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District, teacher groups urge State Board not to change Colorado school ratings

Proposed changes to how Colorado schools are rated include making it harder for schools to reach the top tier

Jazmyn Jones works near her stuffed animal during kindergarten class at University Elementary School, 6525 W 18th St, in Greeley. (Joshua Polson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

By Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat Colorado

The state’s largest teachers union and organizations that represent school boards and district leaders are mounting a united front against proposed changes to how Colorado rates its schools — even as education advocates say the current system leaves parents in the dark.

At issue is what’s known as the school performance framework, a measure of school quality that is largely based on standardized tests students take in the spring. The Colorado Department of Education assigns schools one of four ratings — performance, improvement, priority improvement, and turnaround — and schools with one of the two lowest ratings go on a state watchlist. Those that don’t improve after five years can face state intervention, which can range from state review of improvement plans up to school closure.

These ratings rely more on growth, a measure of how much progress students make compared with their peers, than pure achievement on state tests. That means that 72% of schools hold a rating of “performance” even as a majority of Colorado students don’t read, write or do math at grade level.

Concerned with this discrepancy, the State Board of Education has been debating for months a series of changes to how it rates schools, including:

  • Adding an “on-track” metric that looks at how long it would take students to reach the next performance level at their current rate of growth,
  • Raising the bar for schools to earn the highest rating, a change that would leave many more schools in the “improvement” category,
  • Adding a new “distinguished” rating for the top 10% of Colorado schools.

The State Board of Education is once again taking up this issue Thursday. The board needs to make a decision by November for these changes to be applied to the school ratings issued in 2021.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:06 p.m. on Oct. 9, 2019, to correct the year in which the new school ratings would apply.

Read the rest of this Colorado state school ratings explainer at Chalkbeat Colorado.