State releases latest school, district ratings

A second annual release of ratings for Colorado schools and districts under the state’s latest accountability law shows three-quarters maintained the same rating in 2011 as in 2010, though there were some changes at the very top and bottom.

State Board of Education members on Tuesday signed off on ratings for more than 1,600 schools, essentially declaring nearly 88 percent are making adequate progress and can continue without additional oversight.

That leaves 202 schools that must show improvement over the next three to four years or face sanctions, including closure.

The ratings dictate the annual plans that all schools must file with the Colorado Department of Education to demonstrate they’re on a path to continuous improvement.

Here’s the school ratings breakdown for 2011:

  • Performance – Assigned to 69.5% or 1,144 Colorado schools. This is the top rating and while a performance school must file an improvement plan, it will receive little state oversight.
  • Improvement – Assigned to 18.3% or 301 schools. The second-highest rating also means little state oversight.
  • Priority improvement – Assigned to 8.9% or 147 schools. This rating, along with the lowest rating of turnaround, requires a school to file an improvement plan that will be reviewed by a state panel and is subject to approval by the state education commissioner.
  • Turnaround – Assigned to 3.3% or 55 Colorado schools. The lowest rating. Both priority improvement and turnaround schools have five years to progress to a higher rating. Today’s release shows 122 schools are on priority improvement or turnaround status for a second year.

Overall, the number of schools receiving the top rating increased by 2 percent this year or by 52 schools, but 36 of those were new schools during 2010-11 and received the rating by default. The number of schools facing possible sanctions also increased slightly in 2011, from 197 to 202 or by another five schools.

The latest accountability system, based on the Education Accountability Act of 2009, replaces the School Accountability Reports. Like the SARs, it relies heavily on results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program or CSAP.

How school ratings are calculated

But the new system differs from the SARs in placing greater weight on student academic growth, considering the extent of achievement gaps among students and factoring in graduation rates, dropout rates and ACT scores for high schools.

For example, elementary and middle schools are judged by:

  • Academic achievement – 25 possible points
  • Academic growth – 50 possible points
  • Academic growth gaps – 25 possible points

For high schools, the mix is slightly different:

  • Academic achievement – 15 points
  • Academic growth – 35 points
  • Academic growth gaps – 15 points
  • Postsecondary and workforce readiness – 35 points

Schools are labeled as Exceeds, Meets, Approaching or Does Not Meet on each performance indicator.

State officials have said the new system is intended to be “a floor” rather than “a ceiling” after some concerns that the system sets too low a bar. Schools need not score particularly high on the performance indicators to be named Performance schools. Earning 60 percent or above of the possible 100 points – a D in many classrooms – nets the top rating.

To receive the lowest rating of Turnaround, a school must achieve less than 33 percent of possible points.

Sanctions facing low-performing schools

All schools must submit improvement plans, which are publicly available online, but only those designated Turnaround or Priority Improvement are subject to extra state scrutiny.

A state review panel reviews the plans and evaluates the school’s leadership and staff before making recommendations to the education commissioner, who has final approval.

If a Turnaround or Priority Improvement school does not progress to a higher rating after five years, the commissioner then asks the panel to review it and recommend one of a series of sanctions:

  • Management by a private or public entity other than the school district
  • Conversion to a charter school, if not a charter
  • Change in status to an innovation school
  • Closure of school or revocation of charter

The State Board of Education has final say on which sanctions would be imposed.

District ratings also little changed

The state also released ratings today for Colorado’s 181 school districts. Here’s the final breakdown:

  • 9.9%, or 18 districts, received the highest rating of Accredited with Distinction. These districts meet or exceed statewide performance indicators. The list includes Academy District 20, Aspen, Cheyenne Mountain 12 and Littleton, the only metro area district to make the cut.
  • 51.6%, or 94 districts, received the next highest rating of Accredited, meaning they meet statewide performance indicators. This includes Jefferson County, Douglas County, Cherry Creek, Boulder, Fort Collins and St. Vrain.
  • 24.7%, or 45 districts, received the rating of Accredited with Improvement, meaning they must complete a plan to improve but those plans aren’t subject to approval by the Colorado Department of Education. This includes Adams 12 Five Star, Colorado Springs D-11, Greeley 6 and Mesa 51 Grand Junction.
  • 9.9%, or 18 districts, are rated Accredited with Priority improvement, meaning they must file improvement plans for CDE review and approval. This includes the Aurora, the Charter School Institute, Denver, Englewood and Mapleton.
  • 4%, or 7 districts, received the lowest rating of Accredited with Turnaround and also are to CDE approval for improvement plans. Districts with this rating include Adams 14 Commerce City, Pueblo City, Sheridan and Adams 50 Westminster.

Districts were evaluated on four performance indicators:

  • Academic achievement on state exams, a possible 15 of 100 points
  • Academic growth on state exams, a possible 35 of 100 points
  • Closing achievement gaps among student groups on state exams, a possible 15 of 100 points
  • Post-secondary and workforce readiness as determined by performance on the Colorado ACT, dropout rate and graduation rate, a possible 35 of 100 points

On each indicator, a district was determined to be either an Exceeds, Meets, Approaching or Does Not Meet on the criteria set by the state.

So how tough was it to be Accredited with Distinction? Districts had to achieve at least 80 percent of points possible. Districts received the lowest rating of Turnaround for scoring below 42 percent of possible points.

Overall, the number of school districts received the highest rating increased by four in 2011, with several small rural districts such as Agate – which reported fewer than 30 students in 2010-11 – joining the distinguished list. Those facing possible sanctions increased by one district, growing from 24 to 25.

There was some movement in the very bottom tier, with Englewood moving up from Turnaround to Priority Improvement and Pueblo City Schools dropping from Priority Improvement to Turnaround. But districts have to leave both those ratings behind in five years if they don’t want to face the possibility of losing state accreditation.

Ratings for Colorado’s six largest school districts and their schools

Jefferson County – District Rating: Accredited – Earned 72% of points possible

  • Schools with Performance rating – 77.3% or 123 of 159 schools – Led by Bradford Primary, Meiklejohn Elementary and Bradford Intermediate
  • Schools with Improvement rating – 12.5% or 20 schools
  • Schools with Priority Improvement rating – 1.88% or 3 schools – Molholm Elementary, Jefferson County Open Elementary and Alameda High School
  • Schools with Turnaround rating – Less than 1 percent or 1 school – Arvada K-8
  • Alternative Education Campuses – 7.54% or 12 schools
  • Fall 2010 – 83,025 students, 30.6% poverty rate

Denver – District Rating: Accredited with Priority Improvement – Earned 50.2% of points possible

  • Schools with Performance rating – 48.4% or 79 of 163 schools – Led by Cory, Polaris at Ebert and Steck elementaries
  • Schools with Improvement rating – 23.3% or 38 schools
  • Schools with Priority Improvement rating – 13.4% or 22 schools
  • Schools with Turnaround rating – 7.97% or 13 schools, including Math and Science Leadership Academy, Smith and Greenlee elementaries
  • Alternative Education Campuses – 6.74% or 11 schools
  • Fall 2010 – 73,787 students, 72.9% poverty rate

Douglas County – District Rating: Accredited – Earned 72.7% of points possible

  • Schools with Performance rating – 93.8% or 76 of 81 schools – Led by Northridge Elementary, Core Knowledge Charter and Redstone Elementary
  • Schools with Improvement rating – 1.23% or 1 school – Sagewood Middle
  • Schools with Priority Improvement rating – 3.7% or 3 schools – Hope Online, Eagle Academy and EDCSD:Colorado Cyberschool
  • Schools with Turnaround rating – 0
  • Alternative Education Campuses – 1.23% or 1 school – Daniel C. Oakes High School
  • Fall 2010 – 59,749 students, 10.9% poverty rate

Cherry Creek – District Rating: Accredited – Earned 71.3% of points possible

  • Schools with Performance rating – 94.7% or 54 of 57 schools – Led by Cherry Hills Village, Cottonwood and Dry Creek elementaries
  • Schools with Improvement rating – 5.26% or 3 schools – Village East Community Elementary, Overland High School, Highline Community Elementary
  • Schools with Priority Improvement rating – 0
  • Schools with Turnaround rating – 0
  • Alternative Education Campuses – 0
  • Fall 2010 – 50,504 students, 26.2% poverty rate

Adams 12 Five Star – District Rating: Accredited with Improvement – Earned 56.6% of points possible

  • Schools with Performance rating – 73.5% or 39 of 53 schools – Led by Meridian Elementary, Stargate Charter and Coyote Ridge Elementary
  • Schools with Improvement rating – 7.54% or 4 schools
  • Schools with Priority Improvement rating – 16.9% or 9, including Thornton Elementary, Colorado Virtual Academy and Coronado Hills Elementary
  • Schools with Turnaround rating – 0
  • Alternative Education Campuses – 1.88% or 1 school – Vantage Point
  • Fall 2010 – 41,202 students, 34% poverty rate

Aurora – District Rating: Accredited with Priority Improvement – Earned 45.8% of points possible

  • Schools with Performance rating – 37.9% or 22 of 58 schools – Led by Aurora Quest K-8, Side Creek Elementary and Options School
  • Schools with Improvement rating – 29.3% or 17 schools
  • Schools with Priority Improvement rating – 24.1% or 14 schools
  • Schools with Turnaround rating – 6.89% or 4 schools – APS Online, Fletcher Primary, Vista Peak P-8 and Mrachek Middle School
  • Alternative Education Campuses – 1.72% or 1 school – New America School
  • Fall 2010 – 37,130 students, 65.2% poverty rate

Highest and lowest-performing schools and districts statewide

Top five districts in state ratings system

  • Hinsdale County School District – Earned 95.4% of points possible – 96 students – 18.8% poverty rate
  • Aspen School District – Earned 89.6% of points possible – 1,727 students – 6.2% poverty rate
  • Frenchman RE-3 District (Logan County) – Earned 88.8% of points possible – 200 students – 45.9% poverty rate
  • Cheyenne Mountain 12 District – Earned 87.3% of points possible – 4,561 students – 14.3% poverty rate
  • Plateau RE-5 District (Logan County) – Earned 86.4% of points possible – 176 students – 46.3% poverty rate

Bottom five districts in state ratings system

  • Vilas RE-5 District (Baca County) – Earned 32.2% of points possible – 354 students – 53.7% poverty rate
  • Mountain BOCES – Earned 32.8% of points possible – 142 students – O poverty rate
  • Karval School District (Lincoln County) – Earned 38% of points possible – 235 students – 21.8% poverty rate
  • Adams 14 Commerce City District – Earned 38.6% of points possible – 7,549 students – 84.9% poverty rate
  • Adams 50 Westminster District – Earned 40.2% of points possible – 10,049 students – 79.1% poverty rate

Five school districts on third year of the state’s five-year sanctions clock

  • Vilas RE-5 District, Baca County in southeastern Colorado
  • Mountain BOCES, Leadville area
  • Karval School District, east of Colorado Springs
  • Huerfano School District, Walsenburg
  • Center School District, San Luis Valley

*Schools can only be on year 2 of the state’s improvement cycle and 105 schools are there. But districts can be on year 3 if they were issued a Notice of Support by the state in 2008-09. Districts face loss of state accreditation if they don’t improve their ratings within five years.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”