Top

news

Stories

 

The Next Test

Manual High School earned extra credit for surviving the end of busing. But can it survive the CSAP?

Monday:Samierah Moran, vice president of her junior class at Manual High School, is smart, talented -- and bored. She gets good grades, but she doesn't care much for her classes. She often goes in to see principal Nancy Sutton to complain about the fact that the school is a closed campus during lunch, when menu options are lacking. Sutton diplomatically describes her as bright but angry.

At 7:30 this morning, red pager clipped to her hip, Samierah's sitting with thirteen other students -- most Latino, some black -- in Interactive Mathematics Program 4, working through a challenging trigonometry problem. IMP classes, offered as electives at a few other Denver public high schools but required at Manual, eschew traditional rote memorization in favor of combining algebra, geometry, trigonometry and pre-calculus work into conceptual problem-solving. The theory is that math is more fun when kids think for themselves. Valerie Friedly, with the help of a student teacher, presides over the class, which runs almost ninety minutes. That's plenty of time for the kids to think for themselves, with one-on-one assistance from the teachers.

Samierah splits her time between the IMP problems and her good friend, Margaret Horton. They chat about the fight that broke out at an East High School stepping show over the weekend. It ended with a police crackdown, which sounds reminiscent of the 1996 melee between black kids and local cops at Thomas Jefferson High School. Now they're worried that it could lead to the cancellation of a talent show they're helping to organize that's scheduled for March 15.

 
John Johnston
 
Margaret Horton (left) and Samierah Moran keep the junior class on track.
John Johnston
Margaret Horton (left) and Samierah Moran keep the junior class on track.
Welcome back: Elvis Nuñez prefers Manual to high school in Highlands Ranch.
John Johnston
Welcome back: Elvis Nuñez prefers Manual to high school in Highlands Ranch.
Manual High School
John Johnston
Manual High School

"She don't let us do things," Samierah complains of Sutton.

"She's so afraid we're going to get shot up or killed," Margaret adds.

It's true that Sutton cancelled the last talent show after learning that students from other high schools had been invited -- which could have meant too many unfamiliar faces roaming the halls. And the friends agree that they're ready to start a petition drive in case Sutton cancels the March show, too. But in the meantime, they have more immediate concerns -- like finding talent.

While they're discussing this, Mrs. Friedly comes by and asks the girls to explain a math problem. Samierah shows her their work. "Then we stopped right here," she says, "'cause we're thinking."

The teacher notices Samierah's calculator. "Did you just get this?"

"No. I had it last semester.

"That's a cool calculator."

In IMP 4, sophisticated graphing calculators are a fact of life. The students must buy their own, and many cannot afford them. Friedly, one of Manual's veteran teachers, tells her students that Wal-Mart sells graphing calculators for as little as $35. Samierah's cost $100; her mom got it for her. "That's why I ain't got one," says Margaret, who frequently looks at her friend's calculator-generated work.

What Margaret really wants is a pager like Samierah's. It's not easy to pass notes in class: "Having this, we can be talking without anyone being in our business," she explains. Margaret's mother told her that for her birthday this month, she could chose either a pager or a graphing calculator. No sensible student would choose the calculator.

A few hours later, Samierah and Margaret cut their lunch short in order to visit the counseling office, where they try to drop IMP 4. Although Samierah has a letter from her mother giving her permission to drop the course, the counselor, James Durgin, is not impressed. "Seriously, why is this an issue?" he asks.

"It's been an issue since freshman year," Samierah responds. The whole IMP curriculum is an issue, she's saying.

"Besides this very nicely presented letter, what's the reason?"

Samierah explains that she wants to take business math, but the school won't let her -- after IMP 4, she will have to take calculus. But really, it sounds like she just doesn't want to be there. Durgin says he'll call Samierah's mom and encourage her to make her daughter stick it out. Margaret's efforts to get out of the class are also unsuccessful.

"I'm disappointed," says Samierah. "I'm stuck in there again."

So is Margaret. She'll have to settle for the calculator.


Manual Training School opened at East 27th Avenue and Franklin Street on April 3, 1894, as a vocational high school, a concept then in vogue around the country. The new school had 97 pupils, fourteen teachers, no gym, no auditorium and days with six periods -- two of which were devoted to manual training classes such as woodworking or mechanics. An auditorium was added in 1899, a gym in 1924. At first largely white, Manual's student population became more integrated in the 1920s and '30s, when black families began moving from Five Points into the adjoining Cole neighborhood.

Even then, however, there was unequal education between whites and kids of color. As early as 1927, the Colorado Supreme Court found that a Denver practice of excluding black students from such school programs as swimming classes and dances at Manual and Morey Middle School violated state law.

By the end of the 1940s, Manual had reached its peak enrollment of around 1,500 students. In the early '50s, a new Manual was built across the street, on 28th Avenue. "Training" was dropped from the school's name in 1952, and the sports teams were changed from the hardworking Bricklayers to the Thunderbolts. By 1953, the school was 50 percent black, 20 percent Hispanic, 20 percent white and 10 percent Asian. In the two decades that followed, the number of white students kept shrinking -- until busing forced them back into the neighborhood.

Through the years, Manual has displayed a gutsy pride, turning challenges into opportunities. It was the first school in Denver to introduce special-education classes. In the '40s, a Manual librarian declared that the school was the only one in the nation that surveyed the needs of the community; another administrator hailed the school for achieving harmony among the races.

Manual's modest size -- now around 1,100 kids -- helps foster the sense that something special is going on here. Over a few days, the school grows even smaller and faces become familiar. Many of Samierah Moran's peers share her schedule; by the time you reach her last class, you've seen at least half of the students.

And although the school may be poor, signs of conspicuous consumption are evident: Kids chat on cell phones, send each other text pages, listen to music on their disc players, wear expensive-looking watches; a few walk the halls with gleaming silver Sony video cameras.

Manual classes are structured into "blocks" that combine two class periods into one. Instead of seven or eight fifty-minute periods, students have four classes that last almost ninety minutes each. Some teachers like the extra instruction time; others find it challenging to keep the kids' attention.

After IMP 4, Samierah and Margaret head to British Literature. The kids are studying Beowulf. ("I'm scared to read that," Samierah says in passing to Margaret the following day.) Today is a day to take notes on paganism and the roots of modern English. In the back of the class, Margaret draws Power Puff girls in her notebook, while Samierah idly sketches a superhero.

"A woman?" Margaret asks.

"Of course. I always make them black. Strong and smart and fast." She used to draw the whole figure, but now she can't get past the eyes. Artistic talent runs in the family, Samierah says. Her mother is a talented artist, an accountant who recently started an art-supply business. Her parents are divorced; her father is in the insurance business in Indiana, where Samierah lived until she was four.

From literature class, the girls head to the meaty AP (advanced placement) European History; the day's subject is the rise of nineteenth-century liberalism. Samierah doesn't stay with it long: She and another friend leave class for a conference with two of the school's counselors. Samierah is a junior, so it's time to think about scheduling college preparatory exams. This spring she'll take the SAT and the ACT, as well as several SAT subject tests.

Her PSAT score, 1080 out of 1600, is solid; her scores in math and verbal are fine, and she is a good writer. In addition to being vice president of her class, she works part-time as an activist with Students 4 Change, a students-rights organization working in conjunction with the Colorado Progressive Coalition. Next year she wants to be Head Girl, the Manual equivalent of a class president.

The counselors wonder if she's interested in attending a university summer program, which would be a way for Samierah to try living away from home, explore schools she's really interested in and strengthen her college application. "Do you want to go to summer school?" one of the counselors asks.

"No," Samierah replies. "I went up to UNC for a visit and sat in on a class. We stayed overnight and ate their food." She clearly does not approve of the campus cuisine. Anyway, she's thinking about working with a local program where she would teach younger children this summer.

She's planning on applying to colleges outside of Colorado -- although not in a city as large as New York. "I'm hesitant on leaving, but you have to take care of business," she says. "It's scary. I haven't been anywhere by myself. Except downtown."


Manual High School has had a bad rap for a long time -- before integration, during integration and now after integration. In the days of federal court-ordered busing, the school drew nearly half of its population from affluent white neighborhoods such as Park Hill and Crestmoor. But even then, white kids and black kids were often tracked into different classes, and many parents felt the school was permitting de facto segregation. "I think that busing was part of an educational, analytical guess, hoping that physical integration would resolve educational issues of black students," says attorney Dale Sadler, who is a member of the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunity. "What is needed is academic inclusion, and you don't get that through busing."

When returning control of the school district to local authorities, federal judge Richard Matsch argued that minorities had much greater power than they did in the early '70s, when Denver's busing case -- the first outside the South -- was raging. After Matsch ruled that busing to achieve integration was no longer mandatory, the district was redrawn, and Denver Public Schools officials turned their attention to neighborhood schools, which promised to keep kids closer to home and to strengthen relationships between schools and communities. But many parents of the minority children who would be attending those neighborhood schools worried that the schools symbolized resegregation and a return to inequality ("Forward to the Past," January 23, 1997).

Overnight, Manual's demographics underwent a dramatic change. What had been a largely white-and-black school, split between the poor and middle classes, suddenly became a mostly brown-and-black, and almost entirely poor, school; the affluent white kids went off to George Washington or East high schools. And that wasn't the only change at Manual.

Between 1997 and 2000, for instance, reading scores declined for freshmen, sophomores and, most notably, juniors -- who fell from the 67th percentile to the 38th percentile. While other district high schools have witnessed falling dropout rates over the years, Manual's rate has risen, from 76 kids (4.4 percent of the student population) in the 1995-96 school year to 106 kids (or 7.1 percent) in 1999-00. During the 1998-99 school year, 75 percent of Manual's students were on a free- or reduced-lunch program; just 27 percent participated in 1992-93.

The concern over such disparities increased in 1997, when Governor Bill Owens announced the introduction of the Colorado Student Assessment Program, a "high-stakes" test that will be used to grade the performance of schools statewide.

The CSAP test has people at Manual really anxious. Students feel pressured not to let their school down on what they've been told is a hard exam (last spring, two-thirds of the state's eighth-graders failed the CSAP's math portion, and half failed the science portion). Teachers and administrators are concerned because after the end of this academic year, schools will be graded based on their students' scores -- and schools will be forced to improve those scores in following years or risk being converted into charter schools, or closed down altogether. Because the schools will be graded on a bell curve, a small percentage are certain to receive failing grades. (Originally a failing grade would have been an F; responding to criticism, Owens changed it to the slightly more tactful "unsatisfactory.") Principal Sutton expects her school to be one of those at the bottom. So does everyone else.

Sutton has had her hands full lately. A piece published in the Denver Post in early February claimed that Sutton was considering converting Manual into a charter -- before it had the chance to get a failing grade. Sutton was furious over the story, and DPS quickly issued a statement claiming her comments were made last October, "when the school staff and community were studying 'any and all' options to improve...The school was not seeking charter-school status."

"That is so wrong," Sutton says of the Post story. "It's always the disenfranchised who get the brunt of things."

In fact, last fall the local chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunity asked the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to investigate why black students at DPS high schools don't perform as well as their white counterparts. The commission is forming a task force to assess four Denver high schools: East, Montbello, George Washington and Manual. The task-force members will include parents and students, representatives from prominent black organizations, and officials with state and local educational groups and agencies. From their work, the commission hopes to find solutions for the achievement gap.

Manual administrators and students alike resent being portrayed as members of Denver's poor school, or ghetto school, or the school most likely to fail. They have an infectious, chip-on-their-shoulder pride that's reflected in their very vital school. Manual's classes are challenging, and the school has created its own college-prep curriculum, known as AVID, that helps college-bound students form study groups, learn to ask the right questions in lectures and take better notes. What's more, sophomores and seniors are required to submit portfolios of extracurricular work before they can move on to the next grade or graduate. The portfolios are designed to make students respect learning and see it as part of the culture of the school -- a mindset often lost during middle school.

On average, kids arrive at Manual lagging in reading, but they make up a grade and a half every year they're at the school. (Social studies teacher Santo Nicotera, a fixture at the school, believes teachers could get students reading at the right level if they just had one more year.) According to Pat McQuillan, a University of Colorado professor who's researched the post-busing landscape, the performance of Manual's black and Latino kids has improved relative to the performance of those same groups throughout DPS. And any concerns about rival gangs duking it out in a shared school have not come to pass. The kids who are regularly in class look, well, regular. They're shy about raising their hands to answer questions, they complain about boring classes, they chat whenever they think they can get away with it, they socialize and flirt in the halls, they study -- and most do their best.

Still, those negative perceptions filter in. Many students say they don't like curricula that only Manual uses -- such as the IMP courses -- because those classes somehow feel remedial, even though the IMP has been deemed one of the best curricula in the country by math teachers. And, while faculty members say the portfolio program is not only unusual for a school with Manual's demographics, but rigorous, students regard it as busywork. No other DPS students do portfolios, so they're naturally suspicious as to why they're singled out. Some students even talk about ditching the CSAP test, because everyone expects them to do badly, anyway. (As it turns out, attendance on test day is excellent.)

"Manual always had a bad rep," says teacher Ana Martinez. "Even when there was busing, a lot of people were afraid of how the school was going. It's a great school. Kids try hard, and they know a lot is riding on their shoulders."

The changed makeup of the student population is not the problem, says Manual special-ed teacher Ahmed A. Hakeem. "The problem is we need money and resources. We have dedicated teachers in this building. You have to be dedicated to come to this job every day."


Tuesday: Samierah begins the day with a reprimand from a cranky hall monitor for wearing gloves inside the school, which is not allowed. (Hats aren't allowed, either.) Today is Mismatch Day, so she's also wearing red socks, black pants, a purple shirt and a plaid shirt on top of that. Margaret wears a red shirt, green jacket vest and a blue scarf with light-blue flowers.

Today in IMP 4, the kids are asked to define the period of a function and the amplitude of a function. The girls are more enthusiastic today.

"This is a good class," Margaret remarks.

"The class is small, I like it," Samierah adds.

Weren't these two trying to drop this class the day before?

"Yeah, but I have to stay in it, so I might as well make the best of it," Samierah responds.

They talk about last night's episode of Boston Public, in which a teacher was fired for having a relationship with an eighteen-year-old student. Samierah and Margaret think the punishment was a little tough. "What's the big deal, she was eighteen," says Margaret.

In Brit Lit they watch a scene from the recent Viking epic The Thirteenth Warrior, which dramatizes the evolution of English from old to middle to modern, absorbing influences ranging from the Normans to the Greeks. At the end of the period, everyone in class -- as well as everyone in the school -- is given Tuesday Folders, weekly progress reports that they must take home and have signed.

Samierah takes her folder and heads off to a study hall, populated by the junior and senior student councils, where she spends the period trying to plan a Valentine's Day dance. At Manual, the Valentine's Day dance is put on by the junior class, while the seniors are responsible for Homecoming. Money to stage these events is difficult to come by. So far, Samierah's class has raised only $387 -- over two and a half years.

At lunch, she and her friends try to sell tickets to the Valentine's Day dance. They're going for $5 for singles, $7 for couples. So far, they've only sold twelve tickets. "If there's only twelve people signed up, we're not gonna have a dance," says Lauren Black, another friend.

But Samierah is optimistic. "Everybody's gonna show up on Friday, because that's always what happens."


When Nancy Sutton held her first meeting with Manual's faculty, back in 1996, many teachers were unhappy about losing the more affluent student population of the busing years. Some faculty members were thinking about trying to convert Manual into a magnet school. Sutton would have none of it. Teachers remember her saying: "Anybody who doesn't want to work with poor black or Latino kids -- there's the door."

The following summer, many people used that door -- 25 of Manual's seventy teachers left. Twenty more left the year after, once they were convinced Sutton was serious. Santo Nicotera estimates that 75 percent of his fellow teachers have turned over in the past few years.

"I think there was a lot of fear," says Sutton. "They didn't know what the school was going to be."

But Sutton did. Before she took the Manual job, she'd been the principal of Northwest High School in Indianapolis -- an inner-city school that, in the early 1990s, was the worst-performing high school of that city's seven. Introducing such innovations as student portfolios and longer classes, Sutton helped turn the school into Indianapolis's best-performing public high school. "You bring a lot of those things," she says of coming to Manual. "The thing I brought most was sort of getting everybody on board."

Sutton says she fell into the principal posts after working as both a teacher and a school administrator. She knew her stint at Northwest was good practice for Manual, which was about to enter the post-busing world.

"In some ways, and on some days, I'd say yes, it's putting the community back together," Sutton says. "But some of the decisions might have been more proactive. I think the districting shed a real negative light on this community."

Andrea Guinta, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, also considers the end of busing a mixed bag. "I don't think it's a dead issue," she says. "I think what teachers are busy doing is addressing the needs. Especially in Denver, the majority of the schools are going to be in the unsatisfactory category. You can look at the economic status of those neighborhoods and pretty much see a correlation there. I think, perhaps, people have been so busy trying to address the details, they're not looking at it as much as a systemic problem. Teachers don't have the luxury of sitting back and thinking about the ills of society."

Scholars do. A CU symposium last fall brought together prominent law scholars, social scientists, educators and others to discuss desegregation, both in Denver and nationwide. "One theme is that there's a huge group, especially in academia, that really is adamant that the school desegregation movement should not be ended, and this is a very unfortunate thing we're seeing," says CU law professor Robert Nagel. "The other side says when you study it carefully, you don't see that the premise behind Brown v. Board of Education is true."

That landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision found segregated schools to be inherently unequal and unconstitutional, but a follow-up decision in 1955 set no specific timetable for school desegregation and allowed school districts, mainly in the South, to stall for years.

Some experts contend that desegregation efforts were difficult to implement nationwide because Northern states weren't committed to the process (they were only committed to seeing the South desegregated) and residential segregation in virtually every major American city created an almost insurmountable barrier. "It's really hard to have school integration if you don't have residential integration," University of Virginia professor Michael Klarman said during the symposium. "What we've had post-World War II is a suburbanization pattern where whites move to the suburbs, deserting the cities, and the city schools are left to blacks and other racial minorities." Massive busing was the only remedy, he added, but fragile public support meant it couldn't be maintained over time.

In 1974, the Supreme Court refused to allow the desegregation of whole metropolitan regions, a process that would have forced increasingly white suburbs to integrate their students with increasingly black and brown inner cities. Later decisions found that once a school district was deemed "unitary" -- that is, no longer unequally segregated -- districts could resegregate their schools.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch released Denver from mandatory busing in 1997. "We are cautiously optimistic that we'll look back and say this was the right way to go," says DPS spokesman Mark Stevens.

Most school districts that ended busing have seen the gap widen between low-income, inner-city, mostly minority schools and affluent, mostly white schools. But at this point, the debate over busing is largely relegated to academics. "Within the narrow communities you still have this tremendous passion on both sides, they really care about it, and there's really intense debate," says Nagel. "If you go to a wider political arena, they don't care anymore. They think decrees aren't in place, there's no more busing, whatever happened, happened. Most people don't have a huge stake in it anymore."


Friday: A heavy snow fell on Denver last night, which means there are plenty of absentees from Manual this morning. A good ten minutes after the bell, only eighteen kids have managed to straggle from the locker room into the gym. The kids stretch out, run a weak three laps, and then most of the boys play hoops while the girls work out to a Tae Bo tape.

Sophomore James "Elvis" Nuñez heads down to the weight room. He's a wrestler, and while his build is slight, his arms are ripped as he works through a series of bicep curls and then moves on to the bench press. He lettered last year in wrestling at 130 pounds, and he's anxious about an upcoming regional meet. Although the team as a whole is unlikely to reach the state finals, Elvis will if he can win three or four of his matches.

The key to doing well, he explains, is the look. Just before a match, he gives his opponent a dark stare, looks right at him, doesn't blink. "Strength doesn't matter as much as heart," he says.

Elvis's schedule is loose this semester, and he's taking advantage. "People tell me I'm smart but I don't always apply myself," he admits. So he's thinking about signing up for the AVID program to get ready for college. He already went through Manual's summer-school program in math, even though he'd passed his math class. He did it because he wanted something to do, and it beat staying home all summer long.

Elvis's father lives in Mexico; his mother, an attorney, lives in Wyoming. Last year he lived with an aunt on the southern edge of the metro area and attended Highlands Ranch High School, about as far away from inner-city Denver as you can get. But he and his aunt didn't get along, so he came back to the Cole neighborhood -- the neighborhood he grew up in -- to live with his grandmother.

There's no doubt that Highlands Ranch had more of everything. Manual is "not even close," he says, to having the same kinds of resources and materials for students. But while he got along fine with the suburb's largely white student population, the teachers there just weren't right for him. "Our teachers are great," he says. "I learned just as much at Manual as I did at Highlands Ranch. The teachers at Manual care about us 100 percent."

One of Elvis's classmates, a black sophomore named Chase Maxwell, attended George Washington last year and echoes his friend's thoughts about Manual, applauding how much the teachers care about the students. And Myeisha Young, a junior, actually views the IMP math classes with pride, pointing out that "only George's smartest students can take them" -- whereas all of Manual's students take them.

As Elvis and Chase head to their next class, hall monitors wearing long green windbreakers emblazoned with the word "Security" start shouting: "Hurry up, ladies! You're going to be late!"

Elvis's second class is Biology. While his classmates snack on cookies and Butterfingers, the morning announcements come on in Spanish and English: Auditions for Samierah's talent show start next week.

After the students take a short quiz, Elvis leaves class to check on a science book -- he still hasn't gotten his biology textbook. A sign on the locked book-office door directs him to the counseling center. But a counselor there is too busy to get the book, so Elvis drops by the library, where librarian Debbie Schmuck is in the process of ordering thousands of books for the next term. The DPS goal is ten books for every student. Manual has six books per student, which means Schmuck is hoping to get about 4,400 more.

On to lunch, where Elvis gets a bean burrito smothered in chile, applesauce and milk for about $2. Students enter their ID numbers into a computer at the end of the line, and the cost of the meal is automatically deducted from their accounts. There are no knives, not even plastic ones.

Elvis's older brother, Frankie, who is autistic, comes by -- but not before he's visited virtually everyone in the lunchroom. He hangs over tables, shakes hands, laughs, talks, moves on. Although Frankie may be the only one at Manual openly chatting up both black and Latino kids, there's little racial tension at the school, according to Elvis. "Most of the Mexicans stick to themselves; so do blacks," he says. They find common ground in sports.

Elvis's next class is IMP 2, where a substitute teacher is keeping a very loose rein on the kids. (By the end of the period, half of the students will have "excused" themselves.) So the students have plenty of time to talk about their sophomore portfolio project, known as Rites of Passage. Girls drop out of Manual when they're pregnant, one kid says; boys drop out because of the portfolios. They're just too much work, and other schools don't require them.

"The fact we have to do it is because they think we're not a good school," says Lisa Sotelo, a sophomore with a 4.0 grade point average. And that negative mindset stretches to her home. Her mother was unimpressed with her perfect report card, she says, telling her, "Your teachers don't teach you nothin'."

According to Nicotera, about a hundred high-achieving kids who live in the neighborhood go somewhere other than Manual, convinced it's not a good school. "If we had those kids, it would mean so much to the school," he says. "The curve would shift out to the right. We need to get the word out."

Elvis doesn't mind Rites of Passage: he's researching a paper on the American Indian Movement for his portfolio. But he doesn't like the defeatist attitude among his classmates -- and that includes all the talk about ditching the CSAP test, scheduled for the following week. "I don't care who walks out," he says. "I'm gonna take the test."


The students' concerns over the CSAP are shared by teachers.

At the CU symposium last fall, Nicotera told the crowd that only fifteen out of 350 incoming Manual freshmen were reading, writing and doing math at grade level. "It's difficult to compare our work at Manual with the work of teachers at GW when we start out at such a disadvantage," he pointed out.

Educators worry that CSAP both polarizes schools and paints them with too broad a brush. "We felt it was wrong," says Guinta, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which came out against the test last year. "Even now, with the categories, we feel it's unfair labeling schools. You're not looking at the same group of students, so it's not a fair assessment."

"What we have experienced in Colorado is a direct result of when you get legislators involved in quick-fix solutions that don't take into account the whole spectrum of the human condition when you're trying to educate children," adds Sharon Bailey, a former Denver School Board member.

"To put all schools in the same competition and assume they all have an equal chance at success, and to dispense rewards and punishments accordingly, is to deny reality," wrote McQuillan in his paper on post-busing Manual. "What capable student will want to attend a failing school? What teachers, besides those young and/or desperate for work, will teach there? What administrators will want to work at these schools? And what impact will the collective nature of the student population have on faculty and administrators? Some people will end up teaching in these schools, but consider the price they will pay in working with a highly segregated student population and in a school that has been publicly stigmatized."

Starting this fall, low-performing schools will have just two years to improve their CSAP scores enough to escape the "unsatisfactory" category; if they fail to do so, the state will send out a request for proposals to take over management of the failing school. "That's when the school becomes hugely destabilized," says Sutton. "That would be a huge event in the community."

Which is why the first CSAP testing day is a huge event for Manual.

Irene Meschia, Elvis's biology teacher, says her kids do well in labs but get nervous on tests. Although they know the material, something about the nature of testing -- the silence of it, perhaps, or the pressure to do well -- causes many of her students to tighten up. And there are other flaws to the testing that could affect Manual. Scores of special-education kids will be folded into the rest of the scores. And the test isn't being given in Spanish, even though over two dozen students whose scores will be counted (under state guidelines, anyone who's been in school in Colorado for three consecutive years qualifies) aren't fluent enough in English to take the test in that language.

Manual's faculty members welcome accountability, Nicotera says, but they want the process to be fair. "We're not just trying to cover ourselves," he adds, pointing out that Manual teachers were the first DPS high school teachers to participate in a pilot program that rewards teachers for student performance. "Nobody in their right mind would let themselves be held accountable for something they don't have any control over."


Somehow, Manual survives the CSAPs.

The school held its Valentine's Day dance after all, and about a hundred kids attended. Samierah, Margaret and their friends have moved ahead with the talent show, which is on for next Thursday. In the meantime, Samierah has finished Beowulf -- which was definitely better than Shakespeare.

She's still complaining about the rigidity of both her schedule and the administration, which always "introduces new programs that don't work." Manual is "fine the way it is," she says. "I wouldn't want to be bused out, and if they had people bused in, I would have some issues."

Elvis got in hot water for missing a class, and his grandmother wouldn't let him go to the wrestling meet. But at least the CSAP was easy. "I'm pretty sure everybody who tried their hardest did good," he says.

Nancy Sutton is feeling optimistic, too, although she won't know Manual's scores until the end of the school year. More than 90 percent of Manual's tenth graders showed up to take the test, beating the usual attendance rate. And, of 350 students taking the test, only forty missed some part of it. When it was all over, she threw a party for the tenth graders -- food brought in, the pool open, the works. "They're being really sweet about it," she says. "No one complained."

Sutton's school will soldier on. She's determined that Manual will remain part of DPS rather than become a charter school. "We're just gonna dig in," she says. "Over my dead body is anything like that going to happen."

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...