Count me among those who wouldn’t consider sending my child to a “red” school, a school that under Denver’s School Performance Framework, or SPF, is “accredited on probation.” The well-intentioned school report card system in use for over a decade in Denver Public Schools (DPS) has caused plenty of heartache for educators and families who’ve felt ill-served by overly simplified reporting. Teachers at orange or red schools saying the color-coding failed to illustrate the joy in their classrooms, and parents sometimes were surprised that a move from an orange to a green school didn’t actually serve their child better.
In August, the Board of Education will consider changes to the School Performance Framework (SPF). A committee that met this last school year is recommending that to meet state accountability requirements, DPS rely on the state’s school performance framework. Further, it recommends that for each school to present a more complete picture of its progress, the community should create a dashboard system and improvement cycle.
I’m excited about the dashboard. I think it will finally provide a way for every voice in the school system to be heard, especially the voices of parents and teachers. A dashboard designed by the community will provide the information parents and staff want to see. Measures such as: How welcome do parents feel at the school? Do children feel safe there? Does the school have high retention rates for staff and kids? How are students with special needs served? Is the teaching staff satisfied with school leadership?
In my view, one of the biggest problems with the old SPF was the way it caused a school to focus on its students who were the highest scorers, those who held the most promise for helping get the school up to the next color. What was the value for the school in that competitive and high-pressure environment to do an outstanding job executing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for a struggling learner?
My son, who’s entering third grade, shouldn’t worry about how his school ranks in comparison to other schools, and neither should I. He should be taught by highly qualified and caring teachers who’re equipped to unleash his brilliance and excitement for learning, and who worry as much as I do that he excels at everything that is expected of a third grader. I want my son’s school to meet the needs of every student and to share as much information as possible. Are all students being served well academically, and also socially and emotionally? Transportation is also important for working parents. Is school bus service available and is it reliable?
The school should celebrate its strengths in the dashboard and be honest about where it struggles, so parents and the broader community can understand where it might need resources from outside. Rather than compete with another school, maybe we could learn from each other. Some schools do an amazing job getting parents engaged and fundraising from the community – maybe this information on a school’s dashboard could be of benefit to a neighboring school.
In recommending the creation of a dashboard for schools the committee said, ” An important step in this process is to empower all schools to present themselves in the most comprehensive and accurate way possible.” This more accurate picture benefits everyone. It will lead to a better fit between students and schools, as well as between teachers and schools.
Our schools need to do a better job advancing equity, where students of every race, background and ability thrive and reach their full potential. Being responsive to the community is key to achieving this goal. Parents want and deserve information about their children’s schools. And we want to be able shape the ways in which school performance is measured. Click here to tell the school board to support all three recommendations of the community-driven SPF committee.
Sarah Titus is a Denver Public School parent who lives in Park Hill. She volunteers with Stand for Children.