A coalition of foundations and advocacy groups on Monday unveiled a website that grades Colorado schools from A to F in what organizers say is an attempt to make it easier for parents and community members to understand how schools are performing.
A screenshot from ColoradoSchoolGrades.com.
Tim Taylor, president of Colorado Succeeds, said the grades are based on the same criteria used by the state in its accountability system, which last week issued ratings dividing schools into four categories ranging from “performance” to “turnaround.”
Taylor, who gave reporters a sneak peek of the website Friday, said those labels and the state’s highly detailed SchoolView.org portal are not easy for the average parent, community member or student to understand or navigate.
“We just didn’t think you should have to be such a savvy consumer,” he said, adding, “It’s easier to compare vacuum cleaners in Consumer Reports” than Colorado schools’ performance.
See how Colorado School Grades stack up against the state’s rating system
Taylor and some others also have been critical of the state accountability system because it gives more than 60 percent of schools the top rating of “performance.” That means schools earning 40 percent of the points possible under the state system are in the same category as schools earning 90 percent of points possible.
ColoradoSchoolGrades.com, which was developed with the Center for Education Policy Analysis at CU-Denver’s School of Public Affairs, uses the same criteria as the state’s accountability system, which is based largely on performance and growth on annual state exams.
Then the web tool overlays a stricter grading scale on the state results. So schools earning a “turnaround” label, or the lowest rating, under the state system also earn the lowest rating on the Colorado School Grades scale – an F.
But the Colorado School Grades scale slices that wide swath of other schools into narrower bands. While the state puts more than half its schools into its top category of “performance,” only 10 percent of schools – or the 186 schools earning 90 percent of points possible on the state system – rate an A. Only 38 schools, those with a 98 percent or above performance, get an A+.
In addition to an overall grade, the site lists grades for academic proficiency and academic growth and provides a snapshot of student demographics.
The website, which is in English and Spanish, allows users to compare schools and it ranks them overall. For example, it lists Denver’s popular Bromwell Elementary school in Cherry Creek as 47th out of the state’s 1,467 elementary schools. It also provides lists of Colorado’s top ten elementary, middle and high schools.
Taylor said the website has been in the works for about a year and carries a cost of about $1 million, though most of that comes in in-kind contributions of advertising. Today’s website unveiling begins a statewide 10-week media campaign that includes billboards, radio and TV ads.
“We just figure it’s another tool in the toolbox,” he said. “Somebody may find this useful and helpful.”
Colorado has used letter grades for schools before. Under former Gov. Bill Owens, the state rated schools from “E” for excellent to “U” for unsatisfactory. Those “grades” soon gave way to more descriptive labels.
And other states have adopted the more straightforward A through F approach, notably Florida, which Taylor said helped plant the seed for Colorado School Grades.
But reducing schools to a single letter often draws criticism from those who argue education is too complex for such simplistic labels. Owens’ “E” through “U” ratings sparked concerns that schools given a “U” would be stigmatized, driving away quality teachers and prompting families to flee.
Taylor said the site includes links to the state’s more detailed data and provides suggestions for parents and community members to take action to improve their schools.
“The opportunity is to get people involved to help schools get better,” he said. “Nobody wants their kids to go to a D or F school. We hope they’ll say, make our school a B or an A, make our school better.”
In addition to Colorado Succeeds, the coalition behind ColoradoSchoolGrades.com consists of Get Smart Schools, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, Stand for Children Colorado, Metro Organizations for People, Professional Association of Colorado Educators, A+ Denver, Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce, ACE Scholarships, Independence Institute, Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, Daniels Fund, The Anschutz Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, Morgridge Family Foundation, Adolph Coors Foundation and Donnell-Kay Foundation.