Colorado Schools Will Have To Meet A Higher Bar Of Performance In 2021

Ed Andrieski/AP Photo
In this April 22, 2011 photo, High Plains Elementary School teacher Jennifer Williford, center, works with Colette Jackson, 11, and Skyler Matteson, 10, right, on a computer project in her fifth grade class at the school in Englewood, Colo.

The state board of education voted Thursday to raise the bar for how highly elementary and middle schools schools have to perform to meet expectations. The vote was 5-2. Val Flores, a Democrat, and Joyce Rankin, a Republican, voted against the changes.

"I think we have a good compromise," said board vice-chair Steve Durham, a Republican who represents Colorado Springs. The new rankings will go into effect in 2021.

Denver's representative Val Flores was the move's most vocal opponent. She said it complicated an already convoluted accountability system that doesn't look beyond test scores to measure student success.

"I believe we have to have other measures of how well students are doing in school," she said.

Last school year, less than half of students met expectations in their math and reading performance, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Education. The state ranks schools and districts based on their performance and reports those results annually. The rankings are based on how well students perform on statewide tests, how much progress they show and how ready students are for college or the workforce. Schools and districts receive a ranking of performance, improvement, priority improvement or turnaround.

If schools or districts fail to meet expectations or demonstrate progress for several years, the state could recommend they be taken over by an outside group or even shut down.

State officials proposed raising the bar for how many students would need to score on grade level for the school to meet expectations and adding a measure that tracks how long it would take a student to perform on grade level or whether they're on track to maintain their current level. They offered four different options, including adding a distinguished category and raising the number of students who had to score on grade level by 6 or 8 percent. The board postponed a decision on the distinguished category, but voted to raise the number of students who must be meeting expectations by 8 percentage points.

The state board of education, which would need to approve any changes, heard arguments from school leaders, advocates and teachers Thursday on whether to approve the changes. The hearing often became a referendum on the state's general approach to testing, and the reliance on scores for rating schools' performance.

“A relentless focus on test scores is counterproductive, especially in a district where many of our students come to us significantly behind in their learning," Westminster Public Schools communications officer Steve Saunders told the board.

Westminster Public Schools faced state intervention after years of low rankings, before raising its ranking in 2018. Saunders called for a new accountability model that emphasized student learning.

Greeley-Evans Superintendent Deirdre Pilch said four schools in her district would slip in the rankings under of the models the department of education is proposing.

"I will tell you that will be so demoralizing to those students and those parents and those teachers," she said.

When the state sought feedback from school and district leaders and educators, most supported maintaining the current accountability system.

But many education reform advocates said the higher bar was necessary, pointing out that schools could meet expectations, with many students not learning at grade level.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly state the party affiliations of the no votes.