By Chris Gibbons, Founder and CEO of STRIVE Preparatory Schools
Today, Denver Public Schools released its annual School Performance Framework (SPF), a comprehensive school quality measure. I’m pleased to share with you that eight of STRIVE Prep’s nine schools that were open last year met or exceeded expectations on this measure, with Ruby Hill scoring Blue (Distinguished), all six of our middle schools and our STRIVE Prep – Excel high school scoring Green (Meets Expectations), and our STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy high school scoring Yellow (Accredited on Watch). Here are a few of my reflections on the data:
STRIVE Prep schools specifically, and charters generally, are some of the best options for our communities. Among schools that exceed the district average of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, there were 19 secondary schools that scored Green or Blue on the SPF this year. Seven of these were STRIVE Prep schools, and 15 were charter schools operated by three networks. 79% percent of the schools meeting expectations for our communities of greatest need are these charters. STRIVE Prep exists to create long-lasting community change in our three regions of Denver; and I am both honored and humbled to work with such talented teachers, leaders and families to continue making good on this commitment.
High standards matter. Last week, after reviewing draft data, the district decided to lower the “cut scores” for proficiency, or status points on the SPF for a transitional period—meaning that this year a school could have fewer students meet expectations on the test and still earn full points, and that these cut points will be gradually raised back over the next two years. While I appreciate that this change affects few schools, I was disappointed by it. Our families, communities, and schools deserve a clear and consistent quality standard. The perception and the reality that we are working toward a moving target erodes confidence in the measure and limits the capacity for a school community to clearly understand its data and work urgently on areas of improvement. I want to see our entire community hold firm on this commitment to quality.
As a city, we are far from our Denver Plan 2020 goal. In 2015, the Denver Public Schools Board approved the Denver Plan 2020 goals, which included the aspirational target that 80% of schools in every neighborhood would meet expectations on the School Performance Framework. Today, 49% of schools meet expectations on the traditional framework; if the alternative and elementary frameworks are included, this number drops to 46%.
I believe the visionary target referenced above is the right goal. If we are to achieve it in four years time, we all have tremendous work to do, not just in helping our students to meet the expectations we’ve set but in clearly communicating our belief in them to reach those same expectations. At STRIVE Prep, we certainly have room for continued improvement and we will continue to regularly assess student performance based on consistent data and will shift our practices accordingly. But we will not shift our foundational belief and message to scholars—that each and every one of them can be prepared for the challenges and opportunities of college—by lowering our expectations. With or without lowered cut scores, STRIVE Prep continues to press toward the goals of the Denver Plan 2020. STRIVE Prep stands ready to do our part, in our existing schools and new schools, to make this vision of success of our students a reality.
We have our first statement of the progress of our city’s schools in this new era, defined by a higher standard of assessment on Common Core State Standards, accurately reflecting our students’ needs in their post-secondary futures, and measured by our appropriately ambitious Denver Plan 2020. It’s clear how far we have to go. While we’re proud of our green and blue schools at STRIVE Prep, this designation is far from the excellence to which we aspire, and we’ve doubled down on improvements we need to make over the remainder of the school year. This includes our continued work on serving all students, through an achievement block in each middle school where students receive research-based interventions based on specific needs. It also includes some curriculum adjustments based on data, where we are supplementing our existing curriculum resources with thoroughly vetted, external resources in areas of greatest need.
We’re excited to continue working with you all over the next years to both raise this bar and then meet it, on behalf of all students in our city.