Kindergartener Lea Wickham during a reading intervention session with teacher Katie Hoiland at Aragon Elementary in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8. Aragon is one of the schools that showed drastic improvement in reading levels after using a competitive grant from the READ Act to overhaul teaching techniques. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado school ratings finalized Wednesday show that slightly fewer schools this year earned one of the two lowest ratings.

Those that did — 154 schools serving almost 70,000 students — have an unwelcome status that qualifies them for additional assistance and advice from state education officials but also opens them up to outside intervention if they don’t improve.

That’s already been the case for seven schools and one school district, Adams 14 based in Commerce City, operating under state-mandated improvement plans. The State Board of Education plans hearings in January and February for four more schools, including, for the first time, two in Denver: Manual High School and Abraham Lincoln High School.

The State Board of Education approved final ratings under the School Performance Framework Wednesday after considering appeals, including an unsuccessful effort by Denver Public Schools to increase Lincoln’s rating.

There is an ongoing debate about the purpose and meaning of school ratings. Despite significant pushback from districts and teachers unions, the State Board of Education approved new, more rigorous ratings earlier this year that will start to be applied to schools in 2021. Hundreds of schools could see their ratings decline under the new criteria.