22 January 2012

Denver Public Schools Ratings

There is a rating system for schools in the Denver Public Schools system (including charter schools).

The top ranking "distinguished" goes to schools that manage to produce excellent academic performance without being meaningfully selective in admissions. This ranking was awarded to West Denver Prep at Highland, Lake, Federal and Harvey Park locations, and to the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) at Stapleton and Green Valley Ranch locations.

The vast majority of schools in the DPS system are rated either "meets expectations", a notch below distinguished, or "watch", a notch below that rating. These ratings are muddied, however, because a large share of all Denver schools have multiple programs. If a school has one program that is very good (either in student growth or student academic performance) and another that isn't, the average of the multiple programs becomes uninformative. Also many schools are near the boundary line between the two rankings. Schools that have high academic performance but achieve it through selectivity tend to end up in a "meets expectations" category, since they can't compete with the "distinguished" school for student growth. Schools that have satisfactory academic growth but medicore performance also tend to end up in one of these categories.

The two bottom ranking in the system are "priority watch" and below it, "probation."

But, at this end of the scale, the inclusion of academic performance as a factor in the ranking, apart from student growth, penalizes the schools that specializing in serving students who are selectived particularly for their poor academic performance or other challenges. Among schools specially designed to meet the needs of students with special challenges, the rankings are as follows:
* Meets Expectations: Emily Griffith, Ace Community Challenge School, and Denver Justice.
* Watch: Academy of Urban Learning, Contemporary Learning Academy, and Kepner.
* Priority Watch: P.R.E.P. Academy, Colorado High School Charter, and Florence Crittenton High School (pregnant students and teen parents).
* Probation: Life Skills of Denver.

Of greater concern are the schools not specifically targeted at poor performing students that do less well.

On priority watch are Escuela Tlatelolco (while this is not formally a school targeted at challenged students, it is designed to be especially friendly to Hispanic ESL students and this effect may help explain its poor performance), and Henry World School (which is trying to be a high performing, middle school level International Bachelorate program).

Three schools serving a general population of students are on probation: Noel Middle School (not to be confused with Noel Community Arts School), Venture Prep and West High School.

West High School is arguably the worst high school targeted at a general population of students in the entire State of Colorado and has hovered at the bottom of statewide academic standards for a long time. It doesn't have the lowest high school graduation rate in the district or the state, but its performance, given the group of students who start there, is dismal.


Dave Barnes said...

"There is a rating system for schools in the Denver Public Schools system"
And, the LINK to this rating system is???
What are you?
The Denver Post who would not know a link if it bit them in the ass?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I wrote this the old fasioned way, from a paper copy of a compilation in the school choice packet. Perhaps I'll manage a link in an update at some point.

BSR said...

Andrew I don't know if you've been spending as much time as I have looking at DPS middle-schools, but since you're son is the same grade as mine, I'd guess so.

I looked at DSST (the new College View campus), and was initially impressed with their scores, but eventually came away thinking it isn't the right program for my kid. I was not comfortable with the tough-love approach they use. I also have the impression that they will gladly allow kids who aren't easily placed in a four-year college to drop from their program. This preserves their touted "100% are accepted" line. Add to that my general discomfort with charter schools pulling money away from neighborhood schools and I just wasn't interested in sending my son there.

I ended up looking at Hill, Morey and Merrill (our neighborhood school).

Hill (where my daughter had a great 3 years) is crazy-full right now.....very different from 5 years ago. Most of the honors classes have upwards of 30 kids -- some have 40 and students have to rotate using floor-space instead of desks. One class my son shadowed in had kids standing in the back. It's still a good school but seems to be a victim of its own success.

Morey seemed like a nice school. My son was very impressed with the pool and wanted to make that the deciding factor in our selection. Had I not decided on a closer school, Morey would have been just fine.

I eventually settled on Merrill. It has multiple programs as your post mentioned. Looking purely at the non ELA kids, the scores are pretty good. Their class sizes (for honors programs) are in the high-teens to low-twenties. The clincher was meeting some other Merrill parents a couple of weeks ago who genuinely love that school and feel very passionately that their kids are getting the best education DPS offers in Denver right now.

Good luck with your search, whether or not you've made up your mind!

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

We have made up our minds (the choice deadline is January 31), although I won't be posting it online.

There are a lot of choices to wade through. The form, which breaks down programs that are co-located separately, has 54 different options, and many children also consider private schools and/or a school in an adjacent school district.

Our philosophy, with both children, has been to provide information but to leave the decision to them (at least if they are sincere and informed) in hope of securing buy in to middle school, which I found to be a highly unpleasant experience at my age (there was one middle school in the district and the only private school anywhere remotely close wasn't an option). Also, there is a great deal to be said for "gut feelings" after seeing a place up close, as decisions must always be made with limited and not fully accurate information and since no numerical tool can really capture all of the important details, particularly in the muddy middle.

There does seem to be a lot of information available, "shadowing", open houses, word of mouth from older peers and parents, etc. So that helps. We visited Hill, Morey, Merrill and quite a few more with each of our children, and have heard in detail about even more options than those.