Board Reviews College and Career Readiness Indicators, Changes to Graduation Requirements

At the March 2, 2017 Focus on Achievement session the Board of Education received an update on progress toward the district’s Denver Plan 2020 College and Career Ready goal, and the impact new graduation requirements will have on graduation rates.

Grad Rates, College and Career Readiness Increasing

DPS has increased the number of students graduating every year for the past 10 years. The four-year graduation rate for students who start with DPS in ninth grade has increased from 60.4% in 2009-10 to 74% in 2015-16. Our target is to reach 90% by 2020.

The number of DPS graduates who are ready for college and career as measured by the state standard is up from 1,110 in 2012-13 to 1,996 in 2015-16. Our target is 2,200 by 2020.

New Grad Requirements Raising the Bar

As encouraging as these numbers are, new graduation requirements set to go into effect for next year’s freshman (the Class of 2021) increase expectations for our students, demanding they not only complete coursework, but also demonstrate competency and complete an Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP).

“Our challenge now is that, beginning in 2021, our kids will not graduate if they aren’t college ready,” said Randy Johnson, executive director of Post Secondary Readiness.

Not being prepared for college means a student may be required to take remedial courses, which translates into a longer timeline toward degree completion and resulting debt, intensifying the potential for a student to drop out of college. These factors combined contribute to only about half of Colorado students who enter public colleges actually earning their degrees. We want better for our students — and that’s why our new graduation requirements ensure that a DPS diploma is a diploma of possibility.

The Opportunity Gap in College Preparedness

While the increased rigor of the new graduation requirements will improve the number of students actually prepared to be successful in college and career, we must also focus on how to address the opportunity gap that exists for our students of color. In last year’s graduating class, 73% of the white students were college ready, compared to only 37% of our Latino and 31% of our African-American students.

How Students Get Off Track

The board heard analysis of a number of the root causes for students being off-track to graduate, including reading proficiency, attendance, behavior and core courses, particularly by eighth grade. Data shows that students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities and English language learners are more likely to be off track in those key indicators for on time graduation.

School Leaders Share Success Strategies  

School leaders from schools that have been most successful in increasing the percent of their students who demonstrate college readiness shared their strategies.

Suzanne Morris-Sherer, former principal at Thomas Jefferson High School and now the instructional superintendent for High School Network 4, explained the importance of programs where students can earn college credit, such as the Ascent program. “For kids who came from situations where they said they couldn’t afford to go to college, I said to them that I would make sure they would leave high school with college credit. That was huge for them,” she said.

“Every student is different. It’s a matter of sending the message, ‘you are college material,’ and providing a pathway for them to be successful. College is not unattainable for anyone,” said Martha Gustafson, principal at Collegiate Preparatory Academy.

Cesar Cedillo, principal at Bruce Randolph Middle School and High School, said he doesn’t believe schools need the district to make systemic changes as much as schools need to be creative. “We need to fight the status quo and think outside the box,” he said, adding that many of the students in his school are taking advanced placement courses they “shouldn’t” be taking as freshman, but they are succeeding. He added how important culture and social-emotional supports are at the middle school level in setting those students up for success in high school.

Jamie Lofaro, principal at Career Education Center Early College, said she appreciated that the district is emphasizing that our students being on track to graduate is the charge of all of our educators, not just postsecondary. “It’s the responsibility of the entire system. Everyone has ownership of something,” she said.

‘Paradigm Shift’

“I want to thank the staff who have worked so hard to really work to raise the bar for our students to ensure they are ready for college and career,” said Board President Anne Rowe. “We are talking about a dramatic paradigm shift to provide our high school kids multiple pathways with real life experiences combined with academics … so I encourage us to take the long view on this work because it isn’t all going to happen over night.”

Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova added, “These aren’t the current graduation requirements, but it’s critical that we name that we need a radical reboot to get our kids where they need to be in four years. We are asking ourselves what we need to do to get kids ready and, when they do get behind, what we need to do to get them back on track.”

More Information

Read a supplemental report on the new graduation requirements, download a 1-pager and view an animated video.

View the full presentation and visit for more information and updates.