"Passing on Education," this week's cover story, examines rising graduation rates at North High School and questions whether part of the reason is because students were allowed to cheat in online credit recovery courses designed to help them make up classes they'd failed. In the wake of the story, Denver Public Schools board member Arturo Jimenez says he is convening a committee to look into credit recovery.
Jimenez, whose school-board district includes North, sent a letter to Westword in response to the story. In it, he says he's confident that North's new principal, Nicole Veltze, will address the problems at that school. "However," he writes, "I am less certain this issue will be fixed district-wide without some meaningful intervention."
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Read the entire letter below:
Thank you for highlighting the graduation issue at North High School in your Westword article. This is a good opportunity to discuss some of the issues we are facing in our schools, and to talk about the unintended consequences associated with the measurements we use to judge school performance.
In Denver Public Schools, we have a desperate need to improve how we educate our students. Education can transform lives. However, we know there is much work to be done to successfully prepare students for the next steps after high school. There is no room for short cuts.
The measurements we use to judge school success tell us we are not educating our students as well as we should. I agree with this conclusion. At the same time, we are actually measuring results that do not fully tell the story of how our students are being educated. Your story highlights an example of this phenomenon -- passing the test is becoming the end-all of any educational experience. However, nothing could be farther from the truth or more damaging to our students.
A constituent of mine likes to say, "be careful what you measure; it is exactly what you will get from your system." In our schools, we measure performance in reading, writing, and math using the Colorado Student Achievement Test, or CSAP. We then measure how many students graduate. But these measurements are both outcome-oriented, which leads to "gaming the system."
Your story points out just how this can happen: students do not have do the coursework required for the credit recovery program, but if they get 80% on the final exam, they are awarded credit. This begs the question, what is the value of the coursework itself? If student can pass the final without having completed the coursework, it seems that the final exam is not constructed correctly.
In math, the test is structured so students select an answer on an electronic bubble sheet. Students never have to show their work for solving the equation. No expectation seems to exist for students to show their learning or mastery of a subject.
Either way, it is clear the system is being gamed, and our students are paying the costs for this gamesmanship. While they may graduate from high school, they have not been prepared for life, which is not just about passing the test, in an academic sense, at least.
Fundamentally, this is the problem facing our schools today: little attention is paid to process but a great deal of attention is paid to outcome. For our high schools, the outcome is graduating students. So, our high schools graduate as many students as possible using whatever means necessary. President Obama takes note of a DPS school that is graduating 98% of its students this year. Our Senator speaks at this school's graduation. I want to believe these students are prepared for the next step, college at a 4-year institution, but the data tell us they are likely not prepared.
In 2005, 49% of DPS students who entered higher education took one or more remedial class at the collegiate level. In 2010, 55% needed remedial course work. During this same period, there has been a less than 2% increase in DPS' graduation rate. This suggests the rigor associated with DPS' high school programs is decreasing.
I have no idea if the credit recovery program is the reason for this apparent decrease in rigor. What I am sure of is this program is not functioning correctly. Because of her excellent track record, I am sure North High School's new principal, Nicole Veltze, will address the issue at North. However, I am less certain this issue will be fixed district-wide without some meaningful intervention.
Therefore, I am convening a committee to examine how the credit recovery program is working at both North and West high schools, the two high schools in the district I represent. This committee will be made up of principals, teachers and community members. I will also include students who have participated in the DPS credit recovery program to hear firsthand how the program is functioning. Further, I will invite representatives from Apex Learning to join us to determine ways of improving the process by which students recover credits for courses they did not pass.
Our schools are the life blood of our community. Our students are our future. We cannot afford to ignore what is happening in our schools, whether through benign neglect or because we are desperate to meet a metric at the cost of sacrificing our kids' future. Our kids deserve much better, and so does the great city of Denver.
More from our Education archives: "North High: How many seniors graduated from school that used credit recovery courses?"