The most successful reforms in Denver Public Schools are the least heeded

(She’s here and willing to answer your questions — DPS debaters, have at! – promoted by ProgressiveCowgirl)

While the politics of education reform swirl all around us, it’s important to keep clear on what works and what doesn’t.  The good news is that the Denver Public Schools is actually doing very well in supporting a particular segment of our student population, English learners.  The confusing part is that we seem ready to ignore that fact and follow a path that is completely divergent from real, lasting reform.  The right path to close the achievement gap and provide opportunity for all Denver’s students is clear, and we would do well to heed the evidence.

In 1999, the Department of Justice won a decision on behalf of the Congress of Hispanic Educators which asserted that the Denver Public Schools lacked adequate programs for students of limited English proficiency.  DPS was ordered to allow parents to choose either full Spanish-language instruction, sheltered instruction (English with instructions in Spanish) or complete English immersion for their children  (Click here to read those court documents).

Around 35 percent of DPS students are classified as English language learners (ELLs).  Not all these students come from Spanish-speaking homes; they also speak Vietnamese, Arabic, Somali, Nepali, and Karen/Burmese.  Spanish-speaking students represent around 57 percent of DPS’ ELL population.

The CSAPs taken in March 2011 show that “exited” ELLs, or those students who now are proficient enough to be placed in English-only classrooms, outperform district averages.  Keeping in mind that these standardized tests are only an indicator of performance, these students also have surpassed Asian/Pacific Islander and Anglo students in many categories.  These exited ELLs now take the CSAP in English.

The following graphs show the percentages of elementary-aged ELLs scoring at or above proficiency in subjects tested by CSAP.  ELLs outperform their Anglo counterparts in reading, writing and math and are very competitive with Asian students in science.

In middle school, ELLs outperform Asian students in reading, writing and math, though they lag behind them in science, as well as behind their Anglo counterparts in all areas.

Finally, for high schoolers, ELLs outperform the district average in all subjects except science.

DPS clearly successfully prepares ELLs for an English-speaking world and is rapidly closing the achievement gap.  In just a few short years, we will see impressive overall improvement in the rates of students testing at or above proficiency on the CSAPs.  Obviously, one of the best reform tools is the ELA program used in our neighborhood schools.  

However, few of the most recent innovation schools approved by the Board of Education feature ELA programs as found in our neighborhood schools.  The overwhelming majority of teachers hired at these new schools are uncertified and therefore do not have the credentials to teach in our ELA classrooms.  None of our charter schools provide parents the right to choose appropriate instruction for their children, nor do they offer any ELA program at all.  

If our ELA programs work so well for such a significant number of our students, why wouldn’t we insist upon them in every school, or just require new schools to meet certain criteria?

There is also the issue of civil rights.  The 1999 court decision also found that DPS was in violation of the Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which guarantee all students the right to equal educational opportunity.  If education truly is the civil rights issue of our time, we should ensure that every school, public, charter or innovation, meets or exceeds our ELA program found in neighborhood schools.

Our ELA program is there for the taking, and all a parent need do is ask.  There is no application or lottery, only an aptitude test to make recommendations to the parent.  There is no special grant needed to pay for it; it’s a normal expenditure in our budget.  But in our pell-mell hurtle toward “innovation,” we have stripped away opportunity from the children that most need support.  For non-English speaking parents, there is no longer a choice.  ELLs now desperately hunt for a school that could serve them or just simply flounder without support.  We have become a district that creates diasporas, not opportunity.

The path to closing the achievement gap and, therefore, a strong school district, is to ensure that all our students have equitable opportunities to robust and challenging academics.  We have to reform schools according to the needs of the kids actually in our schools, not for kids we might wish we had.

This November, the Board will consider approval of a few new schools.  Denver residents, please tell your elected board representatives at to first carefully consider the actual needs of our children and to put sound educational policy in place of ideology or buzzwords.  It is, after all, for the kids.

P.S.: You can read up on other policy issues, sign up for my newsletter, etc., at my website,  Proud to be the only school board member in Colorado with an outreach-focused website!

78 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ProgressiveCowgirl says:

    I’ll promote it if you’re discussing (cause candidates/electeds who come by and answer questions instead of just driveby diarying always deserve the props), if not I’ll leave it to Guvs and Rork to decide since I’m not a Denverite myself 🙂

    • andreamerida says:

      Happy to answer questions related to this article and to education policy.

      • BlueCat says:

        Data on which of these proved most effective? Broken down by grades? Just wondering because I know it’s more difficult for a teen or adult to learn a new language while it’s much easier for very young children.  

        In my parents era (born mid 20s) there were no bilingual classes for the chidren of the many urban immigrants from Europe but the  children who were born here to non-English speakers, as my parent’s were, and the ones who came here at 5  or younger had no trouble picking English up when they  entered school without special programs and quickly could speak both their parents’ language and English fluently.

        In our Vietnamese neighbors’ case back in the 80s, there was no Vietnamese instruction available when our kids entered kindergarten. They spoke some English but their little girl went into kindergarten not speaking any and any came out speaking American English with no accent and with nothing available in her first language.

        These would be natural cases of immersion and young children have been doing great with it for generations, often having had no alternative. They seem to be much more able to pick up new languages and I wonder if bilngual education for very young children holds them back from learning English.

        Your thoughts or any hard data?


        • andreamerida says:

          I’ve lumped the data by school age range (elementary, middle school, high school), so that’s a pretty clear picture of what’s happening.

          Finding out the distinction between each level of ELA support is actually a great question.  I’ll look into it.

          It’s very easy to lump learners together, but according to a a report called “Common Assumptions and Evidence Regarding English Language Learners in the United States,” they state:

          Many factors can impact how ELL students adapt to school settings, such as

          prior schooling, socioeconomic position, cultural background, and immigrant

          status. Long-term studies conducted on the academic experiences of ELL

          students by Thomas and Collier determined that the amount of prior primarylanguage

          formal schooling received is the most significant predictor of an

          ELL’s second-language achievement (Thomas and Collier, 2002).

          The problem with using anecdotes as evidence, sometimes, is that they don’t drill down to root causes or whichever assets the students may bring to the table.  Not every kid is the same, and some are more language-apt than others.  I was one of those kids, being the daughter of immigrants and the first natural-born American citizen in my entire family.  We spoke both languages at home, and I’m still fluent in Spanish.  But IQ test after test I’ve ever taken shows that I have a high level of intelligence in the verbal/language sectors.  I’m not a fair comparison.

          The report also states:

          The myth that early generations of immigrants were able to acquire English

          language proficiency without ELL accommodations has encouraged a

          persistent belief that rapidly increasing a child’s exposure to English is an

          effective instructional approach (Adams and Jones, 2006). Nonetheless,

          historical evidence suggests that immigrants have consistently struggled to

          learn English to succeed in school and in the labor market, and have always

          required support to learn English and successfully assimilate.

          • andreamerida says:

            American Institutes for Research:

            • BlueCat says:

              Although I have a hard time viewing as myth something that was so universal in my parent’s generation in my neighborhood. Anecdotal, yes, but literally every member of my extended family of that generation and all of their friends and friends my own age who came here at early ages and the children of our Vietnamese friends…all the same.  I think it’s a bit more than myth and I’m pretty sure studies show  we have a few years early in life during which it’s pretty much as easy to acquire  two or more languages as one. I’ll have to search that.

              • andreamerida says:

                I think we aren’t measuring those anecdotes to see what’s really happening there.  I clearly remember teaching my grandmother words in English, for example.  

                I think close-knit communities give each other a lot of subtle support, too.

                And I agree that the research tells us that it’s easier for younger kids to learn other languages, which probably accounts for the performance of our elementary kids.

      • dwyer says:

        Does the court or the Department of Justice oversee any of the DPS programs?  Is the Congress of Hispanic Educators

        satisfied that the programs currently offered by DPS meet the needs as laid out in the 1999 court decision?

        It is hard for me to understand what the legal problem, if any is.

        • andreamerida says:

          The court ordered periodic monitoring of the program and compliance with the order.  The last monitor’s report was filed in 2005.

          Keep in mind that this last report was filed roughly around the time that Omar D. Blair charter (Denver’s first) was founded.  This was sort of like two ships passing in the night.  

          In my conversations with CHE, some have expressed great alarm about the fact that these new schools DO NOT comply with the decision.

          I guess the real issue here are the civil rights implications of only having “certain” schools for “certain” kids.  As a choice district, a kid should have reasonable assurance of being served, whether ELL or special-needs or gifted/talented, wherever he/she ends up.

          • dwyer says:

            Why doesn’t CHE  return to the Department of Justice and request help?

            It would seem to me that there is a real question as to whether or not DPS is in compliance.

            I see this as a legal issue, not a political one or even one of educational policy.

            Would you have standing to go to the Department of Justices’ Civil Rights Division?

  2. glasscup says:

    A few questions related to this…

    When you founded DeFENSE, who did you found it with?

    Why did you found DeFENSE, and do you think it helps DPS function better to have an anonymous attack group you founded attacking your fellow board members?

    Why have you and DeFENSE still not filed any documentation with anyone regarding your political activities?

    I’m sure others will have other questions on this, I seem to remember some polsters having a floating list of questions that the account DeFENSEDenver and others would never answer.


  3. bluestater says:

    Something I’ve always been personally curious about, did you ever apologize to Michelle Moss for what you did to her? Even though she helped you (narrowly) win your seat, etc?

  4. bluestater says:

    I know a lot of other board member have full-time employment and stuff (especially because you’ve accused them of conflicts of interest based on it), but I’ve never actually seen what you do besides design websites for DeFENSE, etc. Who do you work for / receive moeny from? I don’t think I’ve ever seen whether you had a job or anything in a bio, and I think it would help to judge your criticisms of conflicts of interest, etc.

    • sxp151 says:

      is here to trash Merida without, you know, any evidence of actual disagreements.

      I have nothing against criticizing politicians, but I don’t understand what posters are criticizing her FOR. It’s all just tedious “meta” nonsense about process and disclosure instead of discussing anything remotely related to, you know, education.

  5. ProgressiveCowgirl says:

    Well, it’s not as if Andrea wasn’t aware of the reception she’d get here, I suppose. But does anyone besides Blue actually have policy questions for her, or did we all take jobs with oppo research firms this week?

    • bluestater says:

      The problem is that engaging her on that stuff gives her credibility that she doesn’t deserve, given what a partisan hack she’s been and everything she’s done to fuck up the school board / contribute to its general dysfunction.

      If she wanted to have a serious discussion, instead of political chicanery, she should have behaved that way on the school board (and off), instead of just engaging in paid attacks on Bennet for the Romanoff campaign without disclosing them, etc.

      She isn’t a policy person, she’s a political hack dedicated to attacking reformers in Denver. If she was really interested in policy discussions, I’d have them with her, but that’s not how she’s behaved. She hasn’t earned that.  

      • catpuzzle says:

        This lady isn’t credible on policy questions. She is a political hack and if we have the opportunity to ask her questions we shouldn’t be playing her games with her, we should be demanding accountability and answers for the way’s she’s been fucking with DPS. She has done kids in Denver (where I live, Dwyer) a huge disservice. Until she answers questions about that, she has no credibility.

        It’s really a shame she isn’t being recalled. She’s the one who would deserve it.  

          • ProgressiveCowgirl says:

            That they only show up when issues come up that are of particular interest TO particular Denver interests…

            And by the way, I think Defense Denver is a sham organization that deserves to be investigated, shut down, and paraded around town as the laughingstock of the local political community. Guerin Green convinced me of that months ago.

            But nonetheless, these shills are on my last nerve, yo. An elected wants to answer policy questions and all they can do is harass her personally. FFS.

            • catpuzzle says:

              For example, I am (and have long been) interested in Denver School Board politics.

              As a result of this, I strongly supported Michael Bennet last year.

              I was also interested in the Denver municipal elections.

              And I have various other interests, just look through my posts. I’ve blogged about a variety of different things

              But I certainly won’t deny that I have primary interests that I think are worth up my speaking up on. While I read frequently, I don’t have time to blog all the time, so I only post when I think stuff is really important to comment on.

              I’ve been here awhile, commenting awhile, blogging more frequently than you yourself do. My issues with Andrea are much deeper than just DeFENSE – she has fucked up the function of the school board, and education is too important for her bs politics.

              Notably, she’s refused to answer any of these questions. Not for the first time, either.  

              • dwyer says:

                If you are a denver voter, say so.  Identify which district you

                live in.

                • PERA hopeful says:

                  I mean that.  Your constant questioning of people who comment on Denver public school affairs is clearly intended to intimidate and chill people who are commenting.  Where do you live?  Where do you vote?  If you are a Denver voter, say so.  Identify which district you live in.  How many children do you have?  Identify which schools your children attend.  If I do not like your answers, then you are disqualified from commenting further.

                  And of course I have no right to disqualify you from commenting, I have no right to ask any of those questions, and neither do you.  So knock it off.

                  • cdsmith says:

                    Basically, dwyer is pointing out what’s completely obvious to the rest of us: that there’s shilling and sockpuppetry going on here.  A bunch of people that we don’t see anywhere else all show up to comment only on diaries on this one issue, and it’s nothing substantial or coherent… just general negative B.S.  It’s not like these are serious contributors we’re talking about.  Be glad I’m not in charge, because I’d be banning them to improve the quality of discussion.

                    • BlueCat says:

                      I asked a question and I don’t live in Denver and I haven’t had a child in K-12 for a decade but I didn’t think those who had general questions about education issues were barred from participating.  

                      I’ve also expressed my views on Douglas County trying to bypass the state constitution to give taxpayer money to private religious schools and on whether or not creationism/intelligent design belongs in science classes. Guess I had no right to say anything about another school district’s policies or about the creationism issue since creationism wasn’t taught in Littleton Schools during the time I had a child in that school system.  Do I get to discuss, say, the political chances of a candidate for a CD other than my own?  I wouldn’t want to overstep.

                      Are there any other restrictions Dwyer would like to fill me in on? Perhaps he/she/? would like to provide the rest of us with a manual of some kind.

                    • dwyer says:

                      I certainly can not and do not attempt to keep anyone from posting.  Particularly when a BOE school member is posting a diary and asking questions.

                      I have every right to ask where people vote. It is not an attempt to intimidate (as if anyone posting here is vulnerable to being intimidating!) It is an attempt to clarify where someone is coming from, literally.  Evidently it works, given the reaction of people who don’t want to identify their relationship to the Denver Board of Education.

                      she has fucked up the function of the school board, and education is too important for her bs politics.

                      cat puzzle posted the above that is a partisan political comment with which I disagree.  So, I have the right to ask if cat puzzle is a constituent of Merida and/or votes in Denver.

                      I think it untoward to hijack the diary with the political pile on.,,,but it does happen every time DPS is mentioned or Merida specifically.  It pisses me off.  There are real issues facing Denver voters. As I say, there are those who pile on with their own political agenda that has nothing to do with Denver schools.  

                      To the best of my recollection, I have never asked anyone what DPS school their child attends; if I have, I should be ignored.  I live in Denver.  I vote in Denver. I do not currently have any child in DPS; I have had in the past.  

                    • BlueCat says:

                      But I don’t think you have much grounds for complaint if people respond by telling you to piss off.  

                    • BlueCat says:

                      Piss off.

                    • dwyer says:

                      I am not important.  Let me be.  What is it that you can’t resist?  This is all beyond me.

                    • BlueCat says:

                      I’m truly sorry.  I had no idea you were so fragile.  Better stay on Ralphie’s good side if you’re begging for mercy from little ol’ me, that’s all I have to say! But sure, I’ll let you be.

                    • cdsmith says:

                      Of course you have every right to say anything you want.  This was about the sockpuppets who I, for one, have never seen except on this diary.

                    • BlueCat says:

                      Find the constant where do live, where do you vote, where does your kid go to school demands annoying as hell.  Pretty funny to me that Dwyer now admits not having a kid in school so the logical implication of Dwyer’s own favorite grounds for confrontation would be that Dwyer should tell Dwyer to stay out of it.  

            • Obvious Alias says:

              Catpuzzle also used to show up to defend then former Superintendent Bennet, and also Superintendent Boasberg.  (s)he doesn’t just rant against Merida, she rants against anyone who opposes her and her crew 🙂

        • dwyer says:

          The recall effort against Merida failed.  It is a shame that as a Denver voter you didn’t know that. Evidently her constituents are pleased with her efforts,even if you are not.

          Since she is in a constant minority on the BOE, perhaps you could identify exactly what “disservice” she has done for the kids in Denver.

          Let me clear.  My goal is not to defend Merida, my intent is to clarify exactly what you are talking about, cp.  If you think she has done a “disservice,” then you should be specific and if she doesn’t answer, then I would join you in criticizing her.

      • dwyer says:

        I don’t think I have seen you blog here before.

      • Hito says:

        The problem is that engaging her on that stuff gives her credibility that she doesn’t deserve, given what a partisan hack she’s been and everything she’s done to fuck up the school board / contribute to its general dysfunction.

        You know, for a Democrat, you seem awfully unwilling to actually look at the evidence provided and argue based on that evidence.  You are just like most of the Benn-i-tards I know — all about the ideology and nothing about the facts.

        So, let me help your simple mind out by boiling the argument down for you: Merida is saying that ELA students are out performing other DPS students in terms of student growth.  However, most of the new schools approved by the school board do not have ELA programs.  Got it?

        Do you actually have an opinion somewhere based on facts or do you just want to mud sling to distract from the fact that education reform under Bennet/Boasberg is a failure?  I’ve got lots of data on that one.

        If you don’t have any facts to back you up, let me see if I can give you some points for argument. See if these work for you.  They would for most Republicans.    

        You could throw in some dogma about Merida costing Colorado jobs.  I like this one: Keeping schools open is costing job growth among small businesses.  Republicans love that one.  

        Maybe this is more to your taste: The union is between a man and a woman.  Or, if that doesn’t suite you, maybe this will work: It is every American’s job to fight the terrorist threat.  We must close our schools now!

        Undoubtedly these feel good to you.  They comply with the model of argument you seem to prefer.

        In a way, it’s like you’re George W. Bush. You’ll do what is politically expedient rather than what is good for the country. You’ll protect the ne’er do wells like Michael Bennet, Michael Johnson, and Michael Hancock, aka the Three Michaels of the Apocalypse, at least in terms of making any headway toward actually reforming our schools. You’ll preach accountability, as long as it doesn’t touch Democratic big wigs who support “the reform.”

        You know, that George W. Bush thing gives me an idea.  I’m sure this one will work for you: We could give tax breaks to those who attend a charter school.  That works for me.  My kid attends a charter.

  6. Ralphie says:

    And one of them was whether she was going to hang around to answer questions?

    Good job promoting a drive-by, PC.

    You have a lot to learn.

    • ProgressiveCowgirl says:

      That’s what she promised. She didn’t promise to answer questions about whether or not she apologized to some random non-Polster for some past offense.

      I don’t really like her that much myself, but Sirota got a chance to chat and she deserves one, too.

      But I do agree I have a lot to learn. As do we all. That’s kind of the point of being alive, no? When I stop having a lot to learn, shove me out on an ice floe for the polar bears if any of them aren’t extinct yet.

      And if I ever THINK I no longer have a lot to learn, you have permission to give me the same kick in the butt that you deserve for implying you don’t have a lot to learn yourself 😉  

      • Ralphie says:

        Because you promoted Sirota.

        Two wrongs don’t make a right.

        • ProgressiveCowgirl says:

          I’ll vote for you, and you can do this, and I can sit on the sidelines and kibitz 🙂

          Seriously though, it’s good to know the same ol’ Ralphie is here picking on me because he thinks I made an actual mistake. I made the mistake today of telling some right wing radio host that I didn’t think it was okay to advocate violence against Americans based on their religion, and got jumped on and called all kinds of names for it. Nice to know there’s still some sanity in the world, even if it is in the form of cranky old Ralphie. At least if I decided my goal in life was to earn your approval, there’d be some rational and defined way to do it that doesn’t involve making death threats to my own neighbors because some guy of the same religion said something or other somewhere.

  7. c rork says:

    I’m a Denver voter. 🙂

  8. raymond1 says:

    To recap, this was the first sentence of your last post:

    As adults, some of the best ways to teach kids is to model good behavior.

    Bush: “Is our children learning?”

    Merida: “Some of the best ways is…”

    For extra credit, Ms. Merida, ask any fourth-grade teacher in your district what’s wrong with this: “As adults, some of the best ways…”

    But to give credit where credit is due, you clearly passed fourth grade grammar with flying colors since your last post. They grow up so fast!

    • sxp151 says:

      It’s one thing to make fun of a typo, it’s quite another to dredge it up again and again. It was a single mistake. I’ll bet you’ve probably made at least one yourself in your hundreds of comments. Wouldn’t you think I was being silly if I found a typo in a comment of yours from March 13 and made it my signature?

      • raymond1 says:

        A typo is accidentally hitting the wrong key, leaving an extraneous word in when you cut and paste, etc.

        It isn’t a “typo” when you don’t get that you use “is” for singular nouns and “are” for plural nouns.

        We Dems correctly thought Bush was an idiot for posing the question, “Is our children learning?” She also packed a second grammatical error into that same pretentious topic sentence. Face it, she’s an imbecile who’s not qualified to tutor eighth grade English, much less run a school system.

        • sxp151 says:

          then that was petty too. She’s written a lot, almost all of it is grammatically correct, and she made one mistake, perhaps because (like I often do) she started writing a sentence, changed her mind halfway through about it, and forgot to fix everything else.

          This is beneath you.

  9. UglyAmerican says:

    Across all the charts the average proficiency for any subject and grade is less than 50%. The majority of DPS students are not proficient.

    And for the record I am a Denver voter, a native Spanish speaker, attended Smedley before any ESL programs, and wouldn’t send my kids to DPS if it was free.

  10. DavidThi808 says:

    What are you doing for the non-ELL students? It looks like they’re stuck with no improvement?

    • andreamerida says:

      That’s typically the response from the district.  

      One thing that is happening in the district is that achievement is spiking in schools where there has been some seed money and some raising of the academic bar.

      Here’s just a little sampling from another piece that should be published soon.  These points are what has happened in the last 5 years:

      Hill Middle School, in central Denver, posted a whopping 38-point gain in 8th grade reading.

      Grant Middle School, in southeast Denver, experienced a 10-point jump in 6th grade reading.

      Henry World School, in southwest Denver, posted a 9-point gain in 7th grade reading.

      Lake International School, in northwest Denver, showed a 13-point increase in 8th grade writing.

      Skinner Middle School, in northwest Denver, posted a staggering 23 points in 6th grade writing.

      It’s clear that what has to happen for ALL kids is to give them challenging academics, arts, music, languages, PE and the whole-child approach.  When the kids are locked in, and when curriculum isn’t dumbed down or turned into test prep, they really rise to the challenge…just as you’d expect.

      Obviously, we need to do more.

      • dwyer says:

        Okay, with the added money and the introduction of the Honors courses, etc:  Are you “raising the bar” or changing the demographics of the school to attract the “Anglo” student from middle and upper class homes who, on the average, always score higher on achievement tests?

        What are the achievement gaps in the schools that you are citing?

        For example, Skinner Middle School brags that it enrolled students from the highly gifted program at Edison in its 6th

        grade.  Therefore, one would expect a spike in all scores in all subjects because the demographics of the student population in the 6th grade changed to include gifted students.

        • andreamerida says:

          It’s true that a school like Skinner has been in a somewhat slow metamorphosis of being in a majority-minority neighborhood to now being completely different.  But it still has (as of 2009-2010) 90% minority and 86% low-income (free/reduced lunch) students.

          It’s also true that a lot of more affluent parents are asking for the bar to be raised, and sometimes they’re the ones doing the heavy lifting to advocate for the change.  I can’t really say with any certainty that they’re mostly Anglo.  Only Henry is in my district.

          Let me see if I can get some specific achievement gap analysis for you.  In the meantime, there is always SchoolView:

      • DavidThi808 says:

        I am concerned that the schools you listed are cherry picking, but if you are also looking at what is going on district wide and will have results from that soon – then we can see.

        My big worry, as this is what BVSD does, is they trumpet the good news each year and say they’ll work on the other parts. But over time there is no actual improvement, just one score goes up 2% as another goes down 2% and they flip the next year.

        • andreamerida says:

          I agree, David.  I am constantly having to fact-check the press releases that come from the district for the sake of accuracy.  For example, the latest one was about graduation rates.  There was a number that was accurately reported to CDE, and then there was a number that was released in the press, which represented some strange amalgam of some anticipated number or some such thing.

          I believe we need to start from the truth, find the reasons behind what may be broken, and present the game plan to the public.  That’s typically not what happens in DPS.  I really couldn’t say about BVSD.

          With regard to the cherry picking, I have to say that the examples that I cited were neighborhood middle schools, which of course are set up to take all comers.  

          The biggest takeaway from the experience we have with these middle schools is that when you raise the bar for kids, they step up to the challenge.

  11. Car 31 says:

    Ms. Merida –

    First, thanks for posting. It is good that electeds post here under their names, even if they are busy and can’t (often shouldn’t) respond to all our questions or criticisms.

    I appreciate you highlighting the success of the ELL learners and the program in DPS.

    You state

    The right path to close the achievement gap and provide opportunity for all Denver’s students is clear, and we would do well to heed the evidence.

    According to your info, DPS is heeding the evidence, except for a small number of schools. If the parents in those schools feel the need for ELL in the school, than DPS can implement the program there.

    I can’t help but think that in most cases these students are doing better becaue they are in smaller classes with more individualized attention from teachers. Additionally, learning language is easier for kids, especially with qualified language instructors whose goal is language acquisition and not CSAP test scores.

    I don’t judge DPS on how well it serves ELL students. I judge DPS, and hence you, on how well all students are served.

    You stopped by to highlight the success of a program that helps 35% of DPS children.


    I hope you and the other Board members stop by more often to highlight what is being done to help the other 65% DPS students.

    (And so he’ll never have to ask – I live in Denver and have two children attending DPS)

    (and as a final aside, this diary should not have been promoted – cheerleading for a program that works for Denver is hardly front page worthy, IMHO)

    • andreamerida says:

      In many of the elementary schools in my district, which has the majority of ELL students, a 35-student class size is the norm.  One of my schools is at 120% capacity.  Kepner Middle School, in my district, has over 1100 students and is the largest middle school in the state.

      I think they would do better if they DID have smaller class sizes…in fact, all kids would.  A study in TN last year or so showed that when kids have small class sizes in the primary grades, it helps to stabilize achievement later on, even with larger class sizes later in their academic career.

      I did answer a similar question earlier about what we’re doing for everyone else, and the short story is that in the schools where there is a large gain in improvement, those schools have revamped the academic program to include honors classes, languages, arts, music, etc.  They expect more from their kids and the kids, consequently, respond.

      • Car 31 says:

        Fair answer and agreed with the class size. ELL class sizes vary, but your point is well taken. My kids have 30 others in the room with them. We’re lucky to be involved and active – many other parents don’t have that option.

        Higher expectations work for the students, the teachers and the administration. Also works for Board members.

        Thanks for sticking around. Appreciate the work, whether I agree with some of your views or not. DPS Board member is a thankless job – again, appreciate the work!

      • I see the numbers, but what do they mean in terms of overall student achievement?  Are the changes bringing back things like arts and music responsible for an improvement in overall scores for all learners?  Or are we talking more about the honors classes and languages improving the performance of the top learners?  Or is the updated program mostly successful at bringing nearly proficient students in to full proficiency?

        Thanks for stopping by and providing your input.

        • andreamerida says:

          I would say that the unglamorous technique of collaboration and team strategizing is what’s making the difference.  The one factor in all the middle schools I cited is that the principal is predisposed to working with teachers as a team.  When you have that kind of environment, where everyone’s input is valued, it’s much easier to lay the facts out on the table, be brutally honest about what’s not working, and devise a game plan to get back on track.  

          In these same schools, there are things like arts and music and languages.  At Henry, they have the IB program, which requires all these different disciplines to keep their certification.  The great thing about Henry, too, is that IB is for every kid.  It’s not a selective program like at some schools.

          At any rate, I would want to remove the ceiling from the top learners too.  One of the reasons why families opt out of DPS in our southeast area is because the programs are not all that challenging.

          When I look at the data across the board, not only do I see larger numbers of ELLs at or above proficiency, but I also see last year’s “underperformers” moving too.  When I look at overall numbers in these schools, not just ELLs, all kids are definitely moving upward.

          It’s just that a lot of this work is being done in the background, while the bright shiny new programs get all the press…and often  a lot more support and wiggle room.

  12. cunninjo says:

    You have pointed out a correlation between test scores and exiting ELLs. However, you improperly conclude that the ELA program is what caused the higher test scores. Have you ruled out all other factors that could have contributed to these results?

    A major issue that DPS will face in the near future is that they are receiving grant money to implement all sorts of different reforms but will have no way of measuring which of those reforms are responsible for any gains.

    In the end, if DPS does see overall gains in achievement all of the various reforms introduced will be lauded as successful when it may only be one or two that made all the difference.

    The way education research is being conducted is an utter waste of time and resources. There is no science behind it. Schools and districts should be targeted for research not because they are the lowest performing, but because they are good in all but one or two areas. Then reforms can be applied to those areas and we can truly see what works. We can then apply all the reforms that we know work to the lowest performing schools and get real results for the lowest cost.  

    • andreamerida says:

      You’re right about that.  For example, I think that class size has a big effect on where these scores could go.  But that part that’s important is that these kids are “exited.”  That means they’ve all been through the program and now test in English.  That is the common thread in all these kids.  The factors that would typically count against them, like poverty status or no English spoken at home, don’t apply here.  It’s simply a lens on a particular thrust of our educational program.

      You’re also right about grant-funded programs.  It’s a very sketchy proposition; much of the grant money comes with strings that don’t have basis in research or evidence, and we actually have programs moving forward right now that are only funded for three years.  We don’t have the systems or metrics in place to look at what happens.  We tend to aggregate data instead of looking at how certain slices of the population are improving or not.  

      Generally speaking, we’re not good at replicating good schools.  And by “good,” I mean the schools that are able to give the classic, whole-child education that Denver residents overwhelmingly prefer.  

      You take a school like Bruce Randolph, for example, whose kids are hard working and just as smart as any other kids.  We hear all the fanfare about the graduation rate, yet when we look at how kids are actually performing even just on the CSAP, the lion’s share is in the “unsatisfactory” category of proficiency, and worse, the needle hasn’t moved or has gone backward.

      To me, graduation isn’t the only metric, and we sell out the wonderful kids like at Bruce Randolph when we rest on our laurels and don’t analyze just as you suggest.

      • cunninjo says:

        It is no doubt a wonderful thing that these exited students are doing well. It looks like your data lumps all exited ELLs together. Do you know if there are differences within exited ELLs based on their primary language? In other words, if 57% of DPS ELLs are spanish-speaking are 57% of the proficeint exited ELLs spanish-speaking? I just wonder if there is an achievement gap within the ELA program.

        I believe we aren’t good at replicating good schools because we don’t know what makes them good. It’s usually a combination of many factors that may or may not be under the control of the school or policymakers.  

        • andreamerida says:

          There is something to be said for having an educator at the helm of this ship.  There has to be a grounding in real classroom experience so that the right factors can be looked for.  I think a lot of times, the people who do know education in the district (meaning staff) are drowned out because of preconceived notions that are not based in how education actually works.  Therefore, the leadership isn’t there to even listen to advice about what to analyze in the first place.

          You’re right: it does lump all ELLs together, and the objective was to talk about the program as a whole.  I am getting even more disaggregated data, and I can add the language differentiation to the pile.  I’ll see what I can scare up.  It’s a great question.

      • raymond1 says:

        I’m talking about your crooked overbilling of DPS, of course. Feel free to proceed to ignore this, of course.

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