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Superintendent: We Must be Accountable for Every Child

UPrep Steele student explains her classwork to Supt. Tom
A student at University Prep-Steele Street explains her classwork to Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

The following commentary by DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg appeared Nov. 13 in The Denver Post in response to concerns about the district’s School Performance Framework and the new Academic Gaps indicator.

Hardworking, passionate teachers and school leaders are the heart and soul of Denver Public Schools, and an invaluable resource for students, families and the greater community. Without their service to Denver’s kids, we would not have seen the record high number of schools achieving our top ratings on the 2017 School Performance Framework (SPF).

To construct a school performance framework that is equitable to all schools in our large, diverse district, we find it necessary to focus on both growth and status measures. Historically, the SPF has placed greater weight on student growth over the course of the school year in order not to prejudice or advantage a school based on the academic level at which students enter a given school. A school has no control over which students they serve; its mission is to make sure that all students they do serve demonstrate growth and progress.

Between 2016 and 2017, one-third of our schools increased their overall SPF rating, fueled partly by our students’ record growth in English language arts and early literacy. And, thanks to our teachers’ dedication to improving student achievement, we have reduced the number of schools receiving our lowest SPF rating by two-thirds, from 31 to 10.

If we are to fulfill DPS’ vision that Every Child Succeeds, we must hold ourselves accountable for the success of every child. To emphasize our commitment to equity, we introduced the Academic Gaps indicator to ensure all kids are learning. While we have made very significant progress with students from all demographic groups over the last decade, very large and painful academic gaps persist in Denver and across the country among students of different income levels and racial/ethnic groups.

In Denver and across the state, our more privileged students have been demonstrating not only higher academic status (grade-level proficiency) but also stronger academic growth. This is deeply concerning to us, as I know it is to families and teachers throughout Denver, as it results in our gaps growing. The Academic Gaps rating is not designed to punish anyone, but to highlight the urgency and importance of our mission to serve all kids and close these gaps.

On the surface, the Academic Gaps rating itself may seem like a single metric. In fact, the rating is comprised of up to 35 different measures of student and school performance data (depending on whether the school serves elementary, middle or high school students). We piloted this rating, then called the Equity Indicator, on the 2016 SPF, and shared with school leaders, community members and families that it would affect overall SPF scores this fall.

In DPS, we believe deeply in the potential of every child. We also believe that there are few things more powerful than the focused attention of a community of educators working together to achieve a goal. If the rating had affected overall scores in 2016, 34 schools would have been affected. In just one year, the number of schools impacted by the Academic Gaps rating dropped by two-thirds. This is a powerful demonstration of what can happen when teachers and school leaders intensify their focus in this area and is, we believe, a positive sign for the future of Denver’s kids.

It is vitally important that we continue to have these tough discussions about our values and the choices we make as a district to serve all students in our city well. I want to personally extend my gratitude and respect to DPS’ dedicated teachers and school leaders who help our students thrive each and every day. Together, we can ensure that Every Child Succeeds.