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Denver School Performance Framework Shows Signs of Reform Progress

The big local education news of the day is the release of the latest results from Denver’s School Performance Framework. SPF — which in this case has nothing to do with how much protection you get from the sun — takes into account a host of measures of how DPS schools are performing, with an emphasis on student academic growth. Based on their score, each school receives one of five ratings (from best to worst):

  1. Distinguished (Blue)
  2. Meets Expectations (Green)
  3. Accredited on Watch (Yellow)
  4. Accredited on Priority Watch (Orange)
  5. Accredited on Probation (Red)

The rating determines whether individual schools receive greater autonomy and rewards or greater support and corrective action.

Two major headlines come from Denver’s latest round of SPF results:

First, as Jeremy Meyer notes in the Denver Post, the number of schools performing poorly has decreased significantly. There were 31 “red” schools in 2008, 20 in 2009 and only 14 this year (5 of which are already being closed or restructured).

Second, as Nancy Mitchell observes for Ed News Colorado:

New charter schools rank at the very top – and the very bottom – of Denver’s latest school report cards released today.

True. The two West Denver Prep campuses (#1 and #4) and the Denver School of Science and Technology (#5) rank in the top five as shining beacons of excellence. Another noteworthy performer is the non-charter Beach Court Elementary (#6), which like West Denver Prep serves more than 90 percent poverty students yet defies the odds and exceeds expectations. Twelve schools are rated “Distinguished” in 2010, up from nine the previous year.

As for the schools on the other end of the spectrum, the good news is the poorly-performing charters can be shuttered easily if they don’t improve. It’s already happening for the Denver Venture School (which is slated to combine under the more successful Envision Leadership Prep program), and bottom-of-the-list Manny Martinez Middle School may not be far behind:

“I think kids in this area need to see a dramatically better option this year,” [DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg] said Wednesday. “I think the performance is completely unacceptable.”

The kind of transparency the SPF affords to parents and educators, along with some evident improvement among schools over the past couple years, should open more eyes. The solid school accountability system is demonstrating some progress for students.