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Learn more about Colorado School Grades.

Q: When do the letter grades refresh each year?

A: The site is updated in mid-December when the new School Performance Frameworks (SPF) are released publicly by the Colorado Department of Education. This is the earliest that the SPF's are available. Learn more about the Colorado Department of Education’s SPF and Growth Model.

Q: What is the difference between an alternative school and a traditional school?

A: Alternative Education Campuses (AECs) are defined as schools that have a specialized mission and serve either a special-needs or at-risk population, where more than 95% of students have either an Individualized Education Program or meet the definition of a “high-risk” student. Throughout the website, the mode functionality at the top of the page identifies the type of schools that the user is viewing. Because traditional schools use different weights and indicators than alternative schools, the two school types are never compared against each other. For example, the grades and rankings of alternative schools only reflect a comparison to other alternative schools.

Q: Who created the letter grades?

A: The Colorado School Grades coalition worked with independent, third-party organizations – The Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) at the School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver and R- Squared Research, LLC - to translate the Colorado Department of Education’s School Performance data into letter grades. When necessary, the coalition made key decisions regarding the grading curve and the criteria for which schools received grades.

Q: How are the overall letter grades calculated?

A: The University of Colorado at Denver (CEPA) and R-Squared Research calculated the grades using the same variables and weights as the Colorado Department of Education’s School Performance Framework. The input data for calculating the overall grades includes:

For Elementary and Middle Schools For High Schools
Key Performance Indicator Weighting Key Performance Indicator Weighting
Academic Achievement 25% Academic Achievement 15%
Academic Growth 50% Academic Growth 35%
Academic Growth Gaps 25% Academic Growth Gaps 15%


College and Career Readiness 35%

Using the same criteria as the Colorado Department of Education, the measures and metrics of each of key performance indicator are combined using the exact same weights as the state and like the state's model, letter grades are assigned based on cut points. However, Colorado School Grades uses more nuanced, rigorous cut points.

Colorado School Grades Initiative Labels and Curve (highest to lowest)
Category Distribution
A (plus) 98.0-100.0
A 92.0-97.9
A- 90.0-91.9
B (plus) 85.0-89.9
B 70.0-84.9
B- 65.0-69.9
C (plus) 55.0-64.9
C 25.0-54.9
C- 15.0-24.9
D (plus) 13.0-14.9
D 7.0-12.9
D- 5.0-6.9
F 4.9 and below

Additional information about the methodology can be found in the technical notes from the University of Colorado – Denver and R-Squared Research. See below for a link to their memos.

Q: Why do you grade on a curve?

A: Colorado School Grades did not plan to grade on a forced curve, which grades schools relative to other schools in the state. Our intent was to create absolute cut scores that were determined by defensible, non- arbitrary rationale. As such, Colorado School Grades would have preferred to use a standards-based model that set absolute cut scores, which would allow all schools to achieve an “A” grade if they reached a certain level of performance. There were two challenges to this goal. The Colorado Growth Model is built on relative measures that compare the academic growth of students across the state. Thus, the primary input performance data to the system rated schools relative to other schools in the state. Second, we found that other jurisdictions had to regularly adjust their standards-based cut scores as input measures to the system changed (such as new assessment tools). Because of the comparative nature of state’s model, and lessons learned from other jurisdictions, Colorado School Grades was unable to develop absolute cut scores. This allowed us to keep indicators and weights consistent and develop a cut score methodology that can be maintained as the state develops new assessments or different input measures.

Q: What is academic achievement?

A: According to the Colorado Department of Education, academic achievement reflects how a school’s students are doing at meeting the Colorado’s model content standards. It is measured by the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on Colorado’s standards-based assessments. Read more

Q: How is the academic achievement sub-grade calculated?

A: The academic achievement grade is calculated by ranking all schools from highest performing to lowest performing based on the percentage of students in the school who scored proficient or advanced on the statewide standardized assessment. Schools are only compared to other schools of the same type. For example, elementary schools are compared relative to other elementary schools.

Q: What is academic growth?

A: According to the Colorado Department of Education, academic growth measures academic progress using the Colorado Growth Model. For an individual student, growth is a measure of progress in academic achievement in comparison to other similar students. For some states, this measure might simply be a change (a gain or a loss) in test scores from one year to the next. For Colorado, growth is not expressed in test score point gains or losses, but in student academic growth percentiles. Read more

Q: How is the academic growth sub-grade calculated?

A: The academic growth grade is calculated by ranking all schools from highest performing to lowest performing based on the school’s overall median growth percentile. Schools are only compared to other schools of the same type. For example, elementary schools are compared relative to other elementary schools.

Q: What are academic growth gaps?

A: According to the Colorado Department of Education, academic growth gaps measure the academic progress of historically disadvantaged student subgroups and students needing to catch up. It disaggregates academic growth into student subgroups including: students eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch (low-income), minority students, students with disabilities (IEP status), English Language Learners, and students needing to catch up.

Q: Why are academic growth gaps not shown on the school’s report card?

A: Academic growth gaps are very complex indicators. Because the growth gap data are disaggregated into subgroups, there is no one measure that can be solely relied on to rank and compare schools. Although, academic growth gaps are not displayed on the school’s report card, the data for each school is embedded in the overall school’s grade, just as it is in the Colorado Department of Education’s School Performance Framework.

Q: What is college and career readiness?

A: According to the Colorado Department of Education, college and career readiness measures the preparedness of students for post secondary education or the workforce upon completing high school. The indicator reflects student graduation rates, dropout rates, and school averages of the Colorado ACT composite scores. While these indicators are included in the calculation of the school’s overall grade, they are not displayed on the school’s report card page. Instead, we chose to display the school’s graduation rate, remediation rate, and subject-level ACT data on the report card, which is easier to understand.

Q: Why is there not a sub-grade for college and career readiness?

A: Similar to academic growth gaps, the college and career readiness indicator is actually based on a series of different data points. Because the data is organized this way, there is no one measure that can be solely relied on to rank and compare schools. Although a sub-grade is not provided for this category, the data for each high school is embedded in the overall school’s grade, just as it is in the Colorado Department of Education’s School Performance Framework. Additionally, Colorado School Grades decided to display more detailed information for this indicator than is used by the state’s system.

Q: What data is used to determine if a high school’s average student is college or career ready in each subject?

A: The ACT is the measurement instrument and the indicator of whether or not the average student is college or career ready in a particular subject. The ACT has set benchmarks scores that represent the level of achievement required for students to have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher, or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses. The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are:

ACT Subject-Area Test ACT Benchmark Score
English 18
Reading 22
Mathematics 22
Science 23
Q: How is the school’s ranking determined?

A: Using the same criteria as the Colorado Department of Education, schools are assigned a ranking based on the total number of percentage points earned on the SPF out of a possible 100. The ranking is based on the number of schools that receive a score higher than the school in question. Schools are compared to other schools of the same type. For example, elementary schools are compared relative to other elementary schools. To illustrate, if School A receives a ranking of 5, that means that four schools received a higher number of total percentage points on the SPF, so School A is in fifth place. The schools are then ranked from highest performing to lowest performing based on their total score. In some cases, ties occur because the total scores are identical.

Q: How is the 3 year trend calculated?

A: For each school that data is available, the school’s performance in the current year is compared to a blended average of the previous three years. For example, the 3 year trend for a school’s overall grade is calculated by comparing the school’s total score in 2011 to a blended average of its total score between 2009-2011.

Q. How is the graduation rate calculated?

A: Colorado School Grades does not calculate the graduation rate. Instead, it displays the 4-year graduation rate that is provided in the Colorado Department of Education’s school performance framework flat file. In 2010, this was a 4-year rate; however, in 2011, the formula was changed to reflect a four year “on-time” graduation rate. For these reasons, the 2010 and 2011 graduation rates are not comparable. Read More

Q: How is the growth grade for English Language Learners calculated?

A: Colorado School Grades uses the growth data provided by CELApro to provide a separate growth grade for English Language Learners. This is only possible when the school meets the minimum student count of 20. This grade is calculated by ranking all schools from highest performing to lowest performing based on the school’s median growth percentile for English Language Learners. Schools are only compared to other schools of the same type. For example, elementary schools are compared relative to other elementary schools.

Q: Why don't private schools have letter grades?

A: Private schools are not required to publicly report test results, therefore we do not have comparative data necessary to calculate a letter grade.

Q: Why do some public schools not have a letter grade?

A: Colorado School Grades does not grade schools if they do not have 100% of the input data used to calculate a total score. As a reminder, that input data includes academic proficiency, academic growth, academic growth gaps for all schools, as well as college and career readiness for high schools. Of the schools without letter grades, most fall into this category for one of two reasons. First, they are a new school and have not been open long enough for the Colorado Department of Education to calculate academic growth or growth gaps data. Second, they are a small school and the Colorado Department of Education does not publically report data points when there are less than 16-20 students (depending on the measure) to protect student privacy. Colorado School Grades provides as much data as the Colorado Department of Education reports. If your school does not have a grade and you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to visit the Colorado Department of Education’s webpage and contact your school directly to discuss its performance with the principal.

Q: How can a school's overall grade be high when the academic achievement grades are low, or vice versa?

A: The reason for either of these instances has to do with the grading formula. In elementary and middle schools, academic growth is weighted twice as much as academic achievement. In fact, 75% of elementary and middle schools’ total score is comprised of academic growth and academic gaps. Similarly, in high schools, academic growth is weighted more than twice as much as academic achievement. Academic growth and academic growth gaps account for 50% of the total score, while academic achievement only accounts for 15%.

Q: Does this site just use test scores to grade schools?

A: Similar to the Colorado Department of Education’s School Performance Framework, test scores are the primary input to Colorado School Grades. Importantly, the test scores that are used provide an indication of not only academic achievement, but also growth and gaps in growth. Both growth and gaps in growth provide an indication of the progress students are making towards proficiency. Furthermore, this academic data should only be considered a starting point and we encourage you to visit your school and evaluate its other features, program offerings, and school culture before making a decision. One would never purchase a car based solely on a consumer reports review and, as such, we encourage you to kick the tires and take your school for a test drive, so to speak.

Q: Do the distribution of schools in the state’s performance labels correlate with the distributions of schools in each letter grade?

A: No, there are not perfect correlations between the state’s distributions and those provided by Colorado School Grades. This is the case for several reasons. First, the cut scores that were used to label schools are different. Second, the state provides school districts an opportunity to appeal a school’s ranking. Through this appeal process a school’s performance label may change, although its data will not. Third, Colorado School Grades only provided grades to the schools with 100% of the input data, which means we did not grade some schools that the state may have provided a label.

Q: How does Colorado stack up?

A: According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP – or the “Nation’s Report Card”), Colorado’s 4th grade students rank 11th in reading and 6th in math while the state’s 8th grade students rank 12th in reading and 9th in math. However, Colorado ranked 22nd in four-year high school graduation rate. Additionally, we know that Colorado’s students must compete internationally for jobs. In an international comparison of math, reading, and science skills among 15-year-olds, the United States ranks 25th in math, 12th in reading, and 20th in science skills. Moreover, in 2008, the U.S. high school graduation rate was lower than the rates of the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Finland and Denmark. That same year, the U.S. was the only developed nation where a higher percentage of 55- to 64-year-olds had graduated from high school than 25- to 34-year-olds.

Read more about the grading methodology in the technical notes from the University of Colorado – Denver and R-Squared Research. The grading methodology for Alternative Schools is described in these notes from R-Squared Research.

Learn more about the Colorado Department of Education’s School Performance Framework and Growth Model