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Three area districts earn top accreditation honors

December 10, 2011

Three local school districts are among 18 statewide that received the highest marks under the Colorado Department of Education‘s new accreditation system.

For the second consecutive year, Academy School District 20, Cheyenne Mountain School District 12,and Lewis-Palmer School District 38 were deemed “accredited with distinction.”  

The scoring system implemented two years ago for the state’s 178 districts emphasizes not just grades, but the academic growth of students over time, how well they are bridging achievement gaps and how well they are preparing students for college and careers.

The rating system, a result of the Accountability Act of 2009, gives parents a way to compare districts and allows districts to better understand how well they are doing at educating children.

Six regional school districts received the second highest rating, “accredited” meaning they meet state expectations. They are Calhan School District RJ1, Peyton School District 23JT,  Manitou Springs School District 14; Edison School District 54JT, Falcon School District 49 and Woodland Park School District Re-2.

Eight other area districts received the rating “accredited with improvement plan” designations, requiring them to outline how they will raise their standing. They are: Cripple Creek-Victor School District Re1; Ellicott School District 22; Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8; Hanover School District 28; Harrison School District 2; Miami-Yoder School District 60JT, and Widefield School District 3.

The state performance ratings emphasize adequate growth, which means students are reaching and maintaining proficiency in a reasonable time frame, said Bill Bonk, CDE consultant for longitudinal growth. “You might compare it to the rate of speed, how fast you need to go to reach your destination in time,” he said.

Colorado is one of the first states to make growth a significant part of academic accountability, Bonk said. “A lot of educators across the country are looking at our system. It does not punish schools or districts, but casts their performance in a clear light and creates a framework of what to do to make improvements.”

None of the local districts were among those in the lowest designation, which requires rigorous turnaround plans and intense state oversight.

But all districts must submit plans of various types. depending on their ranking. Those plans and performance ratings can be found at CDE’s website, and also

Bonk explained that districts are required to “do a deep analysis of the root causes of performance challenges. They are asked not to blame groups of students, but to get to the bottom of their poor performance areas and what is needed to address it,” Bonk said.

The top 18 districts will be honored Monday at an awards ceremony at CDE.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Bev Tarpley, assistant superintendent of Cheyenne Mountain D-12, which has an enrollment of around 4,000. It received the fourth highest score in the state,  87.3 percent out of 100.

Nevertheless, she said, “It never gets easier. Every year we climb the hill again.”

She attributed their success to choosing top programs  and “teaching them with fidelity. The programs are created by top experts, so changing them makes them much looser and is not effective.”

Also, they don’t teach to the tests per se.

“We don’t stop everything and prepare for CSAPs (the state assessment tests). It’s not helpful. We do what needs to be done every day. We teach our hearts out.”

D-20 Superintendent Mark Hatchell said he is especially pleased with the district’s “accredited with distinction” designation, because it is harder for larger districts to earn because of the way calculations are done. The district’s enrollment is 23,600.

A major component of success, he says, is that D-20 concentrates on assessment data and uses it to directly adjust classroom instruction. “Our professional  development of teachers is conducted around the data.”

Districts striving for higher performance create blueprints to help them get there.  Districts are creating improvement plans based on what the scores show they need.

John Borman, superintendent of Lewis-Palmer School District 38, says, “Doing well is not simple. It speaks to our outstanding staff. And it is hard to overstate the fact that our parents value education and are supportive.”

He noted that advanced placement programs have been expanded in the high schools, which helps bring up test scores. Also, he explained that concentrating on preschool and kindergarten pays off because students who have that experience do much better in later grades.

Unlike some districts, Lewis-Palmer does not have the same reading program at every elmentary school.

“The different schools need different programs to be successful,” he said.

Everyone gets heavy doses of writing.

The district did well in narrowing the achievement gap, which often is a problem for districts statewide. It looks at how well certain groups of students such as Special Education, English language learners and others do in catching up. “We did well but could do beter,” Borman said.

The largest district in the Colorado Springs area with 30,000 students, Colorado Springs School District 11 is ranked “accredited with improvement plan.” It is meeting state expectations in academic growth and achievement, but needs to do better at narrowing  gaps and improve post secondary career readiness.

Janeen Demi-Smith,D-11 executive director of assessment, noted that the district has created many  programs to address those areas. For example, it started Saturday schools at two high schools to provide tutoring, and there are ninth-grade academies to help students transition to high school. Such programs can help prevent drop outs and boost ACT scores, she said.

“We are aggressively making sure that our growth rates continue to increase,” said Assistant Superintendent Jeanice Swift. A new elementary math program is expected to help with the performance gap.

Swift said the new state performance system is valuable because “It’s a more sophisticated way to determine if  students are growing academically and tells us how they are performing against peers across the state. We have not had that level of detail before.”

Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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