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Online ranking no surprise to district PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

Colorado schools continue to get accreditation ratings and performance plans from the state, but a new independent website has parents and community members asking, “Does my school make the grade?”

Colorado School Grades, a coalition of 18 community organizations, launched a nearly $1 million internet-based project one month ago that rates Colorado schools using familiar A through F grades.

Bret Miles, superintendent of Holyoke Re-1J School District, said it’s important for more parents and community members to take notice of schools, and coloradoschool grades.com is one tool that can be used. “However, it is only one point of view, and like all information, it needs to be carefully filtered and properly put into a larger context if it is to be truly useful.”

Colorado School Grades used the same test scores used in the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) accreditation but put them through a more rigorous grading scale, resulting in the A-F ranking.

Since schools are rated based on how well they perform relative to others in the state, the top-performing schools in the state are highlighted.

Holyoke Elementary School received a B, coming in at 359th out of 1,467 schools.

Holyoke Junior High School received an F—number 1,404 out of 1,447 schools.

C+ was the grade for Holyoke High School, which ranked 157th out of 364 schools.

“This should be no real surprise to anyone who has followed the student achievement results of our school district closely through the Holyoke Enterprise, the Colorado Department of Education’s SchoolView website or the district’s own annual report to the community,” said Miles.

Since Colorado School Grades and CDE use the same test results, the ratings are similar; however, CDE does not rank schools in relation to other schools in the state, and they use different terminology than the A-F grading scale.

Based on the Education Accountability Act of 2009 (SB 09-163), the state took out their letter grade ratings a couple years ago.

Colorado School Grades, which is not affiliated with CDE and the state law for accreditation, has thrown letter grades back into the mix, boasting they want to provide information that is “both accessible and easy to understand.” Parents can all relate to the A-F grades.

It might be easy to use, but Holyoke’s superintendent sees value in the state’s legislation to get rid of letter grade rankings.

“We saw that years of calling a school a failing school did not cause an increase in student achievement. Schools with lower student achievement need support, not ridicule. I know of no school administrator, board member or teacher who decided to wait until they got a low grade before they decided to give it their best effort,” said Miles.

“There is good accountability in the state including the SchoolView website, required annual reports and media coverage. Telling good educators they have an F does not make a difference in how they approach their work. If anything, it only works against them,” he added.

Key components of the Colorado School Grades website include a way for users to compare other schools in their area and “take action” if they are not satisfied with the grade their school received. They want to empower and inform parents so they can make a good decision about where to send their child to school.

“The intent of the website is clear: compare your neighborhood schools,” said Miles. They are ranking schools side by side that have little in common, he added, noting school demographics, funding, resources and other variables must also be taken into consideration.

Holyoke School District is focusing on its own targets, said Miles, regardless of how it ranks next to other schools in the state.

 

District transparent with state results, long-term goals

It’s clear Holyoke schools take pride in the transparency of their student achievement results, publishing information in the Holyoke Enterprise, through the annual report sent to every mailbox in August and on the district website.

“We have only met a few of our five-year student achievement goals so far, but we are pleased to have our goals and results out in front of our public so we can monitor our progress together. It’s good for kids,” said Miles.

While CDE does not give out A through F rankings, Miles said he thinks the department did a good job of picking clear language people can understand.

However, the accreditation timeline with Colorado Department of Education can be somewhat confusing. Miles explained the timeline includes statewide tests taken in March, test results provided in August, accreditation given in October and performance/improvement plans approved the following April.

That means any information seen on the schoolview.org website is probably a year old and does not reflect current test scores. (Since Colorado School Grades uses the same data, it is also year-old information.)

2011 results, reported in October, put Holyoke School District at the “Accredited” level, with 69.2 percent of targets earned.

Holyoke falls roughly in the middle of all Colorado school ratings. Only 18 of the 178 school districts in the state achieved “Accredited with Distinction,” the only rating higher than “Accredited.” Sixty-nine of the 178 school districts were given a rating lower than “Accredited.”

Elementary and junior high schools earn framework points based on academic achievement, academic growth and academic growth gaps with high schools adding points for a postsecondary and workforce readiness category.

In the most recent ratings, Holyoke Elementary earned 78.2 percent of targets and was put on a performance plan.

Holyoke High School is also on a performance plan, earning 68.3 percent of targets.

Both of these schools fall in the highest performance framework rating from Colorado Department of Education.

However, Holyoke Junior High earned 45.8 percent of targets. They will now be on a priority improvement plan.

2010 results had the junior high at only 36 percent, putting the school in the lowest plan category: turnaround.

Holyoke administration and staff implemented a turnaround plan that focused on improved writing, time to focus on critical thinking skills and improved vocabulary/non-fiction reading. The plan was approved in April 2011.

While the results still don’t meet district expectations, they are glad to see the junior high moving in the right direction, from a turnaround plan to a priority improvement plan.

Miles said the next CDE accreditation rating will join together the junior high and high school into one Holyoke JR/SR High School. That is why current results for the junior high are not available on the SchoolView website.

The district’s long-term Destination 2016 goal is to land in the highest category, “Accredited with Distinction.”

“We’re going to see some ups and downs along the way,” said Miles, but they have a clear focus on their target goal.

It’s easy for one particular class to bump the percentage rating up and down, especially since Holyoke is a small rural school, but Miles said they want every class to meet the standards and do not want to make excuses based on certain class characteristics.

“We’re going to meet our goals in our time,” said Miles.

Destination 2016, Holyoke’s five-year strategic plan, is available to both staff and the public on the district’s website at holyoke.schoolfusion.us.

 

Parents need to stay informed, do their homework

Colorado is an open enrollment state, so children may attend a school that is outside their district. While this has been a bigger issue for large cities, it’s also becoming more common in rural areas as today’s society becomes more mobile.

Whether or not a family is considering a different school, they can use a combination of resources to research their district and area schools.

Miles said student achievement, including Colorado School Grades and Colorado Department of Education accreditation, is one piece of a very complex puzzle.

Websites may be a quick, convenient way to look at a school, but they do not give the broad picture of a school’s values, characteristics and opportunities.

“When people decide to compare Holyoke and Haxtun, I hope they decide to look much deeper than these few pages to see all the positives that both school systems offer,” said Miles.

“I am pleased to work with the Haxtun administration and know that they work hard to create a great school system, just like ours. We have very different schools with unique challenges. Both schools are filled with teachers who want what is best for kids, and each family will decide which school is right for their children. In my mind, you can’t go wrong in Phillips County.”

Holyoke’s Standard of Excellence team has been looking at ways to make Holyoke stand out from other schools apart from student achievement.

First, they want to offer more opportunities in areas like sports, art, music, physical education, business, agriculture, family and consumer sciences, television production and the alternative high school.

Second, Holyoke wants to have a focus on up-to-date technology; and third, a focus on ESL students, which make up 23 percent of the district.

Parents and community members can finish up their homework by looking into Colorado’s school funding. For instance, they might not know Colorado spends $3,265 per pupil less than Nebraska and $7,748 per pupil less than Wyoming (regional cost adjusted) making it 40th in the nation.

With a variety of resources, the community can make informed decisions about education and can decide for themselves whether or not their school makes the grade.

 

Holyoke Enterprise January 19, 2012