Meeting Higher Expectations: Graduation Requirements

The implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards, coupled with new admission requirements for higher education institutions, has increased expectations for the coursework students must complete in high school. State and local policymakers acknowledge the importance of obtaining core-competency skills to succeed in the 21st century, including proficiency in math, science and written and verbal communication. The challenge for local districts is to empower students to develop 21st-century skills and knowledge in a system that provides multiple and diverse pathways to a high school diploma so that more students will complete high school and be prepared for a successful future.

In 2007, the state legislature passed House Bill 1118, which was intended to spur local boards to adopt high school graduation requirements consistent with a standards-based education system. As amended by CAP4K, the law requires local boards to adopt graduation requirements that meet or exceed the graduation guidelines adopted by the State Board. [C.R.S. § 22-32-109(1)(kk).]

Graduation guidelines were first adopted by the State Board in May 2013 and then revised in September 2015. Local graduation requirements consistent with the State Board’s guidelines will be applicable to ninth-graders in the 2017-18 school year. Many local boards plan to adopt new graduation requirements in spring 2016 to provide adequate notice of any changes to impacted students and parents.

 

In Brief: Graduation Requirements

Graduation requirements, adopted by local boards in consultation with their communities, are the means by which districts hold students accountable for their learning.

Graduation guidelines were first adopted by the State Board in May 2013 and then revised in September 2015. Local graduation requirements consistent with the State Board’s guidelines will be applicable to ninth-graders in the 2017-18 school year. Many local boards plan to adopt new graduation requirements in spring 2016 to provide adequate notice of any changes to impacted students and parents.

Prior to adopting local graduation requirements, CAP4K requires each school board to undertake a community-based process to develop a blueprint for the education system in the community and determine the skills students will need to achieve success after graduation.

Because the state legislation requiring the community-based process was passed some time ago, many local boards have already undertaken a comprehensive community-based process and revised their high school graduation requirements. Now that the State Board has adopted its graduation guidelines, those boards that have completed this community-based process should, at a minimum, revisit their blueprint as well as the State Board’s guidelines to ensure that the board’s high school graduation requirements comply with state law.

 


State Accreditation and Accountability

The state accreditation program was enacted into law in 1998. The purpose of accreditation is to provide a process for the State Board of Education to fulfill its constitutional responsibility for supervising the state’s public schools and to encourage excellence by assessing student performance in relation to state academic standards. A major focus of accreditation is to close the achievement gap between children of poverty, children of color and their counterparts.

In 2007, the state legislature called for student growth to be used as the “cornerstone of the state’s accountability system.” In response, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) developed the Colorado Growth Model. As explained by CDE, the Colorado Growth Model offers a way for educators to understand how much growth a student exhibits from one year to the next in the context of a student’s “academic peers.” The growth model compares each student’s performance to students in the same grade throughout the state who had similar scores on state assessments in past years. The model then produces a growth percentile, much like children’s height and weight growth charts. If a student grew as well or better than 60 percent of his or her academic peers, he or she would be at the 60th percentile. The growth model also shows how much progress a student needs to make to reach proficiency on the state assessments within one, two or three years.

After development of the Colorado Growth Model, the state accreditation program was significantly overhauled by the Education Accountability Act of 2009 (the Act). [C.R.S. § 22-11-101 et seq.] Before it was signed into law, the Act was Senate Bill 09-163, and it is still often referred to as Senate Bill 163. The Act required the State Board to adopt rules implementing the state’s new accreditation and accountability system. After receiving valuable input from school districts, CASB and other education organizations, the State Board adopted new accreditation rules in the spring of 2010.

The Act creates an expanded set of state performance indicators for the state, districts and schools that includes:

  • Student academic growth (as measured by the Colorado Growth Model)
  • Student achievement levels (as measured by the percent of students scoring advanced, proficient, partially proficient and unsatisfactory on state assessments)
  • Extent of achievement gaps based on income and ethnicity
  • Postsecondary readiness (as measured by graduation rates and ACT scores/postsecondary workforce readiness)
  • An additional indicator was added in 2013 that provides districts with credit toward their accreditation rating for students who were identified as having a “significant reading deficiency” as defined by the READ Act and who score partially proficient, proficient or advanced on the statewide reading assessment in third or fourth grade

Based primarily on these state performance indicators, the Act creates the following accreditation categories: 

  • Accredited with distinction
  • Accredited
  • Accredited with improvement plan
  • Accredited with priority improvement plan
  • Accredited with turnaround plan
  • Unaccredited

The State Board’s accreditation rules specify the content and terms of the accreditation contract between each school district and the State Board. The rules also determine the appropriate accreditation category for each district, taking into account the duration of the district’s performance challenges and progress made under current improvement efforts. Lastly, the rules specify the circumstances in which the CDE may recommend the removal of a district’s accreditation or take other action to impact consistently low-performing schools and districts.

Regarding the accreditation of schools, the Act requires local boards of education to assign accreditation categories to schools in a manner that is aligned with and meets or exceeds the rigor of the state’s accreditation system for districts and is in accordance with the Act and the State Board’s accreditation rules. As discussed in Chapter 3, policymaking is one of the board’s most important jobs. The Act emphasizes this important role by requiring each local school board to adopt policies for the accreditation of its schools.

The Act also requires each district and school to create an annual improvement plan based upon the district or school’s accreditation category. The CDE has developed “unified improvement plans” (UIPs) to support schools and districts in their performance-management efforts. The UIP template is designed to meet state as well as federal accountability requirements and to enable a shift from planning as an “event” to planning as a critical component of “continuous improvement.”

Finally, the Act builds upon the Colorado Growth Model to provide state, district and school performance reports that include the state performance indicators and data required by state and federal law. School districts must report the required information to CDE, which then places all data onto its online data portal called SchoolView®.

SchoolView® and Performance Data

The Colorado Department of Education’s SchoolView® website shows state performance indicators and data required by state and federal law. In addition to indicators required by state law and accreditation rules, there is information on the school environment, including discipline information, student attendance, teacher experience and student-teacher ratios.

Visit schoolview.org to see your district’s performance report and UIP.