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Critics Question DPS Student Performance Rates

DENVER (CBS4) - There's skepticism about the latest report on student performance by Denver Public Schools.

Last week, DPS released the results from it's new student performance framework, also known as S.P.F., and it showed impressive student progress.

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Some question if the S.P.F. paints a true picture of how the kids are doing.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg says they saw the highest academic gains ever this past year, and the effort to discount that is nothing more than a political hatchet job.

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Critics say DPS is distorting the real numbers to keep schools from closing all six weeks before a school board election.

Former Denver School Board member Jeanne Kaplan says DPS is playing politics with its school performance ratings.

"The blue schools look at the proficiencies," said Kaplan, "I believe they're masking what's really happening in our classrooms."

She points to green schools, the second highest rating, where 11% of 3rd graders are proficient in reading and 4% are proficient in math.

CBS4's Shaun Boyd talks with DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. (credit: CBS)

Boasberg says that's because the district put emphasis on growth, giving it three times the weight as grade level proficiency.

"It's important to judge a school on how much progress students are making. You don't judge a school by what level students start school on the first day. That has nothing to do with what the school is doing for the kids," said Boasberg.

Kaplan says the district changed the bar. Instead of using only the state test to measure 3rd grade literacy, the district began using its own measure too.

DPS RANKING CONTROVERSY 6PKG.transfer_frame_2365
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The discrepancy at some schools called striking according to "A Plus Colorado."

For example, only 7% of 3rd graders at Academy 360 were proficient on the state test and 52% of the district's test.

At Barnum, 9% were proficient on the state test, 50% on the district test. At Swansea, 16% versus 71%.

The change meant the district went from 20 elementary schools rated red, or in danger of closing last year, to just four this year which is an 80% improvement.

"Had schools been closed in September it would have become a big election issue and this way the district has really postponed at best," said Kaplan.

Boasberg said, "You have someone who is supporting a set of board candidates who wants to attack the district."

It's important to note, DPS also scored higher on the state performance framework as well, nearly 5% overall.

Four incumbent school board members face challengers in the November election, some of them in areas where red schools were located.

Clarification and Additional Information:

The following information is provided by DPS:

The new test DPS began using last year is called Istation. It's a state test, not a district test, as our earlier report said. A teacher can give the Istation test as many times as he or she wants.

DPS chose to use Istation as part of its School Performance Framework ratings even though there are big discrepancies (see story above) between Istation and CMAS scores, with the Istation scores being much higher. Our earlier report said DPS reconciled the difference between the two scores last year, but it didn't do so last year or this year.

DPS Istation scores went up 18% this year. Van Schoales with the independent non-profit organization A+ Colorado says, "There has never been a school district in the history of America that has seen that kind of improvement in literacy in one year. We do not believe Istation represents whether kids are reading or not as compared to CMAS so the scores should be adjusted appropriately or not used for accountability purposes."

Nancy Mitchell, DPS Chief Communications Officer, says, "Our schools simply did much better on the same exact measures with the same exact expectations. We do plan to increase the cut points* on the Istation in the 2018-19 school year, along with other adjustments; this is intended to provide time for our school leaders to prepare for increased expectations in this area and others."

*Cut points are the numbers on the scale that determine proficiency.

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