AIR FORCE GRADUATION
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Students and family's celebrate graduation at the 2018 Cheyenne Mountain High School commencement ceremony at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs on Sunday, May 27, 2018. (Photo by Kelsey Brunner, The Gazette)

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Real news: Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 is the state’s top seed.

For the first time in the decade that the Colorado Department of Education has used an accountability system to grade schools and districts on student performance and attach related improvement plans, D-12 ranks first.

D-12’s score of 90.1 points is the best for 2018 among Colorado’s 178 school districts and its Charter School Institute, say preliminary data the department released Monday.

“We’ve always been relatively high-performing of the larger districts in the state, but to achieve the highest ranking across all districts, we’re very proud of the work our schools have done to get there,” said D-12 Superintendent Walt Cooper.

He attributes the accomplishment to high growth scores among the district’s 5,220 students, which reflect year-over-year academic improvement.

“We’ve tried to focus on growth measures because they take into account the performance of every kid, as opposed to the achievement measures, which are averages,” Cooper said. “Many times, students who are under-performing get camouflaged in the averages.”

The annual performance rankings are based on results from the statewide English, math and science assessments that students take in the spring, annual academic growth and indicators showing students are ready for college or career, including graduation rates, dropout rates, average scores on the SAT college entrance exam and matriculation into college or other post-secondary paths.

Cheyenne Mountain D-12 in southwest Colorado Springs is one of three Pikes Peak region districts that have earned the highest accreditation rating of Accredited with Distinction for 10 consecutive years. The others are Academy School District 20 in northern Colorado Springs and Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument.

For the first time, Manitou Springs School District 14 is slated to earn Accredited with Distinction as well.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” Superintendent Ed Longfield said. “What we’re doing has worked, and we’re as full with students as we’ve ever been.”

Longfield said his district of about 1,500 students intentionally increased academic rigor.

In the 2016-17 school year, the district had zero Advanced Placement courses for high school students, he said. Officials introduced nine AP classes last school year. This academic year, 274 of 500 high school students are taking some of the 11 Advanced Placement offerings.

Paying for pre-college-entrance exams for students from eighth through 11th grade also has helped boost achievement, he said, as has teachers talking to each other about students’ progress.

But the district hasn’t lost sight of its linchpin, Longfield said.

“We still believe relationships with the kids and the families are really important and have wrapped challenging academic coursework all the way through the system,” he said. “Kids are in a safe place to experiment with learning; we consider failure another step in the learning process.”

Edison School District 54-JT in Yoder had held the Accredited with Distinction rating since 2014 and in 2016 ranked No. 1 in the state.

But this year’s preliminary results show it dropped one notch to Accredited. Participation that fell below the 95 percent federal requirement on the spring assessments was cited as the cause of the decrease.

The preliminary rankings can be appealed, with final rankings to come for districts in November and schools in December.

None of the 17 school districts in the Pikes Peak region is on the state’s accountability clock, which subjects districts to state intervention for sustained poor performance.

But some schools are, including Calhan Middle School in Calhan RJ-1, which for now is on the lowest rung —Turnaround status — with insufficient test participation cited as a factor.

None of the three Colorado Springs School District 11 schools that was flagged as being on Turnaround last year remains on the low performance level, although three D-11 schools are on Priority Improvement, the second-lowest ranking. Last year, six D-11 schools were on Priority Improvement. Mitchell High is on its third year of Priority Improvement, with low test participation noted.

One D-11 school, North Middle, rose from the lowest improvement plan to the highest.

“We’ve seen significant improvement at North,” said Eric Mason, D-11’s assessment director.

A focus on building relationships between staff, students and parents, teacher collaboration to discuss what’s working and what’s not, targeted intervention for struggling students and other practices have helped some schools improve, Mason said.

“It’s been a lot of hard work in schools to better understand the academic standards and have teachers look at the data together to better understand their instruction,” he said.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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