Wednesday, September 16, 2015

#136 - "Local control" not enough; the state still has a key role in accountability

Sept. 16, 2015

 High schools in low-performing districts need help

Though “only one test,” ACT results reminds us why we should not wait until 2016-17 to act

Those who harp on the virtues of local control versus the arrogance of state bureaucracy—i.e. policymakers at the state capitol and the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) –(yes, I’ve done some harping myself), need only look at our lowest-performing school districts to admit: yes, there are situations where the state needs to step in.  Situations where the local school board, superintendent, and district staff have demonstrated they are unable to bring about significant improvement in their schools—and so the “the heavy hand of the state,” if you want to see it that way, is necessary.

Many of us applauded the Education Accountability Act of 2009 (SB 09-163); it set the stage for a bigger state role in chronically low-performing school districts.  But six years later, the state has now … hit the pause button.
I cheered last week when the Colorado State Board of Education and CDE showed they are willing to assert that some low-performing districts need to be told: we expect you to meet a higher standard.  The board accepted CDE’s recommendation that the Sheridan School District remain on Priority Improvement for the 4th straight year.  In 2010 the district received an even lower rating, Turnaround Plan, so it has now entered Year 5 on Priority Improvement or Turnaround. (http://co.chalkbeat.org/2015/09/09/sheridan-loses-bid-to-upgrade-state-quality-rating/#.VfWn8xFVikq)

Sheridan can point to improvement for students in grades 3-8, but there was little reason to say—if the state would only ignore the results at SOAR (its Alternative Education Campus), the district deserves a higher rating.  Consider two pieces of data.  Put aside SOAR’s results for the moment; what about Sheridan High? Are its students graduating career or college ready?  See page 3 for recent ACT results.  And note here the similar scores for both schools on the state’s School Performance Rating in 2014:

SOAR -                                     Academic Achievement   -    Does Not Meet   -   3.8 out of 15 points

SHERIDAN HIGH SCHOOL - Academic Achievement   -    Does Not Meet   -   3.8 out of 15 points

These details on Sheridan’s academic results – TCAP scores – 2014 –explain the low score.
Academic Achievement   Points Earned    Points Eligible     Rating                 N        % Proficient/Advanced
Reading                                        1                             4          Does Not Meet     174                42.0
Mathematics                               1                             4          Does Not Meet     173                  9.3
Writing                                         1                             4          Does Not Meet     174               24.7
N – Number of students taking the tests

Sadly, Sheridan High School is not alone in chronic low achievement.  I offer a look here at five urban districts that, like Sheridan, have entered year 5 on Priority Improvement or Turnaround (Adams 14, Pueblo 60, Sheridan, and Westminster 50) on the District Performance Framework or, as with Aurora Public Schools, is in year 4. Within these five districts we find—to no one’s surprise—a number of our lowest-performing high schools.  Any news on their progress?

With new tests this past year, and many opt outs, any way to measure recent progress, 2014 to 2015?

As the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) was new to Colorado schools this past year, we do not have comparison data between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, so we have no growth data—and therefore, understandably, the state has allowed for a “time-out for accreditation ratings.” Fair enough.  The ratings on the State Performance Framework in 2014 will stand for 2015, except in rare cases.  This paucity of data means these five low-performing school districts “on watch” will be given a reprieve—before the state’s accountability clock starts ticking once again. 

AV#88 - Aurora Central High – The Case for State Intervention (Sept. 18, 2012)
AV#98 – Facts for a new superintendent (May 29, 2013)
AV#109 - Why turnaround schools do not turn around-  One reason struggling schools fail to make real progress: Aurora Central High as a case study (Feb. 12, 2014);
AV#116 “Reporting” on Aurora Public Schools: Let’s Not Get Ahead of OurselvesAwaiting Evidence of Progress (July 16, 2014)

But this is no excuse for sitting on our hands this year.  Anyone watching the way Aurora Public Schools (APS) failed to address the struggling Aurora Central School throughout 2012 to 2014 (see box) should take heed: delay–and we only make the problem worse.  One example of the district’s failure: APS hires a new principal in 2013 for a school in desperate need of exceptional leadership, a man whose record in California made him an odd choice (http://www.dailyrepublic.com/news/education-news/roberts-out-as-fairfield-high-principal/). This spring, déjà vu!  The district releases Mark Roberts from his duties and brings in a new principal - http://co.chalkbeat.org/2015/06/17/struggling-aurora-central-high-will-have-new-leader-next-fall/#.Vfb1yhFViko).  
     “We will look for a leader with the skills and experience to match the turnaround plan developed for Aurora Central High School,” (APS spokesman Patti Moon) said.
      Board member Mary Lewis said with the changes coming for Central, a change at the school’s top job could prove beneficial.
      “Sometimes I think what’s needed is a set of fresh eyes,” Lewis said.
Ms. Lewis: when you were on the board in 2012, do you recall that on CDE’s new School Performance Rating,  as I wrote three years ago (AV#88 - 9/18/12), “Aurora Central earned 37.6 points, a lower score than three much-discussed DPS high schools, West (44.2), Montbello (41.3), and North (40.5).  With that score Aurora Central was to develop a Turnaround Plan.” The district protested the low rating and the high school was put instead on a Priority Improvement Plan.  Remember?  Were APS board members paying attention when, as I pointed out in that newsletter, Aurora Central’s graduation rate was 43% (2011), its remediation rate 73.8% (2011), and its ACT composite score was 14.9% (2012)?

Does anyone at APS take responsibility for failing to understand the dire situation of Aurora Central in 2012, in 2013, in 2014…. “A set of fresh yes….”  Good grief.

ACT - One statewide test from 2014 to 2015 we can rely on

Aurora Public Schools is an example of why the state has a role to play—if we believe public education needs to be held accountable.  Low-performing districts find ways to turn a blind eye … or kick the can down the road.  We cannot simply bide our time in 2015-16 and see if the picture looks different a year from now.  Besides, as of last week we do have some data—with the release of the ACT scores.

My commentary in The Denver Post last July, “High school graduation rates aren’t necessarily a reason to celebrate,” depended heavily on the ACT college readiness assessment.  I do so again here, confident it is one test juniors and seniors take seriously.  I see it in the 11th and 12th graders we work with in College Track in Aurora (several seniors took the ACT again this past weekend), and believe it is true across the state.  I heard thoughtful arguments from a few College Track students last year on why they wanted to opt out of CMAS, but with the ACT, students know colleges and universities pay attention. No one opt outs.


    ACT scores – 2012-2015 - high schools in 5 districts on year 4 or 5 of accountability “clock”


2012
2013
2014
2015
2014-15
STATE
20.0
20.14
20.31
20.1
down






ADAMS COUNTY 14
15.31
15.9
15.99
15.6
down
Adams City High School *
15.55
16.15
16.12
15.9
down –
2nd straight year
Lester Arnold H.S.
13.33
13.57
14.86
12.8
down






AURORA (Adams-Arapahoe)
16.72
17.12
17.23
17.0
down
Aurora Central H.S. 
14.92
15.04
15.23
15.1
down
Aurora West College
--
17.65
17.03
16.8
down –
2nd straight year
Hinkley H.S.
16.91
17.11
16.96
17.0
up
Gateway H.S. 
16.55
16.54
16.77
16.2
down
Rangeview H.S.
18.54
18.89
19.04
18.7
down
William Smith H.S.
18.42
18.28
17.83
17.4
down






PUEBLO CITY 60
18.29
18.2
18.13
17.9
down-3rd straight year
Centennial H.S.
18.58
18.96
18.43
18.8
up
Central H.S.
17.1
16.95
16.39
16.6
down –
3rd straight year
Chavez/Huerta K-12 Prep. Academy
--
17.34
19.92
17.9
down
East H.S.
18.46
18.51
18.09
17.7
down –
2nd straight year
South H.S.
18.72
18.3
18.37
17.8
down –
3rd straight year






SHERIDAN
16.7
16.08
15.45
15.1
down –
3rd straight year
Sheridan H.S.
16.7
16.36
15.94
15.5
down –
3rd straight year
SOAR Academy
--
14.94
14.08
-- (<16)







WESTMINSTER 50
15.99
15.79
15.89
15.6
down
Hidden Lake H.S.
14.57
13.73
14.22
14.3
up
Westminster H.S.
16.26
16.12
16.16
15.9
down






*In red – of special concern.

I hope those results remind the state board and CDE why they have good reason to be troubled by the results of this one assessment, where comparisons over time are possible.  Yes, it’s “only one test,” but it is telling.  Chalkbeat Colorado’s analysis expanded on the possible consequences:

At Colorado’s lowest performing high schools, ACT scores aren’t climbing
ACT scores at five of the state’s chronically low-performing high schools didn’t see the kind of increases likely needed to stave off state sanctions. … High schools, like middle and elementary campuses, are rated on how well students do on the state’s standardized tests. However, student results on the ACT and graduation rates are also factored into a high school’s rating. If a school’s composite ACT score doesn’t climb, its state rating likely won’t either. If a school is dubbed as either “turnaround” or “priority improvement” by the state for more than five years in a row, the state may ask the school district running the school to close it or turn it over to a charter school.
From Chalkbeat Coloradohttp://co.chalkbeat.org/2015/09/11/what-we-learned-from-colorados-act-scores-in-four-graphs/#.Vfmc4hFViko. See graph that includes Aurora Central and Adams City High.

Reassuring words? Realistic targets?

“Local control” – if it means the local school districts have the authority and responsibility to lead improvement efforts in their communities, and that’s why the state should not play the Big Bad Wolf and threaten to blow their schools down when results look bad, is often an excuse for inaction.   When I listen to the words of leaders from our lowest-performing school districts “on the clock,” I only grow more doubtful that “local control,” in their hands, makes sense. Unkind of me, and perhaps unfair. But I hope community members in these districts are listening to “goals” like these….  

Adams 14 -  March 2014: “Our goal is to improve from ‘priority improvement’ to ‘distinction,’ said Kathy Steel, assistant superintendent for Adams 14, referencing the state’s accreditation rating.  “People are talking about going from worst to first. Our people are determined.”
Members of the state board applauded the district’s efforts but wondered if the district, which self-admittedly has much more room to improve, would beat the clock.
“We’ll be sliding in sideways,” said (superintendent Pat) Sanchez, who has been a vocal critic of (the) state’s accountability clock.

Pueblo 60 -  August 2014: On the transition as new superintendent Constance Jones took over:
“We cannot—we will not—miss a beat,” said Kathy DeNiro, the board’s president and former district administrator.  For now, Jones is carrying on the belief that Pueblo will beat the clock in time. “I absolutely have a concern and feel a sense of urgency,” Jones told The Pueblo Chieftain. “But I’m also very confident, based on the conversations I’ve already had, that we will make the improvements we need to make in order to reset the clock and to make the progress we need to become accredited at the highest level of distinction.”

A year later … on their way to distinction? 

Two words apply: GET REAL!



Another View, a newsletter by Peter Huidekoper, represents his own opinion and is not intended to represent the view of any organization he is associated with.  Comments are welcome. 303-757-1225 / peterhdkpr@gmail.com

No comments:

Post a Comment