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Tick, Tock: Accountability Clock Leading Some CO School Districts to Watershed

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Not many clocks today actually make that noise anymore. But even with the digital timepieces we’re more accustomed to now (and are pretty much all little people like me have known), if you set the alarm you know that it’s bound to go off at some point.

Whether it’s a soothing chime, a familiar radio station, or a deeply irritating Beep, beep, beep, your time to sleep (or whatever) eventually will run out. The question for struggling Colorado schools and districts is what’s going to happen after time is up. That time is drawing perilously close for some.

As Chalkbeat Colorado reports this morning, the 5-year accountability clock is quickly running out for some districts:

Since 2010, schools and districts have been rated by the Colorado Department of Education based on state standardized test scores and other measures, including graduation and drop-out rates. Schools and systems that fall in the bottom 5 percent are asked to improve.

If schools and districts identified as failing don’t climb out of the bottom 5 percent in five years, the board is required to step in.

In the case of districts, the board must rescind accreditation, a move that puts student diplomas and federal funding at risk. In the case of schools, the state must recommend school improvement strategies to the local school board.

Eight of Colorado’s 178 school districts (Adams 14, Aguilar, Ignacio, Julesburg, Montezuma-Cortez, Pueblo 60, Sheridan, and Westminster 50) stand on the verge of major sanctions — unless they rise above one of the two lowest accreditation ratings when results are released in the fall.

Even then, they can appeal the judgment to the State Board of Education. But if their appeal is lost, they could be faced with some dramatic choices. After receiving input from a review panel, the State Board can tell districts they lose their accreditation status if they don’t follow a plan that could include one or more of the following:

  • Consolidation with another district
  • Takeover of some or all schools by a public or private management entity
  • Conversion of one or more schools into charters
  • Creation of an innovation status plan for some or all of the district
  • Closure of schools

The district of course can reject the plan, but losing accreditation status means jeopardizing federal funds and the automatic acceptance of student diplomas. Mind you, in less than a year Colorado could be facing some uncharted ground. Odds are strong that at least some of the eight faltering districts will reach the critical impasse.

Today, one of those eight districts (Pueblo 60) is making a presentation to the State Board about their plans to improve and avoid possible sanctions. Three other districts — Greeley, Denver, and Aurora (which is just one year behind the eight on the accountability clock) — are slated to make similar presentations about how to improve poorly performing individual schools that face similar accreditation sanctions. I count 27 schools statewide that are in Year 5 and nearing the brink.

Next year could bring some dramatic firsts to the world of Colorado K-12 education. Let’s sincerely hope that some are able to avert crisis and that any major changes lead to more opportunities for Colorado kids to achieve and succeed. Because sadly, many students can hear a similar daunting Tick Tock facing their educational futures.