Colorado Dept. of Ed. releases student scores, eyes stimulus Race to the Top funds

On Friday came the annual start to the school season here, marked as ever by the release of the Colorado Student Assessment Program scores.

And while the Colorado Department of Education’s Friday press release predictably led with the good news (basically, that Colorado students who are doing okay generally continue doing okay), major news outlets led with the bad news: Between 74,000 and 135,000 public school students in the state are not on pace to become proficient in reading, writing and math over the next three years, according to test results released Friday morning.

To be fair, Commissioner of Education Dwight Jones later acknowledged the thousands left behind in Colorado. And the state’s new accountability system, part of Senate Bill 163, passed in April, gives him tools to do more about it:

The legislation changed everything, giving the state Board of Education the authorization to accredit each school district and granting the state increased power over failing schools.

Underperforming schools will be put on turnaround plans and given state assistance. If problems persist for five consecutive years, the state could turn the school over to a private or public agency, make it a charter school or direct that it be closed.

Alongside the 2008-9 CSAP scores, CDE also officially unveiled its new Colorado Growth Model on Friday, opening the website schoolview.org.

The new site—unique among the 50 states—is designed to replace an obsession with school ratings with a focus on student growth.

In past years, CSAP data analysts assigned school ratings based on each class’s scores in every subject. websites like greatschools.net made these ratings readily available to parents, who often reacted strongly to the news that their child’s school was “unsatisfactory” or “excellent.”

By contrast, the new Colorado Growth Model, and its website—four years and $1.8 million in the making—instead looks at individual student growth over time, a measure its proponents argue is far more useful.

Richard Wenning, Associate Commissioner:

“The Colorado Growth Model answers two basic questions we all want answers to,” said Wenning. “First, how much growth are students making and, second, is it good enough?

The new site was mandated by Senate Bill 09-163, passed last spring. Why? In part, the state is counting on its unique tool to win some of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top stimulus money.

The new model may well be a start at “challenging the status quo," something Jones argues Race to the Top winners will have to do.

But ultimately, whether or not Colorado schools win the millions may be a matter of how well CDE uses its new tools—and that’s something it has struggled with before.

Will it be able to turn schools around? And will it actually close down those that don’t improve? Stay tuned.

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Katie Redding

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