by Wendy Loloff Piersee, CEO Generation Schools Network
Generation Schools Network (GSN) worked with the west Denver community and Denver Public Schools to launch West Generation Academy (WGA) in Fall 2012. GSN came to Colorado, and specifically West High School for key reasons. This included a district commitment to innovation in a turnaround setting, a Colorado commitment to see all students succeed and a bold vision set forth by state policy makers positioning our state as a national leader in education.
At the same time, we recognized that Colorado's kids face many challenges. Our state has the third fastest growing rate of childhood poverty in the nation and a growing number of Hispanic students and English language learners, populations that historically faces large achievement gaps.[i] Those data points are clearly evident when walking the halls of West Generation Academy, where 97% of the student body qualify for free and reduced price lunch, 87% are Hispanic or Latino and nearly 40% receive second language services. Additionally, when West Generation Academy opened, 80% of our students came in five or more grade levels behind. That meant our 6th graders were reading at a 1st grade level.
I mention these data points not as a means to excuse achievement levels or to dismiss the work that still must be done, but to help paint a complete picture of the students we are committed to serving.
As any strong school leader will tell you, the data is important. This is exactly the reason the Generation Schools Model facilitates the use of multiple forms of assessment and gives teachers time each day to review data and respond by adjusting instruction. Our interim assessment data all year has indicated that our students have achieved significant growth averaging 1.5 grade levels of growth in math and 1.25 in literacy.
Additionally, over the first two years, these same Common Core aligned interim assessments indicate that the achievement gap we started with (80% of students being five more grade levels behind) has been significantly reduced.
For that reason we were challenged when we saw the results of the recent Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) that indicated WGA student scores were largely flat, mirroring what was seen state-wide. While there was growth indicated in middle school math and writing as well as reading and math in the high school, the results were not at all what we expected to see, especially when we are committed to ending the achievement disparity between white and minority students.
This week, teachers returned to WGA to begin their Summer Institute; two weeks of professional, collaborative time to prepare for the school year. Inevitably, some will be disappointed when they see the TCAP results, knowing how much progress they have made with their students. Fortunately, they will have time as a team to look at all of the larger body of data - including but not limited to this year's TCAP - and use it to ensure that WGA continues to move students toward the goal of being college ready.
And soon, their classrooms will be populated by the students they are passionate about educating, students like 10th grade Misael who characterizes his WGA experience by recommending it to other students, "I would suggest WGA to another student because of the many opportunities offered here. They help you get to where you want to be. They help you explore and prepare for college, careers, jobs."
We agree with what Commissioner Hammond said to the State Board of Education last week, "It clearly isn't where we need to be"[ii] but we are not giving up. Teachers and administrators will mine the data and use it as a catalyst to propel the work forward for the benefit of Colorado's students, families and employers.
For those looking for more data on West Generation Academy:
- WGA students on average grew 2 years in math and 1 year in reading based on STAR interim assessment results, a Common Core aligned assessment given four times during the school year
- WGA was recognized as a high growth high school in 9th grade Reading and Writing based on the TCAP results
- WGA was the 4th highest scoring school in DPS on the Access assessment of English language acquisition.
- WGA doubled the percent of sixth graders rated proficient on the Scholastic Math Inventory
- WGA students on average grew 1.5 or more years in math on the STAR interim assessment
- WGA students on average grew 1.25 years in reading on the STAR interim assessment
- WGA improved high school attendance by 3.2% to 86.1%
- WGA improved middle school attendance by 2% to 90.5%
- WGA students read 7,950 books - eight times the number of books they read last year (according to Renaissance Learning, WGA is one of their highest performing schools for reading comprehension with an average quiz score of 83%)
- 30% of WGA 9th and 10th graders have already successfully completed their first college course
- WGA reduced by 62% discipline and law enforcement referrals
- WGA ranked 3rd highest in all of DPS on student engagement.
On behalf of WGA students and teachers,
Wendy Loloff Piersee
CEO, Generation Schools Network