Colorado School Grades released its fourth ranking of Colorado public schools on Monday. The organization says that it rates schools on a more rigorous curve to provide an alternative to other systems with "watered-down information."
But critics say that CSG's rating system punishes schools with high populations of low income children. And letter grades, like those used by CSG, have come under criticism in other states for being too simplistic.
CSG points to the Colorado Department of Education as an example of why their service is needed. There, more than 70 percent of public schools are at the highest level of performance, and CSG says that's not right.
How schools are evaluated
"The main difference between how they calculate and [the Colorado Department of Education] calculate[s] is where they put the cut points, the percentage of schools in the different categories, and the labels that they use," explained Alyssa Pearson, executive director for accountability at the Colorado Department of Education.
The Colorado Department of Education assigns four types of performance plans to traditional schools: performance, improvement, priority improvement and turnaround. And the majority of schools, about 70.5 percent, are in the performance category, Pearson explained.
"The system was created to really identify the schools that needed the support in the state, and those are the turn-around priority improvement ones. That's where we differentiate really carefully between school performance and at the higher end, that's not where we do as much differentiation," she said.
This year, CSG reviewed nearly 2,000 Colorado public schools using data from the Colorado Department of Education and a formula developed at the University of Colorado Denver.
A grading curve then ranks schools from top to bottom, according to CSG. The top 10 percent of schools receive an A grade, the next 25 percent receive a B rating, the next 50 percent receive a C rating, the next 10 percent receive a D rating, and the bottom five percent receive an F.
2014's top-rated schools, according to CSG
The top-rated elementary schools in Colorado according to CSG are Bear Creek, Bergen Valley Intermediate, Parker Core Knowledge, Dry Creek, Heritage, Hulstrom Options K-8, Aurora Quest K-8, Steck, Swigert International, and Traut Core Knowledge. Nine of the 10 schools are located in the metro Denver area.
The top-rated middle schools are Stargate Charter, DSST: Byers, Flagstaff Charter Academy, Slavens, Altona, Aspen Community Charter, Montessori Peaks Charter, Ouray, Windsor Charter Academy, and McAuliffe International, according to CSG.
The top-rated high schools are Ridgeview Classical Charter, Edison Junior-Senior, Liberty Common Charter, TCA College Pathways, the Vanguard School, DSST: Stapleton, DSST: Green Valley Ranch, Denver School of the Arts, the Classical Academy, and Palmer Ridge.
Pearson recommended that parents and community members who are interested in how their school is doing use the Colorado growth model. The model shows both the achievement and the growth of schools over time in different content areas, like reading or math.
Schools fall into one of four quadrants, where the upper right quadrant holds schools that have high growth and high achievement. Pearson says that's ideal, but high growth doesn't have to be paired with high achievement.
"A school that has lower achievement but high growth, that's really important. Maybe kids are coming in behind, maybe they're struggling when they come to school, but if they're growing, that means kids are learning in the building. Schools where there's lower growth, that's where we tend to be more concerned," Pearson said.