Colorado released its 2014 standardized test results (TCAPs) today. Here is a quick and dirty overview of how Denver Public Schools fared. This analysis focuses on proficiency, not growth. Some say proficiency is all that matters. If you are getting to proficiency, you have to be growing. For this post “overall school proficiencies” have been calculated by averaging proficiencies for reading, math, and writing. “Proficiency gains and losses” are the total change from 2013 to 2014 for those three subjects.
The headline from this year’s TCAP results ought to be STOP! Denver Public Schools, Superintendent Boasberg, Board of Education, if you truly believe in students first, you will STOP this so-called “reform.” STOP defending the stagnant status quo. STOP using testing as a substitute for education. STOP spending taxpayers money on failing new charter schools. STOP supporting new schools at the expense of traditional neighborhood schools. STOP blaming teachers. STOP lying and masking poor achievement with growth. STOP saying schools in Denver’s Far Northeast (FNE) with proficiencies of 60% are distinguished, when distinguished schools in Central and Southeast (SE) Denver have 90% + proficiencies. This double standard does nothing positive for students. What it does say is, “FNE students, you can’t be held to the same standards as students in SE Denver.” STOP using test scores to fire teachers. STOP using the “reform” mantra of longer school day, longer school year. STOP it all because it is not working. These latest TCAP scores should be proof enough of that. Denver needs a moratorium on “reform” so educators can evaluate and assess “reform” as it relates to educating children and especially as it relates to new charter schools in general, Strive schools in particular.
Following is antithetical comparison of “reform” in DPS. This year the principal and the assistant principal of Manual High School were fired. TCAP scores in all three measured subjects reading, math, and writing increased. Overall school scores are still low, but the school is showing upward movement thanks in large part to the now-removed leadership and its commitment to the vision of the school. In fact, the welcome letter from the new principal cited these gains and commended the school’s direction. “Our TCAP results from this past year show that we are on the right track!”
Contrast this with TCAP results from Strive, the district’s largest charter chain, Strive – 8 schools, 24 measured cohorts (school location x 3 subjects) experiences proficiency decreases in 17 cohorts, increases in 2, no change in 2. Three cohorts are from a first year school where there is obviously no previous year comparison. Over a three year period the losses are even more staggering. Yet, this charter organization has four more new schools in the DPS pipeline. Something is very wrong with this picture. These replications need to STOP until an objective evaluation process can take place. (DPS is not the only “reform” district experiencing failure. Washington, D.C. schools report similar results after years of “reform,” lead by former Chancellor Michelle Rhee and current Chancellor Kaya Henderson).
Don’t be fooled by the spin that will be accompanying the release of the 2014 TCAP results. The Denver Public Schools will somehow tell you the district is doing well vis-à-vis the state (which by the way is pretty pathetic with proficiencies of 69% in reading, 56% in math, and 54% in writing and losses of 1% across the board). DPS proficiencies are 54%, 47%, and 44% with gains of 0%, 1%, and 2%. Somehow the state losses of 1% in each of the three subjects will probably translate into misleadingly strong DPS growth scores because when you measure against state losses, your numbers magically look good. But don’t be fooled.
Denver Public Schools, Superintendent Boasberg, Board of Education, if you truly do believe in students first, you will STOP this so-called “reform.” STOP lying, STOP masking poor achievement with growth, STOP touting charters as the solution, STOP blaming teachers, and STOP testing our students to death. What you are doing is not working. These latest TCAP scores should be proof of that. Denver needs a moratorium on reform. Denver needs a better way to educate our students.
Over the 10 years of so-called “reform” here are Denver’s results: reading has improved 1.4% per year, math 1.8%, and writing 1.4%. Except for 2007 the “gains” this year are the lowest per year in the 10 years of reform and show a 50% drop from last year’s 6% meager gains. At the current rate of “improvement” it will take Denver Public Schools’ students 20 years to reach 90% proficiency – which should be all districts’ goal – in reading, 24 years in math, and 33 years in writing.
How are the 41 charter schools doing? Well, Denver has four new charters this year and the results are very mixed. One located in a middle to upper class neighborhood has an overall school proficiency of 90%. The other three are at 62%, 40%, and 36%. A pretty mixed bag I have to say. The remaining 37? 14 have shown overall proficiency gains of 1% to 13%. 23 show proficiency losses of between 1% and 29%. One online charter appears to be an outlier with a 43% increase.
I want now to focus on the largest – by number of schools – charter management organization, Strive. You may recall my earlier post about how much bond money it and Denver School of Science and Technology are receiving from the Denver Public Schools. And you may recall, the former Colorado director of Stand for Children and most recently the head of the Mayor’s Office for Children has just become the Chief of External Outreach for Strive schools.
Strive currently has six middle schools and two high schools in operation. The district has promised to build another high school, another middle school, renovate a building for an elementary school, and find another location for a second elementary school. (Approximately $50 million). This is in addition to already having built, purchased, or renovated two high schools and four middle schools.
Two schools have an overall proficiency of over 50%. All are losing proficiency, the smallest loss (2%) occurring at the Evie Dennis Campus in Green Valley Ranch. It will be interesting to see if and how the District spins these losses into “growth” gains.
The SMART high school which has been in existence for two years has suffered the biggest proficiency losses, and the school has an overall proficiency of 43%, broken down into 52% in reading, 39% in math, and 38% in writing. These translate into losses of 14% in reading, 9% in math, and 7% in writing in one year. The newest high school EXCEL, in its first year of existence has an overall school proficiency of 40% – reading 47%, math 31%, and writing 40%. Of the 23 charters suffering proficiency losses this year, seven of them are Strives. Yet Strive is receiving an exorbitant percentage of bond dollars for its new schools and renovations, and academically…well, one has to be concerned about this performance, to say the least. More importantly one has to ask the questions: why is the Denver Public Schools replicating a failing model, why is Denver Public Schools spending so much taxpayer money on this franchise, and who is being held accountable?
TCAPS go away next year. They will be replaced by something called PARRC and CMAS. That is a whole other blog or three. And while I don’t put much faith in “GROWTH”, the numbers for DPS this year are horrifying. Reading went down 1 point, math was unchanged, writing went up 1 point. This equates to a zero (0) overall growth. Now if that doesn’t represent the status quo, I don’t know what does. (Read this for an explanation about MGP, Median Growth Percentile, the way Colorado calculates growth). It is time to STOP this failing, fraudulent “reform”. This year’s TCAPs deserve further analysis. I will try to provide that in the weeks to come.