The Colorado Department of Education has upgraded the Aspen School District in a standardized testing category based on information from appeal, according to a recent release from the district.


“In 2016, the Colorado Department of Education lowered Aspen School District’s accreditation to ‘Accredited’ from ‘Accredited with Distinction.’ In order to be considered ‘Accredited with Distinction,’ the state requires a 95 percent student participation rate in the standardized testing, but in 2015 many students chose not to participate, resulting in the lowered accreditation,” it continued.

The Aspen School District lacked the documentation needed to appeal that decision. But that changed in the 2016 school year, the release noted.

District test scores and performance became one of the signature campaign issues during the 2017 election season, which saw voters on Nov. 7 elect one challenger, Susan Zimet, and return two incumbents, Susan Marolt and Dwayne Romero, to the board. Candidate Jonathan Nickell, who used the district’s test performance as a campaign issue, finished fourth in a race where the top three won seats.

In a letter dated November 2 to Aspen School District Board of Education President Sandra Peirce and Superintendent John Maloy, Colorado Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes said, “The district submitted additional information to the department to correct miscoding of student assessments experienced during the PSAT/SAT state assessment administration. With these students recoded and removed from the accountability participation rate for the PSAT/SAT state assessment administration, the district would meet the 95 percent participation rate threshold.

“Thus, the district would move from ‘Accredited: Decreased due to Participation’ to ‘Accredited with Distinction: Low Participation.’ CDE appreciates the time and effort that the district put into the request to reconsider process,” Anthes’ letter concluded. 

The school district has implemented a new policy to help it from being penalized for students opting out in the future. Tom Heald, assistant superintendent, said, “This school year we implemented a simple and uniform way for parents to opt their children out of the testing. We provided that documentation and appealed to the state and they have reversed our status back to ‘Accreditation with Distinction Low-Participation,” he said.
 
The district’s release announcing the results went on say, “Of the 178 school districts in the state of Colorado, only 25 made the Accredited with Distinction level. It is difficult to achieve as a district must meet 80 percent or more on the District Performance Frameworks, that measure student performance in academic achievement, academic growth, academic growth gaps and post-secondary and workforce readiness. 

It continued: “The Aspen School District had achieved the level Accreditation with Distinction from 2010-2014 and then in 2015 the CDE paused their accountability system in order to introduce new assessment standards.”
 
No funding is tied to earning the higher level. 

“But we know how hard our students work and the high level of education they are receiving. We take pride in the ability of our seniors being able to say that they are graduating from a ‘District with Distinction’ on their college applications,” Heald said.