Fewer Colorado schools earned top marks this year — and 31% more earned one of the two lowest marks in the state — after three years of schooling interrupted by the pandemic, according to preliminary scores released. Thursday by the Colorado Department of Education.

Of more than 1,870 schools in Colorado, 175 earned one of the two lowest ratings, down from 134 schools that had one of the two lowest ratings last year.

Thirteen school districts also earned one of the two lowest ratings, down from four last year. The 13 districts include three in the metropolitan area: Mapleton, Englewood and Sheridan.

Low-rated schools and districts are eligible for additional financial assistance and guidance from state education officials. But repeated low grades put schools and districts at risk of state intervention if their students’ test scores don’t improve.

Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said in a press release that the grades, officially known as the School Performance Framework Reports, reflect the results of the literacy and math tests of the school. state on which they are largely based. Test results have plummeted during the pandemic.

“Executives demonstrate the same thing we saw with our assessment results — that we still have work to do to rebuild after the pandemic,” Anthes said.

What state officials call the Accountability Clock — a timeline for struggling schools and districts to show improvement or face intervention — has been on hold since the state’s 2020 testing suspension. .

This school year is a transition year, with schools receiving grades that could serve as a warning but will not be used to add schools to the clock or move schools further away. Schools that have been timed can use a good grade to justify leaving, but schools with poor grades will have another year to improve before facing the consequences.

Lawmakers have increased School Transformation Grant funding by 50% this year to a total of $6 million and will allow more schools to apply for this funding. Schools also have access to federal COVID relief money that they can use for tutoring and other student assistance.

About 17% of schools and 39% of school districts had so little test data that the state did not assign a grade. This is higher than in past years.

How schools under state orders fared

The State Board of Education can still use this year’s ratings to order new interventions in schools and districts already under State Board of Education improvement orders. These schools and districts have had at least five years of low ratings.

Twelve schools and one district, Adams 14 in Commerce City, are already under state orders. The 12 schools include three in Aurora, three in Pueblo, two in Adams 14, two in Denver, one in Monte Vista and one in Colorado Springs.

Adams District 14, which has tested the limits of the state’s liability system, has had low ratings since 2010, and this year saw another drop in its rating. Central Elementary, which has its own state improvement plan, fell another level to a low this year.

In total, five of the district’s 11 schools received one of the two lowest ratings. But two Adams 14 schools that had previously low ratings got improved ratings this year: Rose Hill Elementary and Lestor Arnold, the district’s alternative high school.

Under a new superintendent, district chiefs and union leaders last year criticized the state liability system as unfair. Students in the district face so many challenges outside of the classroom, leaders say, that learning takes longer. Teachers must first address hunger, safety and trauma.

Additionally, more than half of Adams 14 students are learning English as a second language, one of the highest percentages in the state. Previous administrations have been the subject of federal investigations for discrimination against them.

More recently, leaders have attempted to correct this record, including restoring some bilingual education and portraying students as linguistically gifted. However, these students were also most likely to suffer disruptions during the COVID closures when schools did not offer the normal number of English language development classes and had to change the way they offered student support.

In Aurora, Aurora Central High School scored lower this year than in the past. The district recently created an arts magnet program on the same campus that will include a pathway to Aurora Central for students studying the arts.

The other two Aurora schools under state orders, Gateway High School and North Middle School, remained the same, each again earning one of the two lowest ratings. The same was true for Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver, which is also under state orders.

Only three of 12 schools with state orders saw their grades improve: Manual High School in Denver and Central High and Minnequa Elementary in Pueblo City District 60. Bill Metz Elementary School in Monte District Vista got a high rating for the second year in a row, which means it might ask to be taken off the clock.

How grades are calculated

Each public school in Colorado receives an annual grade from the state. Student growth, or the progress students have made year-over-year on state tests relative to their peers with previously similar scores, matters more in grades than the number of students who achieved results at school level. For secondary schools, data such as graduation and dropout rates are also factored into the grades.

Colorado last released assessments in 2019 based on state math and literacy tests from this spring. State tests were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and limited in 2021. Last spring marked the first time since 2019 that students in grades three through eleven took the full battery of tests, known as from Colorado Measures of Academic Success or CMAS.

The 2021 state scores were based on 2019 state test scores, though schools and districts can ask the state to raise their scores based on other data.

Colorado assigns each public school one of four ratings, ranging from performance plan, the highest, followed by improvement plan, priority improvement plan, and turnaround plan, the lowest. School districts receive similar grades, although top-performing districts may earn a Distinction Plan grade.

Schools and districts ranked as priorities for improvement or turnaround are put on a state watch list and have five years to show improvement.

This year, 54% of schools in Colorado had the highest rating, up from 69% in 2019. 17% of schools have the second-highest rating this year, up from 21%.

The percentage of schools with one of the two lowest scores increased from 7% to 9%.

More than half of the schools maintained the same grade between the 2021 final grades and this year’s preliminary grades. Overall, about 15% of schools’ grades went down, while about 10% went up.

Colorado’s school accountability system is currently undergoing a sweeping performance audit ordered by lawmakers. The audit aims to determine whether the system improves student outcomes, harms certain groups of students, or negatively influences teaching practices, among other issues. The results are expected in November.

Erica Meltzer and Yesenia Robles contributed reporting. Kae Petrin contributed to the data analysis.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at [email protected].