Parents Need Help to Identify Top Schools

Parents Need Help to Identify Top Schools

The Colorado State Board of Education is considering addition of a new rating, Distinction, to the four school accreditation ratings that already exist.  The Colorado Department of Education presented in October 2019 analysis which includes the impact of adding the Distinction category to the existing categories of Performance, Improvement, Priority Improvement and Turnaround. 

Having previously served as President of the Jeffco R-1 Board of Education and presently as Executive Director of the Education reEnvisioned Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES),

I have heard from countless parents frustrated over the difficulty they experience in determining what might be the top performing schools in their area.  They often feel that meaningful comparisons are willfully withheld, making it almost impossible to know if they are choosing the best school for each of their children.

Why is it so difficult to determine the top performing schools in an area?  It is because the 0% - 100% scale used to rate Colorado public schools gives almost half of the range to the Performance category, providing inadequate performance information within that broad range of scores.  A parent is easily faced with choosing between two Performance rated schools, one of which might be a high achieving school with a 91% rating score and the other a school of very mediocre performance with a rating score of 57%.  Yet to the parent, they appear to be equivalent choices, each with a Performance rating.

The new school rating category proposed by the State Board of Education directly addresses this problem.  The highest achieving Colorado schools, presently lumped into the overly broad Performance category, would be instead given the new Distinction rating.  Approximately the top 10% of schools would achieve this rating.  That way, parents could easily identify top performing schools in their area, or more easily recognize that there are insufficient top performing schools in their area.

I wish every education leader were celebrating this proposal to better equip parents to make the best educational choices for their kids and to better recognize the top performing schools, but this is not the case.  Some of the most prominent educational leadership organizations in the state have already gone on record saying they oppose such a plan.  The Colorado Educators Association (CEA - teachers union), the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) and even the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) have taken positions bemoaning the pace of change in education policy in Colorado, recommending slower progress and longer consideration.  This plea for foot-dragging may be in the best interest of education administrations and bureaucracy, but it is in direct opposition to the best interest of Colorado parents and students.

I laud this proposal to clearly recognize top performing schools, providing much better school performance indication to Colorado parents seeking to make the best educational choices for their children and ultimately better education accountability to all public education stakeholders.  Colorado parents and guardians as well as the kids deserve better education transparency and greater recognition and reward for outstanding schools.

A proposed adjustment to increase the minimum scores of the Performance rating so schools must perform at a higher level to be in that category, paired with the proposal to add a top Distinction category that would currently identify the top 9%-11% of schools, is an excellent solution for Colorado.

Those that resist such change on the basis of implementation difficulty or fatigue from other recent changes fail in their charge to improve the academic achievement of Colorado students.  All system change is difficult, but as a Colorado education leader, I encourage and embrace this change for the benefit of Colorado students, parents and all Colorado public education stakeholders, which is all of Colorado.


Ken Witt
Executive Director
Education reEnvisioned BOCES