Opinion: A+ Colorado fails APS

Feature Photo By: Hannah Metzger – Seniors Vincent Tran (left) and James Le (right) work on revising research essays in their English Composition 122 class. While Rangeview offers many concurrent enrollment classes like this one, allowing APS students to earn college credit while still in high school, APS still ranks below average in educational performance and college readiness.

By: Hannah Metzger, Review Staff

For the past several years, the Aurora Public Schools district has repeatedly come under fire for various reasons. Every student in APS knows that we are not supported or praised as a district; however, while many are quick to point out our failures, VERY few offer any solutions.

The most recent example of these remedy-lacking criticisms came in the form of an A+ Colorado review of APS released in March.

The report covers various aspects of the Aurora Public Schools district, analyzing the demographics, economics, and performance of our students. The conclusions are less than surprising. In summary:

  • The students in APS are majority Latinx with an increasing rate of African American and mixed race students and a decreasing rate of white students
  • Over 65% of APS students are eligible for free or reduced lunch
  • The district has a flat relative performance rate in both Elementary English Language Arts and Elementary Math
  • Only 1 out of 5 APS elementary school students can read and write at grade level
  • Only 1 out of every 5 APS middle school students can read and write on grade level
  • APS has a below average graduation rate when compared to Colorado as a whole (65% to 79%) with that rate even lower for Latinx, Asian, Multiracial, and Multilingual students, along with students who apply for free or reduced lunch and students with disabilities

For those who have been paying attention, these facts are not something that we did not already know. So, when addressing the failures of the APS district, what did the A+ Colorado organization suggest to help us improve? Only vague and generic solutions that could be applied to nearly any school district in the country.

Specifically, the organization recommended:

  1. “Improvement Strategies Rooted in Best Practices and Informed by Communities,”
  2. “Develop a Family Friendly Rating System and Make Data Accessible,”
  3. “Create New High-Quality Schools,” and
  4. “Update the Strategic Plan to Prioritize Academic Achievement.”

If it sounds as if the solutions proposed are just an elaborate way to say “be better,” that is because that was practically all the advice given. The District Advocacy Director of A+ Colorado, Elizabeth Reetz, took some time to come meet with The Review after the report was released, and she acknowledged that they provided us with non-answers, explaining that they cannot possibly give APS specific answers to our problems because every district is different.

Banners hang in a Rangeview hallway that students have signed, pledging to graduate high school. APS graduation rates are 14% lower than the state average. (Hannah Metzger)

“We talk about big policy objectives so that there’s space for the district and communities to fill in exactly what that looks like,” Reetz said. “The goal of the recommendations is to start conversations about broadly whats worked in other places.”

While this seems fair enough, what is the point in publishing a report broadcasting all of the problems in APS without providing the district with the help or ideas we need? Reetz explained that the goal of the report was to begin a conversation.

“…[P]art of it is just saying you don’t fix a problem that you don’t talk about,” said Reetz. “If we don’t talk about an issue, nothing’s gonna happen… We have to name it in order to work on it.”

This thinking holds some substance; however, the conversation has already been started.

It is admirable that A+ Colorado wants to try and help APS by informing us of our faults, but trust me, we already know. Instead of restating the issues that APS is facing when compared to the state, one should instead consider how APS has virtually the same performance rates and test scores as every other district in the country that has the same student demographics.

APS students are vastly minority and vastly low income. When children are having to worry about providing for their family, learning English, or finding their next meal, they don’t perform as well in school. It is unfair to compare the ACT score of an immigrant student from Aurora Central High School to that of “Chad” from Cherokee Trail.

For example, at Overland High School, a school belonging to the Cherry Creek School District — one of the most praised districts in the state — they have very similar student demographics to Rangeview High School and nearly identical performance rates.

  • English Proficiency: Overland – 31%    Rangeview – 35%
  • Math Proficiency: Overland – 17%    Rangeview – 16%
  • State Test Performance Index: Overland – 24.2    Rangeview – 25.2
  • Graduation Rate: Overland – 82%    Rangeview – 74%

(Statistics provided by U.S. News High School Rankings)

A+ Colorado addressed APS’s average performance (when compared to districts of the same demographics) within their report saying,

“[When comparing schools with similar demographics], the clear relationship between higher proportions of each of the populations listed above and lower student achievement are not unique to Aurora. We see these patterns across Colorado districts and across the country.”

The report goes on to suggest that APS should learn from individual schools who have seemed to break the educational performance gap, such as Peoria Elementary and Aurora Quest, but, again, fails to provide any specific examples or suggestions for what APS is to do to become one of these praised outliers.

A bar graph illustrates the educational achievement gaps between white, black, and Hispanic students in reading and math. The achievement gap is what causes APS – and the vast majority of schools and districts with the same student demographics – to have lower than average performance rates. (stormfront.org)

However, it is incredibly unfair and irresponsible to suggest that public schools, like Rangeview or Marachek, should perform at the level of Aurora Quest because we have similar demographics. Aurora Quest is a charter school in which students have to pass an academic test before being allowed admittance. Having personally attended Aurora Quest for seven years, I can recognize and appreciate the success of the institution; however, not all schools can run this way.

Public schools are essential to the education of society because they take in students that charter schools refuse. Charter schools are not required to make their schools handicap accessible, eliminating much of the disabled student population; charter schools have the ability to kick out students with low attendance, eliminating low performing students; charter schools are able to require potential students to take a written test to get in, limiting the possibility of students who do not speak English attending the school.

It is worthwhile to mention that A+ Colorado is sponsored by several organizations run by multi-millionaires who have been known to heavily support charter schools and who are also very anti-traditional schools (such as the Walton Family Foundation and the Anschutz Foundation).

While at first glance it appears that A+ Colorado had good intentions publishing this scathing report of APS, it is entirely possible that they were simply using our struggling district to feed into their own agenda, explaining how public schools are failing while “schools of choice” pluck at-risk youth from the evils of public education.

Nevertheless, they’re correct that there is a problem.

However, the problem is not APS.*

The Aurora Public Schools district struggles in the same way every district does around the world — with the “performance” or “achievement” gap. The efforts from groups like A+ Colorado are commendable, but their time and money would be more effective if put towards researching and addressing the issue that every school faces in the country, not just telling APS what we already know.

 

*APS does have many issues with leadership, budgeting, keeping teachers, etc., but the educational gap is not an unique issue to the district.

 

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