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The Douglas County School District made a successful bid to elevate its state performance rating. For the first time since the 2009-10 academic year, DCSD ranks as “Accredited with Distinction” — the highest of the Colorado Department of Education's five tiers.
DCSD was among several districts that requested the state reconsider its ranking. By excluding the performance of the district's highest-risk students and factoring in improved ACT scores and graduation rates, the CDE agreed Douglas County merited its top rating.
District leaders are delighted. Those critical of its education reforms say the ranking is misleading.
“Certainly to move up into that top echelon speaks wonderful volumes about our teachers, our district and our students,” school board president Kevin Larsen said. “I and the rest of the board have been confident all along this time would come, and here we are. It means we're doing good things for kids. So let's celebrate it, but keep pushing all of our schools to help our kids learn at an even higher level.”
Strong Schools Coalition president Laura Mutton noted that while the district's ACT composite score increased slightly from 2013 to 2014 — from 21.8 to 22.1 — scores on the last Transitional Colorado Assessment Program were flat.
“I think it would be unfortunate if the district were to mislead the community into thinking their `accredited with distinction' (means) the reforms have resulted in overall improvement in academic achievement, when that clearly isn't the case,” Mutton said. “This board promised to improve academic achievement. We haven't seen any significant gain. That's important for the community to know.”
But CDE accountability director Alyssa Pearson believes the district earned the boost in its ranking.
“There are things to celebrate from 2013 to 2014,” she said.
DCSD is among several districts that serve a significant number of students in Alternative Education Campuses. Recent state legislation allows the state to re-evaluate the accreditation category of such districts. In Douglas County, those campuses include Castle Rock's Daniel C. Oakes alternative high school, Eagle Academy night high school held at Highlands Ranch High, and Hope Online high school.
Hope Online, which began operating as a DCSD charter school in 2008, offers K-12 virtual learning to students statewide. Most have limited educational options and do not live in Douglas County.
In 2013, DCSD made a similar appeal to the state, but removing the alternative education students wasn't enough to move the district into the “distinction” category then. In 2014, removing that data combined with improvements in graduation rates for all students, graduation rates for students with disabilities, and the composite ACT score was sufficient to elevate the district's rating. Additionally, while the alternative ed students weren't part of the 2014 reconsideration, their performances also improved.
Larsen said he's proud of DCSD for reaching out to Hope Online and other high-risk students.
“Some districts may look at it and say the cost of this rating, our reputation, is too great for us,” he said. “We never took that approach. We thought this is worthy, and we're in the business of providing good education. If we can extend beyond our traditional path to a school, or a school network with kids who really need a place to learn, we're all for it.
“The fact that they've steadily increased each year and now have moved themselves into the performance category — it seems like we're all winning. And most importantly the kids are winning. I find that to be a good story.”
Twenty-seven of the state's 182 districts received the “accredited with distinction” ranking in 2014. Some of those on the Front Range are Littleton, Boulder Valley, Monument's Lewis-Palmer, and Academy and Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs.
The majority of the state's districts— 102 — are designated “accredited.”
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