter,” he said. “And we have full capability with both district-run schools and charter schools that are not meeting student needs to intervene as necessary.”

Progress at the bottom

Today’s SPF ratings for 132 traditional schools, including charters, and 11 alternative campuses mark the third annual release of the school report cards.

Schools are given one of four possible ratings – Distinguished, Meets Expectations, Accredited on Watch or Accredited on Probation.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

Since 2008, the number and percent of schools given the top rating of Distinguished has increased slightly, from ten schools in the first year to 12 this year.

But the biggest movement has come in the lowest category of Accredited on Probation, also known as the “red” schools.

In 2008, 30 traditional and five alternative schools were given that rating, or 24 percent of all schools. In 2010, that’s dropped to 12 percent or 14 traditional and three alternative schools.

Boasberg credits the focus on closing or reforming the lowest-performing schools, plans that have sparked heated opposition in some communities.

“I think that really shows the turnaround strategies are working,” he said. “We know the turnaround strategies are politically controversial. But we’re seeing in these two years a dramatic reduction in our lowest-performing schools.”

That “is really helping lead to the significant increase in growth that we’re seeing across the district” on state exams, he added.

Results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program released last month show Denver’s overall growth in reading, writing and math is more than double that of the statewide average since 2005.

Interventions, incentives tied to ratings

Of the 14 traditional “red” schools on the 2010 list, seven already are slated for closure or are in the midst of reform work.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

That includes Rishel Middle School, which will end its program after this year, and Montbello High School, the lowest-scoring high school on the SPF, which is slated to receive federal turnaround dollars.

The other seven schools include the new Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, which shares a building with West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus, and a neighborhood school in the “red” for a third straight year – Oakland Elementary in far northeast Denver.

Boasberg said any “red” schools that haven’t already received a visit from a Colorado Department of Education diagnostic team can expect one.

“The primary purpose of the school performance framework is really to help school communities -teachers and principals and parents – understand where the school is succeeding and also understand where the school needs improvement,” he said.

“And to give the level of information and detail and disaggregation that allows schools to plan how to make sure they’re … maintaining their areas of success and focusing on their areas that need improvement.”

The SPF ratings also are used to determine some performance pay for teachers and principals in DPS. Charter schools do not participate in either the teacher or principal plans, known as ProComp.

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