EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Two local middle schools are in the state's top 10 percent, according to an independent analysis of state data.
Gypsum Creek Middle School earned an A and Eagle Valley Middle School earned an A- from Colorado School Grades, a group of 18 Colorado industries and foundations.
"We're proud of the continuing improvements at Gypsum Creek and Eagle Valley middle schools," said Sandra Smyser, superintendent of Eagle County schools. "Both received Governor's Awards for improvement, so to also receive A's by coloradoschoolgrades.org is very gratifying. They have even tougher cut scores than the Colorado Department of Education."
Colorado School Grades uses the Colorado Department of Education's testing data to evaluate and rank all the state's schools on a standard bell curve.
The difference is how it's interpreted, said Scott Laband, with Colorado Succeeds, one of the 18 organizations that came up with more than $1 million in private money to evaluate the data.
The Center for Education Policy Analysis at the University of Colorado Denver came up with the Colorado School Grades formula. Their school rankings shake out like this:
• 10 percent get A's.
• 25 percent get B's.
• 50 percent get C's.
• 10 percent get D's.
• 5 percent get F's.
Conversely, the Colorado Department of Education ranks schools in four categories:
3. Priority improvement.
More than 70 percent of Colorado public schools are "top performers."
That's the worst kind of grade inflation, said Tim Taylor, president of Colorado Succeeds.
"Parents would never accept rampant grade inflation in a classroom that gives 70 percent of the students an A grade. We don't think they should have to accept a state ranking system that does the same thing with schools," Taylor said. "The Colorado School Grades tool is much easier to understand and offers more clarity about how every public school in the state is actually performing."
At the very least, it lacks clarity, Laband said.
"When we ask parents what it means when their children are attending a 'priority improvement' school, they think that's a good thing," Laband said.
Colorado School Grades is based on four criteria: academic performance, academic growth, the gap between high and low academic achievers and, in high schools, college and career readiness, Laband said.
The Colorado Department of Education could not be reached for comment.
The goal is to put easily accessible information into the hands of parents and community members, so they can understand the performance of their local schools, Laband said.
"Before this tool was created, it was easier to go online and pick a vacuum cleaner based on rankings than it was to get school information," Taylor said.
More than half of the Colorado School Grades website is dedicated to helping parents decide, "Now what?" Laband said.
"We hope to raise awareness around school performance," Laband said.
"We believe that information is powerful, and we want them to use that information to get engaged in their schools.
"If we make this information easy to access, people will do exactly that: access it and take action."
They sent banners to every A school in the state and encouraged them to share what helped them achieve their lofty rankings. They have a website and a Facebook page and constantly hear from grateful parents, Laband said.
Colorado School Grades has more than 450,000 unique page views on its website, Laband said. This is the second year it's released its rankings.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.