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Valley supers contest school grades

Posted: Friday, Jan 25th, 2013




Courier staff writer

VALLEY — Superintendents across the Valley are significantly concerned with the Colorado School Grades (CSG) 2012 report cards that cast a dark shadow on district gains achieved in the past year.

“It is the position of the San Luis Valley Superintendents that the ColoradoSchoolGrades.org is a poor way to look at performance of schools compared to the comprehensive system developed through professionals and state statute,” the SLV Superintendents Advisory Council (SAC) wrote in an official statement earlier this month. “Educators across the Valley work tirelessly to insure that the students of the Valley are given the best education possible.”

In the Valley, Centauri High School and the Crestone Charter School were the only institutions to receive top honors with A- overall performance grades. Centauri was ranked 29 out of the 327 high schools in the state, and it received a B for academic proficiency and a B+ for academic growth. Crestone was ranked 43 out of 491 schools, and it received a B for academic proficiency and an A for academic growth.

Del Norte Middle School and Center High School also received notable marks. Del Norte earned an A for academic growth and a B for an overall performance grade. It was ranked 75 out of 998 middle schools in the state. Center High School earned a B for overall performance and was ranked 98 out of 327 high schools.

On the opposite end of the grade scale, six Valley schools received a failing mark in overall performance: Alamosa Elementary School, Sierra Grande Middle School, Lamb Elementary School (Creede), Centennial Elementary School, Guadalupe Elementary School (Antonito) and Antonito High School.

CSG is a coalition of 18 community organizations that believe all children deserve access to a high-performing school and, according to its conclusions, most Valley schools rank below satisfactory levels. While other rating systems are based solely on academic achievement or one student’s performance snapshot, CSG used student academic growth to calculate overall school performance. CSG worked with the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the University of Colorado at Denver and R-Squared Research, LLC to calculate the grades using the same variables and weights as the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) School Performance Framework. The input data for calculating the overall grades include academic achievement, academic growth, academic growth gaps and, for high schools only, a college and career readiness mark based on ACT performance.

Although CSG considers Colorado “a pioneer in developing an academic growth model and school performance framework,” the group finds its categories do not provide parents and community members with an accurate or intuitive portrayal of their school’s performance. CSG replaced unclear categories such as “performance” and “priority improvement” with universally understood letter grades (A-F).

According to the SAC, “Schools were graded on a curve that arbitrarily determined that 10 percent would receive A’s no matter how well the school preformed. In addition, they decided that 5 percent of schools must receive F’s regardless of how well they did. And, their process will always make that happen even if all schools perform well.”

CSG was contacted via email earlier this month to confirm or deny the SAC’s claims, but failed to reply.

The key difference between CSG and CDE’s School Performance Framework are the categories and the cut scores that are used to determine placement in a category, according to CSG. CDE’s ranking categories include performance, improvement, priority improvement and turnaround.

“State data were used to determine the grades, but the groups behind the initiative developed their own cut points, which are different than what CDE uses to determine school performance and growth,” the SAC wrote, referencing Colorado’s growth model that 18 other states have adopted. “This is confusing to parents and other interested parties who want to understand school performance... The letter grade approach shifts attention toward a single measure, away from the broader, and much more accepted, presentation of information offered by CDE. CSG is a private effort that does not have any oversight by CDE, or any statutory basis for its work.”

The official statement continued, “Colorado has done significant work in this area and with passage of Senate Bill 163 several years ago, parents finally have one, reliable measurement to compare school performance and to learn how their child’s school is doing. A group of superintendents has been working hard to provide feedback and ideas for improvements to the state performance formula, and CDE has embraced the concept of a cycle of improvement to state metrics.”

The SAC also believed it found CSG to subvert its own statements.

“... the organization hopes the letter grade information will prompt parents to get involved in their local school. In reality, on their website there is at least as much focus on encouraging parents to abandon their local school as there is on supporting that school. They say that their easy-to-understand information will help improve schools, but their actions seem to undermine a struggling schools community support,” the SAC wrote.

See the Valley Courier article Valley schools issues report cards, Friday, Jan 4, 2013 to see the Valley’s CSG scores.





The SAC encourages parents and community members to:

•Visit the state accountability system that is at www.schooview.org. The site includes academic achievement and growth, postsecondary and workforce readiness, graduation and drop out rates, achievement gaps, comparison data based on other schools and performance indicators in specific academic subjects.

•To understand Colorado has a state system rated a perfect 100-percent.

•Parents can learn more about Valley schools through principals, teachers and onsite visits.



The SAC CSG position:

•CSG framework is a privately developed system that takes data and applies new cut points based on an arbitrary bell curve.

•A bell curve approach conflicts with the Valley school districts’ goal of helping all students achieve proficiency in a standards based system.

•A number of factors goes into determining the quality of a school and the SAC does not think that those should be distilled into a simplistic letter grade.

•The state moved away from a similar approach and has already committed to developing a more user friendly interface to the comprehensive data contained on School View.

•Public educators were not included in the formation of the system or any of their school grade determinations.












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