Dr. Walt Cooper
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The work the Colorado Department of Education undertakes to evaluate and rank all schools and school districts in the state is important work. It is important to school leaders and teachers as a tool to benchmark our progress toward meeting the expectations of the Colorado Academic Standards. It is important to parents as a component to help them decide in which neighborhoods they would like to live and which schools they want their children to attend. It is important for non-parent taxpayers, too, as they want to be assured that their local schools are worthy of their support and that the claim of good schools contributing to strong property values holds true.
In 2010, Colorado undertook large-scale changes to accrediting schools by developing what were termed school and district “performance frameworks.” These frameworks were a robust attempt at using a complicated mathematical approach to considering how well schools (and districts) performed. Beyond the more simple and expected measure of student performance on state assessments, the frameworks also attempted to show how much student achievement grew from one year to the next and how well schools progressed toward meeting the needs of specific student groups like students with disabilities, second language learners, and other at-risk student populations. While understandably not a perfect mechanism, the frameworks did provide us with useful information, and all schools in the Cheyenne Mountain School District were consistently accredited at the highest level possible based on their outcomes.
However, since 2014, Colorado has not had a reliable system for evaluating and accrediting schools. As Colorado moved away from the the state tests (CSAP/TCAP) that had been in place for nearly 20 years, the foundation of the state’s accreditation system was eliminated. At the time, most everyone knew that there would be a period of transition, but we were also assured that, at least mathematically, the transition from one state assessment to another could be made effectively. What was unforeseen was the myriad of problems beyond the math, from technical glitches to parent and political opposition to the tests themselves, that would render the current accountability system useless. As a result, school accreditation in Colorado has been put on hold for the last two years. But, there is good news on the horizon.
In April, the state released a set of proposed revisions to the performance frameworks that most likely will be implemented based on this spring’s state assessment administration. The recommendations are the result of more than a year’s work by a broad-based accountability workgroup and appear to take a much more sensible approach to evaluating student achievement, academic growth, and graduate preparedness so that, once again, state accreditation of schools can become important work.