CASTLE ROCK – For years, parents and community members have protested and voiced concerns over the direction of the Douglas County School District. Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Education says that direction is up.
"I'm really happy to see such a positive thing for the district and for the folks who work hard every day for the students," Dr. Liz Fagen, superintendent, said.
Initially, the Douglas County School District received the second highest rating of Accredited during its evaluation from the state. School districts can receive five different ratings: Accredited with Distinction, Accredited, Accredited with Improvement Plan, Accredited with Priority Improvement Plan, and Accredited with Turnaround Plan.
Wednesday morning, Deputy Commissioner of Education Dr. Keith Owen presented the State Board of Education a report which showed that Douglas County, along with other districts around the state, had its accreditation rating improved from the second best rating to the top one.
"It shows that the district overall on our frameworks that we have at the state level are progressing and performing well," Owen said. "And, so what this does show us is that students are achieving at high levels, that there is good performance with growth."
Owen says those factors combined with a high graduation rate and low dropout rate will equal a rating of Accredited with Distinction.
"I think the intent of the Accredited with Distinction category is to highlight that success," Owen said.
For the last four years, community members have expressed angst over actions taken by conservative Douglas County School Board which include pushing for a school voucher plan, restructuring the way teachers are paid, applying for innovation status with hopes of waiving mandated standardized tests, and cutting ties with the teachers union.
"We've worked really hard for over four years to do what we really believe is the best interest of our students," Fagen said.
But, some parents do not agree. A community group called Douglas County Parents issued this statement, "There is nothing we would like more, than to see our schools improving and setting the bar as top-performing state-wide and nationally. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Our academic achievement has not improved, even though the state has improved our accreditation rating. What the district is leaving out is why the state improved our rating today."
The Douglas County School District asked the state to reconsider its accreditation rating after removing scores from three alternative education campuses which is allowed by law. The Colorado Department of Education stated in a letter to Douglas County that the point of the law is so school districts are not discouraged from serving alternative education students who typically show lower test scores.
The law also requires that in order to receive an improved accreditation rating, the districts must show that students are growing academically within the alternative education programs. The state says that all three campuses in Douglas County receive the highest rating school rating of "performance."
Still, Douglas County Parents say the Accredited with Distinction rating is misleading. "We are concerned that the Douglas County School District will use this improved rating to deny our declining academic growth scores, that they will abandon their promise to improve academic achievement, and that they will continue to ignore high levels of parent and stake-holder dissatisfaction."
Owen says the rating is for Douglas County and for any district is accurate.
"Absolutely objective rating system," Owen said.
Fagen says the new rating validates the work of her teachers, administrators, and staff.
"In Douglas County, we've been actually been doing some of these new things for a few years and how's it working?" Fagen said. "Well, according to this metric, it's working."
Another large school district, Boulder Valley also received the Accredited with Distinction rating. But, Boulder is about half the student population size of Douglas County. Across the state, about 15 percent of all districts receive the highest rating.