By Peter Marcus Denver Daily News
February 7, 2011
Denver Public Schools is not paying enough attention to its middle schools, which is holding the district back from significantly improving its high school graduation rate, according to a report released last week by education reform advocates.
The report, "Preparing Denver Middle Graders for Success: A Roadmap for the Distric" was released by Padres Unidos and researched by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the University of Colorado Denver. While DPS has placed a focus on turning around high schools, the district has not placed enough focus on middle schools, according to the report.
"Students do not begin to fail once they walk through the doors of high school," states the report. "For most, dropping out of high school is just the final step in a series of academic failures, and most students who are going to drop out do so early in their high school years."
DPS faces a dismal high school graduation rate of 53 percent.
It appears DPS is losing the most ground during sixth, seventh and eighth grades, according to the report. The percentage of eighth-graders who are able to read, write and do math at grade level is lower than the percentage of sixth-graders performing at grade level, according to the report.
In fact, math scores drop 18 percentage points during middle school; reading scores drop four percentage points.
"When less than three in 10 eighth-grade students are performing at grade level in math, and just four in 10 read at grade level, focusing solely on high school reform is too late for too many students," states the report.
For the study, researchers examined eight middle schools in Denver and made comparisons. The report found that several schools are finding greater success by setting defined expectations for academic success, creating a so-called "college-going culture," and motivating teachers to excel, while setting high expectations for themselves.
As a result, the report recommends that for its middle schools, DPS should:
Focus on intervention;
Equip teachers with real-time information about student progress;
Expand learning time at schools with the greatest needs;
Create partnerships in the community with education and developmental non-profits;
Focus on the future with a college preparatory curriculum;
Put the best principals in the schools that need them the most;
Provide training for principals;
Hold students accountable for their behavior;
Hire only the best teachers;
Provide training for teachers;
Allow teachers more time for planning; and
Remove ineffective teachers.
Reformers may see some improvement in teacher performance following passage of legislation last year that holds teachers accountable for their performance. Senate Bill 191 requires that teachers prove their worth before being granted or extended tenure. Fifty-percent of teacher evaluations will be based on student academic growth. "It is time for the district to accelerate the adoption of the school-level practices we know are critical to student success," states the report.