School reform suggestion #1: Empower parents by giving them access to data
If you are a parent of DPS children, and you genuinely care about the quality of education in your district, then you have a responsibility: educate yourself.
Information is power. Fortunately, we are living in a new age. The Internet gives a parent access to information that we never had before. Sadly, most parents do not know how to find that information, and how to use it. But in reality, not all parents need to know how to access the information and use it to their advantage; it only takes a few informed parents per school to change the whole dynamic between parents and administration, or between the parents and the district.
Here is a likely scenario: You have recently moved to Denver from out of state. You moved into a neighborhood you could afford, and your child has been assigned to North High School. You met with your school’s principal at some point, and you were regaled with encouragement that your school was doing well following some brilliant reform. But if you cannot get your fingers on the real data, you can only nod and hope you are being told the truth. And you may be completely unaware of the details surrounding the “reform” of North High School
The SchoolDigger.com site provides easy to understand information on individual schools, as well as schools nearby. (School Digger images used with permission)
The first thing you can find out is that North High ranks as 288th out of 317 Colorado public schools, and that Denver Public Schools as a district rates 110th out of 121 districts.
School Digger provides some spectacular graphics that provide additional insight into the school. For example, in the graphic below, the parent can see that enrollment in the school has dropped constantly since 1989 and is now just a little more than 50% of original enrollment. Even more strikingly, while minority enrollment has dropped dramatically; “white flight” has caused enrollment of Caucasian students has gone from around 480 in 1988 to 86 in 1987.
School Digger also has graphs displaying the CSAP scores
grades in North.
Step 2: While School Digger CSAP scores are very informative, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) also provides additional details that parents should review. Follow the link to the CDE Report Cards site
. In the List Search, find your district (Denver County 1 in this case), and GO. Every school in the district will be listed in the results. Find North High and follow the hyperlink.
You will be displayed a page that shows the CDE ranking for the school (LOW in this case), and the ranks of comparable schools in the area. On the right side of the page, follow the See Detailed Report
Now you are able to get the gritty details on the school and the district. Course Offerings, Safety and Discipline report statistics, Sources of Revenue, District Use of Funds, Student Attendance, and an Overall Academic Performance on State Assessments. Take some time and browse that information.
On the second page of the Report Card are the real meat and potatoes. Look carefully at the CSAP scores for Reading, Writing, and Math.
These graphs display the percentage of students that scored “Proficient & Advanced” on those CSAP areas. The graphs display scores for the past three years, so the parent is able to see trends. In all three concentration areas, North has declined precipitously since the “reform”, and evidently, the performance of all ethnicities has suffered.
The report also provides some insight into how the school compares to all of the other schools in the district and within the state. In the graph below, the parent can see that the school’s percent of proficient and advanced students is 44% that of the district average, and 27% that of the state.
It is important to understand that the CSAP compares all of the students in the school to all of the students within the district and to the state, which provides an excellent view into how the students and school are performing as a group, but that’s an incomplete view of performance.
Step 3: Growth Model
The CDE now provides an additional tool that fills some of the gaps that the CSAP doesn’t. The CDE Growth Model
fills that gap by normalizing the student performance by group to show growth in the tested areas. In particular, the growth shown is for the students who performed at or above Proficient, so the report really reveals if the top performers are growing, stagnating, or falling behind.
By following the link above, the curious parent is able to track school performance in a way that reveals not just the current scores, but whether or not current performance indicates improvement or “growth” in key areas. The user is capable of searching via an area Map or by selecting a specific school name
, which is how we will use the tool for this exercise.
The Growth and Achievement graph is separated into X and Y axes. The vertical Y axis displays the percentage of students performing At or Above “Proficient” levels on the exam. The horizontal X axis displays the Median Student Growth Percentile. While teachers and principals are able to drill down to the individual student level, parents and the general public are capable of viewing at a “bird’s eye view” at the school or district level.
The first step is to click on the School Options tab at the top of the graph. That tab allows the user to select the School Level (Elementary, Middle School, or High School), and School Type (no selection automatically includes all school types, or the user can filter on Alternative Education, Charter, Magnet, Online, and Title 1 schools). Clicking the School Options button a second time closes the selection menu. An additional filter allows the user to select Math, Reading or Writing scores. Sadly, only one or the other can be displayed, and it’s not possible to display all three in one view.
The next step is to pick the District or City. Click on the District button and the scroll down to the desired District (Denver 1 in this example). The graph will automatically fill with all the available schools represented. The user can clear all this data and then scroll to the name of the desired school (North High for this exercise).
Once the school is selected, a small ball will appear in the graph oriented along the X-Y axes to demonstrate the growth of students in that focus. As seen in the example below, North High School students Math scores show that 964 students were tested on CSAP Math.
Only 5% scored “Proficient” or above. The Median Student Growth Percentile is 40%. The orange ball is located firmly in the Lower Growth, Lower Achievement section of the grid. This demonstrates that not only are the students scoring extremely poorly on the Math test, but they are also not displaying satisfactory growth in that area.
Switch the view to access the Reading scores. Now you can see that the students scored slightly higher (27% at or above “Proficient”), and the Median Growth increases to 43.3%. Again, we see Low Growth and Low Achievement.
Finally, by selecting the Writing view, the user is able to see that the Writing scores are slightly better; The students show Higher Growth, but still Lower Achievement. This indicates that they are still underperforming, but they have shown some at least a little improvement.
There is one more example that should be shared in order to understand the graph. In the graph below, Ralston Elementary Math scores show Lower Growth but Higher Achievement. If you are a parent of a Ralston student, don’t panic! What this is telling you is that the students in Ralston score consistently high in math (93%), but they have not shown additional growth.
The Ralston principal, Karen Quanbeck, stated that while this is good, they are still not satisfied and want to increase the growth even further, demonstrating that, for good principals, “good” is never enough: there is always room for improvement.
Parents who have access to this data are able to delve fairly deeply into the performance data of their schools. They are able to listen to what their principals tell them, but then verify what they have been told, or prove that there is an inconsistency between what they are told by principals and teachers and the real performance of the students. Keep in mind that the school staff is perfectly capable of demonstrating down to the individual level how each student is performing, so if the parent demands additional details, there is no excuse for not revealing that data.
Now that you are armed with access to this data, do your own research on your child’s school, and start applying pressure on the principals to prove that they are making improvements.
In the next article, we will explore the notion that the CSAP tests are “inherently racist”. This idea has been publicly promoted by some principals as an excuse for why their Latino students persistently perform poorly on the standardized tests. It is an insidious assertion that must be countered.