Response to Denver Public School’s Decision on the School Performance Framework

December 20, 2017

Denver Public Schools recently received a statement from Denver’s civil rights and community groups expressing concern with the recent school performance scores and calling for corrective measures. As business leaders in our community committed to ensuring all students are educated to their greatest potential, we are writing to express our support for their statement and their requests for urgent action.

We’ve also read Superintendent Boasberg’s written response, and respectfully disagree that providing updated school performance information is unfair. In business, as in education, course correction is a natural and necessary part of continuous improvement.

While we rarely involve ourselves in local district decision-making, DPS is a leading district in school accountability and parent choice, and its recent actions are troubling and compel us to speak out.

As a local and national leader of a student-centered policy agenda, prioritizing the interests of students above all others, DPS has made important strides on school improvement, talent development, and innovative school models for the past decade. DPS commitment to ensuring Denver kids are prepared for the jobs and opportunities of the future is commendable. DPS’ partnerships with the business community, through the CareerConnect program, offers students a rich diversity of education and training options including – STEM, dual language, arts, experiential learning, and work-based learning.

A valuable resource in helping parents navigate this diverse landscape of school options is the School Performance Framework (SPF) – mainly through the color-coded rating system that is shared in the enrollment guide each year. The SPF is also an important tool for helping educators, parents, and community members clearly see where a school is performing academically and where it needs to improve. However, a well-intended adjustment to the SPF is misrepresenting the performance of many schools and is undermining its validity and value in each area.

Specifically, the inclusion of an early learning (K-3) literacy test has dramatically impacted the accuracy of scores. Several advocacy leaders in the community have expressed concern with the assessment and the new formula DPS is using. The early literacy assessment reveals inflated proficiency scores when compared to more reliable standardized tests—a discrepancy caused by unreasonably low benchmarks that do not demonstrate reading mastery. This misalignment is concerning for several reasons. First, it’s misleading to teachers and parents about how well a student is performing. Second, it dramatically raises the overall score of an entire school. It creates scenarios in which schools that were performing in the lowest category, red, are suddenly green, the second-highest performance category.

As members of the business community, we rely on valid data to drive continuous improvement. The misleading data being shared with the community makes DPS’ efforts to improve and inform families of their options significantly more difficult. While DPS has shared revised metrics for K-3 students with individual school leaders, there is limited information and explanation being provided to the public and that is inconsistent with DPS’ vision and values.

Therefore, we urge DPS to:

  • Make the updated SPF-rankings, based on the amended testing cut-scores, available to all community members;
  • Clearly explain the problem with the original inflated SPF so families and community members can understand the issue and revisions;
  • Publicize the new, updated SPF so families and community members have the correct data when making decisions about enrollment for school year 2018-19; and,
  • Establish a process for future changes to the SPF that includes experts on performance management and key community stakeholders to ensure that the SPF remains a useful and reliable tool for families and the community on school performance.

We strongly believe DPS and the School Performance Framework can continue to be a leading example of critical information communities use to understand their schools. We also believe DPS has the leadership and ability to correct these inaccuracies. The business community is committed to helping DPS in rectifying this as soon as possible.

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