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Three Douglas County elementary schools — two of them charters — earned an A-plus rating in this year's Colorado School Grades rankings.
Parker Core Knowledge, Platte River Academy and Redstone Elementary were rated top performers on the list.
Parker Core Knowledge was rated first among 1,101 elementary schools. It tied with eight other elementary schools for the No. 1 spot in the state.
Launched in 2011, the coalition of 18 education-focused organizations that form Colorado School Grades translates Colorado Department of Education data into letter grades.
In Douglas County, the most common grade — 39 out of 89 rated — was a B. A total of 17 got an A; 29 scored a C. The only DCSD schools receiving D and F ratings were eDCSD and three levels of Hope Online.
Ratings for Douglas County schools dropped from 2012 to 2013, but showed little change from 2013 to 2014.
In 2012, 26 of 85 schools graded received an A, 38 a B and 16 a C.
The Douglas County School District said Colorado School Grades is not a comprehensive measurement.
“Colorado School Grades is one tool that utilizes mostly CDE (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) TCAP results,” DCSD spokeswoman Paula Hans wrote in an email, referring to the annual state standardized test. “This is just one data point and does not capture the true performance and excellence found in our schools and demonstrated by our students.
“Even by this measure, the district and our schools are wonderful places for students, and we want more. One test score on one day is not enough data for our staff, parents and students.”
The Colorado School Grades' coalition includes the Independence Institute, Morgridge Family Foundation, Daniels Fund, Walton Family Foundation, Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce, Urban League of Metropolitan Denver and the Anschutz Foundation, among others.
Many of the organizations support education reform and increased educational options, but spokeswoman Kristina Saccone said Colorado School Grades' goal here is to make it easy for parents to see how a school is performing.
The University of Colorado at Denver and R-Squared Research calculate the grades using the same variables and weights as the CDE's School Performance Framework, according to Colorado School Grades' website.
“We're just using the data and making it transparent for parents so they can make a good choice for their child,” Saccone said. “There really isn't any other agenda.”
CDE data is difficult for parents to decipher, she said, and website visits for Colorado School Grades suggest consumers like it.
“I think Colorado School Grades is ubiquitous with school ratings in Colorado,” she said. “Our site numbers and metrics are very good.”
CDE confirmed Colorado School Grades' uses its data, “but norms the results to assign letter grades to schools,” according to an email from spokeswoman Megan McDermott.The following is a further look at the schools that received an A-plus grade.
Parker Core Knowledge
Parker Core Knowledge, which recently celebrated its 20 year, now can add another feather to its school cap.
Director Teri Aplin attributes its high rating to good preparation, high-quality teachers and hard-working students.
COMPARE: 2014 PCK scores vs. 2013
“Our children are prepared in the grade before, so the teacher is able to take them and move them up,” she said. “We have high-quality, highly effective teachers. And I think the third part is just hard-working students who are interested in learning and work hard to succeed. They have to be very diligent students here to be successful because there's a lot expected of them.”
That hard work is tempered with genuine affection, she said.
“I think the students all know they're cared for,” she said. “That's an intangible that's hard to quantify. Even vendors comment that it feels different. This school's always had this special something.”
Platte River Academy
Principal Mike Munier, of Platte River Academy in Highlands Ranch, is pleased but not surprised by his school's A-plus grade and ranking at 14 among 1,101 elementary schools statewide.
“No matter what kind of test you throw at them, I've always thought our kids would do fine,” he said. “They're just well-rounded students. But it's nice to be recognized.”
COMPARE: 2014 PRA scores vs. 2013
Like Parker Core Knowledge, Platte River emphasizes high academic expectations with homework to reinforce classroom lessons.
“As we're teaching them the skills of reading, mathematics and writing, they're dealing with challenging content that really does test them and get them thinking in different directions,” Munier said. “When you come to Platte River, you kind of know what to expect in terms of curriculum, cultural experience and philosophy. People choose Platte River because it fits who and what they are as a family, the learning style of their student.”
Since the site debuted in 2011, the Highlands Ranch neighborhood school has shot to the top of the Colorado School Grades list. It received an A-plus grade in 2014, and tied for 14 with Platte River.
“We've gone from being 115 four years ago to being ranked 14,” said Principal Laura Wilson, who attributes that in part to a long-standing relationship with her teachers.
COMPARE: 2014 Redstone scores vs. 2013
“I've had the luxury of being with my staff for 10 years, pushing them, them trusting me and me trusting them — which I think is huge,” she said. “They continuously learn and grow, and it's all about the kids.”
Redstone is unique within DCSD for its iPad program. In 2012, it ensured each student had an iPad. Recently, the Apple computer company named it an Apple Distinguished School, recognizing its innovation, leadership and educational excellence.
To see your school's rating the Colorado School Grades list or research other schools, visit the organization's web site.
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