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Indicators show some Pikes Peak region school districts slipping in student performance

September 3, 2017 Updated: September 5, 2017 at 6:18 am
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Meetings emerged from new legislation requiring state education agencies to develop a strategic action plan for recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. A report is due to legislators by Dec. 1. (Gazette file photo)

Preliminary district accreditation ratings and school performance plans show possible backsliding in some Pikes Peak region public schools.

However, one indicator is linked to low participation on standardized testing.

The area's smallest school district has fallen from the lofty first-place spot it attained last year, point-wise, among Colorado's 178 public school districts, according to data the Colorado Department of Education released last week.

But Edison School District 54-JT in Yoder still earned "Accredited with Distinction" this year, the state's highest level.

New Superintendent Paul Frank said he's working to "continue the high-performance tradition" that started in 2014, when 54-JT first attained "Accredited with Distinction."

Others in the highest category are: Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 on the city's West Side and Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument.

Point-wise, Cheyenne Mountain D-12 earned the most, 83.1 points. Lewis-Palmer D-38 amassed 81.4 points and Edison 54-JT 79.4 points. Last year, Edison had 92.5 points.

The statewide grading system is designed to hold schools accountable for improving student achievement.

Districts and individual schools receive ratings based on students' scores on standardized English language arts, math and science tests the state administers; academic growth shown on such assessments from one year to the next; and readiness for college or careers, evidence by graduation rates, dropout rates, scores on college entrance exams and matriculation into higher education programs.

The state instituted a new, more rigorous testing regime for all subjects in recent years, and students and parents at some schools have objected to the use of Common Core State Standards, data privacy concerns, and the usefulness of the tests and the time they take.

Because of the new testing system, districts and schools were not rated in 2015.

Missing from its usual "Accredited with Distinction" list is Academy School District 20, which was dinged for test participation lower than the federal government's 95 percent requirement. Last year, D-20, as well as Edison 54-JT, contested preliminary ratings and were both deemed "Accredited with Distinction."

In the same vein, four schools in the region have fallen to "Turnaround" status, the lowest performance ranking.

They are: Sabin Middle School, North Middle School and West Elementary School in Colorado Springs School District 11; and Monterey Elementary School in Harrison School District 2.

D-11 spokeswoman Devra Ashby said some of the results were surprising.

"But they are preliminary," she said.

The district is analyzing whether to request reconsideration of the ratings, Ashby said, mentioning that several D-11 schools were reassessed last year after lower initial ratings and won reconsideration.

"It's one snapshot of one test we conduct throughout the year, and while there are some areas of work that definitely need to be addressed, we also have highlights," Ashby said.

"We take the data and apply it to the long-term plan for each of the schools. It gives a road map and benchmarking from one year to the next."

One D-11 middle school, Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy, was on turnaround status for several years before rising above the bottom ranking.

"The school worked very closely with our system improvement specialist team to dig deep into individual students' scores and increase them," she said. "It's been successful for them."

No schools or districts in the Pikes Peak region have ever reached five years of low performance under "turnaround status." In that case, the state education department intervenes with an ordered plan.

The department and its governing State Board of Education will issue this year's final ratings in December.

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