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Some Groups Claim Flawed Data From Denver Public Schools

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)- The school choice window in Denver Public Schools opens next month, and some civil rights groups say parents will be choosing schools based on flawed data.

In a letter titled "Honesty Is The Best Policy," groups ranging from the Urban League to NAACP demand that Denver Public Schools correct what they call "inflated performance rankings." They say the district is "significantly overstating literacy gains" on its School Performance Framework or SPF.

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"I was very surprised that the district went down this road and hasn't corrected them, in terms of the school ratings," says Van Schoales, head of A+ Colorado.

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Van Schoales with A+ Colorado (credit: CBS)

The independent non-profit flagged the exaggerated scores months ago.

Denver Public Schools
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Denver is the only district in the state that uses early literacy tests along with CMAS to rate its schools.

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But there's a big discrepancy between two tests. At Academy 360, only 7 percent of kids were proficient on CMAS while 52 percent were proficient on the early literacy test. At Barnum, it was a difference of 9 percent and 50 percent. At Swansea, it was 16 percent versus 71 percent. The change meant the district went from 20 elementary schools rated red - or in danger of closing - last year to just four this year - an 80 percent improvement.

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DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg calls the discrepancy "concerning." He says the district will raise the bar on early literacy tests next year to align with CMAS. But community leaders, who signed on to the letter, want the changes now.

"To say we're going to change the rules of the game long after the game has ended and give a performance target that you had no idea about before the game started or even while it was being played, I think that raises significant concerns," says Boasberg.

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DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg (credit: CBS)

Schoals says it's more concerning if they don't make the correction right away.

"Is it more unfair to say to educators, 'Oh sorry, we gave you the wrong information and we have to adjust now?' Or is it more unfair to say to families, 'Oh by the way, we told your school was going to get your kid to read, and we were wrong.'"

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Boasberg says the district will be sending letters to parents alerting them to the discrepancy in the test scores. Sean Bradley, head of Denver Urban League, says the first draft of that letter fell short. He and other community leaders will lean on the board to make sure parents are informed. The school board meeting is at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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