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Why Are Achievement Gaps So Wide at Denver Public Schools?

The answers might be found in these students' stories.

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The achievement gap between white and minority students in Denver Public Schools is one of the worst in the country. Despite the district’s efforts, we can’t seem to narrow that chasm. These students’ stories might explain why.

System Fail

The racial achievement gap remains persistent in Denver and Colorado, in part because of a stubborn bias we’ve yet to overcome.

Race has long been a lightning rod for Denver Public Schools (DPS). In 1970, DPS buses were bombed following a District Court order to reinstate stalled integration efforts. When Tom Boasberg became superintendent of DPS—a district in which 55 percent of students are Hispanic—in 2009, local Latino leaders protested because the board didn’t seriously consider hiring a Hispanic candidate. Only two years ago, a DPS-commissioned report about the black experience in the district quoted an educator as saying: “African-Americans in DPS are invisible, silenced, and dehumanized, especially if you are passionate, vocal, and unapologetically black.”

Of course, race is a contentious topic in many major urban school districts. What’s different in Denver is that the academic gulf between students of color and their white peers is unusually broad. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally administered test, DPS’ black fourth-graders scored 36 points worse than their white counterparts on the reading portion of the exam in 2017. That put DPS 18th out of the 24 school districts that were measured, and the gap was five points wider than the national average for large cities. DPS’ Hispanic students fared even worse: The split between Hispanic and white learners was 40 points—22nd nationally and 13 points greater than the big-city mean.

This divide, known as the achievement gap, becomes especially difficult to close by fourth grade. If a pupil doesn’t know how to read well by then, she’ll fall even further behind because she won’t be able to absorb history, math, and other lessons—she’ll still be trying to make out the words. (There are myriad ways to measure gaps, from gender to public versus private schools, but the four main categories are ethnicity, socioeconomics, English language learners, and disabilities. In relation to the U.S. average for big cities, Denver performs worst in the arena of educating Hispanics.)

Part of DPS’ deficit derives from the fact that the city is in Colorado, a state that spends more than $2,000 less per pupil annually on education than the U.S. average. Over the course of his decadelong tenure, Boasberg shoveled those limited resources into the gap—instituting full-day kindergarten for all kids, for example—in an effort to accomplish his number one goal: ensuring each child gets an equal chance to learn. Yet despite modest progress (see “Minor Victories,” below), DPS’ achievement gap remains broad. Why? “I think it starts with the fact that we have tremendous inequality in our society. I also think it has to do with the biases and stereotypes in our society,” says Boasberg, who stepped down last month. “If you look at where we are now versus 25 years ago, many of those inequities have barely budged, and so these achievement gaps have barely budged.”

These profiles explore how students’ ethnicities can affect their receptions in schools and how bias (sometimes intentional, sometimes unintentional) can result in the funneling of minority learners to the backs of their classes. “This is the zillion-dollar question for the new superintendent,” says Van Schoales, CEO of A+ Colorado, an education research and advocacy group. “Are they going to employ the same old strategies?” Or will the thousands of minority students who comprise DPS finally receive the equity they’ve been waiting decades for?

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Suspended Reality

Black students are seven times more likely than white students to receive out-of-school suspensions in DPS, and Hispanic students are three times more likely. Why?

At DSST: Conservatory Green Middle School, black kids like Jordan Johnson were suspended more often than white students. Photograph by Caleb Alverado

Jordan Johnson’s math teacher was trying to connect with the seventh-grader, trying to understand why his student kept disrupting class. Jordan believes they were talking near the entrance to DSST: Conservatory Green Middle School, while the educator says they were having lunch in the cafeteria. But the teacher says he posited a few theories to his pupil. Maybe Jordan didn’t enjoy math? Or was it that Jordan didn’t like the teacher? Finally, the teacher wondered if perhaps their discord stemmed from him being white and Jordan being black.

Jordan says he hadn’t seriously considered race a factor in their relationship until hearing his math teacher’s remark. But the comment crystallized the divide Jordan and his brother, Noah, a year ahead of him, felt inside the school. How teachers, nearly all white, seemed to disproportionately punish black kids for talking in class. How it seemed “lunchtime refocus” periods (essentially detention) were filled mostly with black students.
School administrators contend they were unaware of most of these claims until Deidre Johnson, Jordan’s mom, filed a complaint during Jordan’s eighth-grade year. DSST Public Schools, a STEM-based charter network of 14 middle and high schools in Denver, says it took the allegations seriously (though Deidre disagrees); part of its mission, after all, is to “transform urban public education by eliminating educational inequity.” Indeed, DSST has come closer than most DPS schools to accomplishing that goal. In 2016, the Education Equality Index highlighted seven Denver schools that comprised a majority of low-income students but exhibited little to no achievement gap. Three of them (but not Conservatory Green Middle) are part of the DSST system.

At Conservatory Green Middle, black students do suffer the biggest share of the punishments. During 2017-’18, they made up 27 percent of the student body yet incurred 48 percent of the suspensions. Meanwhile, white students, who constitute 17 percent of the school, received 14 percent of the suspensions. Similar stats are the norm across DSST: The latest Denver Community Accountability Report Card, compiled by Denver nonprofit Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, shows that every DSST middle school except for two punished students of color more frequently than the DPS average in 2014-’15. (DSST appears to be trending in the right direction. At the middle school level, suspension rates were below the DPS average for every race except white in 2016-’17, according to DSST.)

Hired in May 2018 as DSST’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Aaron Griffen says he hasn’t been on the job long enough to diagnose why students of color are being disciplined at a higher rate at Conservatory Green Middle. Often, though, education researchers suggest teachers rebuke black students because they consider them to be more threatening. A 2016 DPS survey, in fact, found that some educators in the district believed “many of the young female Anglo teachers and administrators, who comprise the disproportionate majority of the DPS workforce, fear African-American students.” An incident at Conservatory Green Middle, when an eighth-grade English teacher said “I know you guys think I am a weak white girl” to a group of students, seems to touch on similar themes. (School administrators say they later told the educator that such comments are unacceptable.)

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Although Griffen is still investigating Conservatory Green Middle’s suspension issues, he understands what the punishments can lead to—namely, the achievement gap. “I’ve been suspended 15 days. I go take a state assessment. How do you expect me to perform as high as the rest of the students if I’m not there?” Griffen asks. While Conservatory Green Middle performs above the DPS average for black and Hispanic students in reading and math on the Colorado Measures of Academic Success exam (though still below the marks recorded by white students), it doesn’t score as well as the highest performing schools in the DSST network. As it happens, the only two DSST middle schools that discipline minorities at a lower rate than the district mean—DSST: Byers and DSST: Stapleton, according to the Padres & Jóvenes Unidos report—are also the network’s best.

Johnson maintains her son entered Conservatory Green Middle as a sixth-grader excited about learning, yet over time, his grades sank and his attitude toward education soured. Unquestionably, Jordan emerged from Conservatory Green Middle with a nuanced understanding of race. Now a freshman at South High School, Jordan still has negative memories about his seventh-grade math teacher. “He didn’t have control of the classroom,” Jordan says, “and I felt picked out.” But he still harbors appreciation for some teachers, among them the English teacher who talked about being a “weak white girl.” She invested extra time tutoring him, Jordan says, and he saw an improvement in his grades. Despite the teacher’s outburst, he believes she has a good heart. “She was a good teacher overall,” Jordan says. “I think part of that was she didn’t realize what she was saying.”

Minor Victories

Many would label outgoing DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg’s tenure—during which he embraced innovative models for school autonomy and shared campuses—a success. But how, after 10 years, does he grade himself on bringing equity to public schools, which he calls “the civil rights issue of our generation”?

5280: When you became superintendent, you said fixing urban public schools was this generation’s civil rights battle. Did you mean closing the achievement gap?
Tom Boasberg:
What I meant was the opportunity for every kid to get a great education is the fundamental mission of public education. Because education is the most important driver of opportunity. It’s the most important driver of equity in our society. If we’re going to close gaps we see in our society—in terms of opportunity, in terms of social justice—it starts with education.

Photo courtesy of Denver Public Schools

How do you think you fared with regard to the achievement gap?
We’ve doubled our number of African-American and Latino students who are graduating from high school. We are more than doubling our number of African-American and Latino students who are going on to college. At the same time, we have a tremendous amount of work to do to ensure that every kid’s opportunities have nothing to do with the color of their skin.

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In fourth-grade reading, Colorado ranks 32nd and 39th in the country for our black and Hispanic achievement gaps, respectively. Is there anything unique about our state that explains that?
I don’t think it helps that we fund our kids more than $2,000 less per kid than the national average. Resources are not everything. But they matter.

What advice would you give to your successor with regard to the battle against the gap?
Continue to make it our number one priority. Know you’ll get political challenges on that front, and those with the strongest political voice in our country are generally those with the most privilege.

Do you believe your successor needs to be a person of color?
Clearly, at every level, from teachers to school leaders to district level leaders, I think it’s extraordinarily important that we have strong leaders of color.

Do you ever think: This problem isn’t fixable?
It is fixable. But I’m also not naive to the intensity of the effort that is necessary. I will say I’m frustrated right now by our national political climate in which divisions have only grown deeper, rather than having more people come together.

Untapped Resources

Despite recent statewide rules designed to identify more minorities as gifted and talented, students of color are still woefully underrepresented in local programs.

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Despite a difficult start in kindergarten, Zenzel Cobb is now excelling at the Denver Language School, a charter school in DPS. Photograph by Caleb Alverado

Ask teachers and education activists about the achievement gap, and some will cringe at the term. It’s not an achievement gap, they’ll say. It’s an opportunity gap. The former suggests people of color simply aren’t matching white people’s successes. The latter recognizes that minorities aren’t matching white people’s successes because they often aren’t afforded the same opportunities—such as tuition-based preschool classes that give learners a head start on reading. (Colorado doesn’t have universal preschool.)

But Zenzel Cobb attended preschool. She fared well at the Goddard School of Aurora, where she displayed a love of reading and learned to sing songs in Mandarin Chinese. It wasn’t until Zenzel, who is African-American, enrolled in the Cherry Creek School District that opportunities began to skip over her.

When Zenzel entered Black Forest Hills Elementary School in Aurora, Tessoni Newton, her mother, says the teacher presented her daughter with a list of 100 words. Most students can identify 10—Zenzel understood 72. From that exam and a subsequent conversation with the educator, Newton understood Zenzel to be more advanced than her classmates. So Newton was surprised when her child came home with fairly remedial homework, exercises that had her repeating, “The letter ‘H’ says, hu-hu”—something she’d mastered years before. A single mother working more than 40 hours a week, Newton didn’t know a gifted and talented program existed—much less how to navigate its labyrinthlike application process. Newton says her child’s teacher never told her about it or recommended Zenzel take the tests. Before long, Zenzel began disrupting class and losing recess. The low point arrived after Christmas, when Zenzel, refusing to leave her bed, screamed: “I hate school! I hate it!” Newton fled the room so her daughter wouldn’t see her cry.

In 2007, Colorado began mandating that every district within its borders provide gifted and talented identification and services for all grades. How districts handled that was up to them. Then, in 2015, the state created more consistent rules for identification. Districts simply weren’t recognizing enough underserved populations, including minorities, as gifted, and such services are integral to the development of advanced pupils. One of the longest running studies published on the smartest kids contends that, yes, they are often destined to become CEOs, scientists, and bureaucrats. But to reach those lofty heights, they have to be challenged. Gifted kids who aren’t pushed withdraw, says Rebecca McKinney, DPS’ director of gifted and talented education. Bored, they act out and might experience mental health issues.

Even under the state’s revamped system, the road to gifted and talented identification remains a confusing one. The first step, though, is a referral. More often than not, this comes from a teacher or parent who recognizes a child’s outsize talent. The district then starts collecting a wide range of data—it can be both quantitative (such as scoring in the 95th percentile on a cognitive, creativity, or achievement test) and qualitative (think: winning contests, a portfolio of great work, and classroom observation)—about the child.

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That presents a problem for minorities. In 2016, a study in the American Educational Research Association’s peer-reviewed journal found “black students are predicted to be assigned to gifted services three times more often in classrooms with black teachers than with nonblack teachers.” Consequently, because most teachers are white, nationally and in Colorado, minorities are grossly underrepresented in these advanced classes. In Cherry Creek, for example, black students comprise 11 percent of the student body yet make up only 5.8 percent of its gifted and talented program. (Hispanics, about 20 percent of the student body, constitute 11 percent of gifted classes.) Because of privacy laws, the district can’t talk about Zenzel or her experience. But Cherry Creek is rolling out a number of initiatives, including teacher training that will hopefully lead to better identification of gifted and talented students within different populations.

Even if the district’s plans work, Zenzel, who’s now in the first grade, won’t benefit from them. In February 2018, she moved to the Denver Language School, a language-immersion charter in DPS, and entered the Mandarin track. “When kids come into class, it typically takes three months to grasp the characters in their Chinese names,” says SsuLin Jin, Zenzel’s new teacher. “Zenzel started to write her name in three weeks.”

Despite Zenzel’s quick acclimation, Newton has had a difficult time reconciling what happened at Black Forest Hills. Was it her fault for not pushing for gifted and talented classes? The teacher’s for not recognizing Zenzel’s aptitude? Newton plans to eventually try to enroll Zenzel in the gifted and talented program. First, though, she needs to restore her daughter’s spirit. “I just want to focus on building her confidence back up,” Newton says, “and letting her know that she’s as smart as she once believed she was.”

Falling Stars

The percentage of minorities in DPS’ gifted and talented program isn’t trending in the right direction—at least, not officially.

Rebecca McKinney, DPS’ director of gifted and talented education, concedes the numbers don’t look good. Over the past three years, the proportion of students of color the district has identified as gifted and talented has dropped precipitously. DPS could be doing better, but the state, McKinney says, has played a role in the nosedive: As part of its 2015 update of gifted identification, the state mandates that—in order to use a cognitive, creativity, or achievement exam in their bodies of proof—students’ scores must rank in the 95th percentile, according to McKinney. Before then, DPS maintained a 90th percentile threshold. Consequently, the number of kids identified has fallen from 3,107 in 2013-’14 to 963 last year—with minorities taking the brunt of the hit.

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In response, though, DPS has implemented a workaround. The district simply provides the same services to some minorities outside the official framework for identification of its gifted and talented program—and in a more democratic manner. If a school has an 87 percent Hispanic population, now 87 percent of students in its talent-development program are Hispanic. Additionally, in fall 2015, the district increased its use of a nonverbal test to universally screen every child for gifted and talented aptitude in kindergarten, second, and sixth grade—so outstanding learners won’t get left behind before they have a chance to pull ahead.

2013-’14

Students of Color: 52%
White Students: 48%

2014-’15

Students of Color: 52%
White Students: 48%

2015-’16

Students of Color: 45%
White Students: 55%

2016-’17

Students of Color: 29%
White Students: 71%

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2017-’18

Students of Color: 28%
White Students: 72%

Unfair Share

Denver School of the Arts is one of the best public schools in Colorado—and its students are nearly three-quarters white.

Photo courtesy of Denver Public Schools

In September 2017, Denver School of the Arts (DSA) staged a production of In the Heights (pictured), a musical written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. While promoting the show, then senior Josue Rodriguez told Colorado Public Radio that people were surprised the sixth- through 12th-grade school had been able to fill a cast for In the Heights, which depicts a Hispanic community in New York City, considering “DSA is such a white school.” That assertion might surprise you, because at 70 percent white, DSA is a majority white school, just like Denver is a majority white county. DPS, though—of which DSA is a part—is more than 70 percent minority. Over the years, the disparity has led critics to question whether the admittance practices at DSA—a magnet school and one of the best academic institutions in the state—are biased against students of color. The argument: White parents buy their way in through private lessons for their kids. To help build a community for minority children within the school, DSA assistant principal Aspen Burkett helped form the Art Students of Color Alliance three years ago, so they could come together and talk about their experiences at DSA. This past February, Burkett allowed 5280 to participate in one of the alliance’s discussions. Here, a few students’ more noteworthy sentiments.

“There are four black dance majors out of the sophomore, junior, and senior classes. So they have to spray-paint our leotards to fit our skin tone. Or they give us tights that are for a pale young woman and we have to wear them and look ashy as hell onstage.”

“In theater, things cost a lot. And so it’s always this pity thing. You can’t afford a trip to New York? Why? They literally sprouted that on us: I need $700 by Monday or you’re not going on this trip. I’m sorry my mom isn’t the CEO/executive producer of whatever.”

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“I came into this school only knowing African drumming because that’s what I’ve been playing since second grade. Since the sixth grade, we’ve only had one African drumming piece. I’m in eighth grade now.”

“I’m a stagecraft and design major, so we’re required to wear all black clothing for shows. There would be a comment, ‘Oh, he’s black enough, so he’s not going to be able to be seen backstage.’ It came from my peers. At the time, I didn’t really process the comment that was made. Later, it started to affect me more because it was like, ‘Oh, am I really black enough to do something?’ Or, ‘Am I light enough to do something?’ ”

“The school I went to before, my elementary school, it had a lot, a lot, a lot of Hispanic students who looked like me. Even though I never really hung out with them, just knowing they were there and that there were other students who spoke Spanish, other students who were learning English, it was comforting. And then I came here, and I was like, ‘Where are all the brown people at?’”

The Invisible Foe

How local school districts are deploying new strategies to try to eradicate implicit bias.

Diversity lessons have been woven into training programs for DPS educators. Photo courtesy of Denver Public Schools

Popularized in the 1990s, the term “implicit bias”—or unconscious attitudes and stereotypes people don’t realize they harbor—has gained prominence as a way to explain why, for instance, black students receive disproportionate punishments (see “Suspended Reality,” above). “We all have implicit bias,” says Debbie Hearty, chief of human resources for DPS. “We are not bad people because of it.” It does lead to bad results, though, which is why many districts in the area are deploying novel ways to eradicate nescient discrimination.

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History Classes

Every new DPS teacher has to take special courses about educating English language learners (ELL). Embedded in those classes are lessons about the achievement gap, the Keyes decision, and the 1984 federal ruling that DPS had violated ELL students’ rights by not offering them an equal education.

Thinking Outside The Book

The Cherry Creek School District’s Office of Inclusive Excellence looks for “teachable moments”—i.e., opportunities for interventions. Last year, for example, a Native American classroom aide expressed concern about a book that depicted American Indians as savages. As a result, the department recruited a Native American parent and community member to teach the class about different tribes’ cultures and histories.

Food Fight

In spring 2018, Lafayette’s Engaged Latino Parents Advancing Student Outcomes raised concerns about some of the Hispanic options on Boulder Valley School District’s menus (their children didn’t find the tacos tasty). In response, the district’s Food Services department began implicit bias training this year and also plans to test “calabacitas”—a traditional Mexican squash dish—in its cafeterias.

Take A Number

Race isn’t the only contributing factor when it comes to our achievement gaps. DPS’ most vulnerable pupils (aside from students with disabilities) tend to outscore their peers across the state—according to the percentage of kids who met or exceeded expectations on the 2018 Colorado Measures of Academic Success exam. However, the gulf in most categories is wider in DPS.

English Language Learners

Colorado
Language Arts:
Non-English speakers or limited English proficiency—14.6%
Fluent—48.4%
Math:
Non-English speakers or limited English proficiency—14.3%
Fluent—31.3%

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DPS
Language Arts:
Non-English speakers or limited English proficiency—23.3%
Fluent—59.8%
Math:
Non-English speakers or limited English proficiency—21.6%
Fluent—39.5%

Socioeconomics

Colorado
Language Arts:
Students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—27.2%
Students who aren’t eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—57.8%
Math:
Students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—17.6%
Students who aren’t eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—47.0%

DPS
Language Arts:
Students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—27.2%
Students who aren’t eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—69.3%
Math:
Students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—18.4%
Students who aren’t eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—59.3%

Disabilities

Colorado
Language Arts:
Students with individualized education programs—81.1%
Students without individualized education programs—48.8%

Math:
Students with individualized education programs—7.1%
Students without individualized education programs—37.3%

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DPS
Language Arts:
Students with individualized education programs—7%
Students without individualized education programs—46.3%

Math:
Students with individualized education programs—6.3%
Students without individualized education programs—35.2%

Campuses of Solitude

Of the nine states with at least one million Latinos, Colorado has the largest postsecondary attainment gap between whites and Latinos aged 25 to 34.

Adreana Tarango took on depression, a blood clot, and cancer to become the first member of her family to graduate from college. Photograph by Caleb Alverado

At first glance, Adreana Tarango seems like the archetypal student success story. Her mother emigrated from Mexico to Denver at the age of 18 and later, as a single parent, held two jobs at a time to support her four kids. With her mother working, Adreana, the eldest daughter, cooked and cleaned for her older brother and two younger sisters yet still was one of those precocious kids who finished their homework right after school. A gifted and talented student at DPS’ Columbian Elementary School and Skinner Middle School, Adreana became the first member of her family to get a high school diploma (from North High School). Following graduation came another first when Adreana headed to college at Metro State University of Denver. “[My mom] gave up so much and struggled so much,” Adreana says, “it would just be a waste if I didn’t go to school.”

Adreana is emblematic of one of outgoing DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg’s most tangible victories against the achievement gap: a 30 point increase in the graduation rate for black and Latino students between 2007 and 2017. However, just because kids have the same high school diploma doesn’t necessarily mean they get the same education. For Colorado’s high school class of 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, 19 percent of white students who attended a four-year college in the Centennial State were put into developmental education classes—meaning they weren’t prepared for college instruction. For Hispanic and black students, that number was around 40 percent or higher.

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Students required to take remedial classes are far less likely to finish college, according to the Colorado Department of Education. But remedial classes aren’t the whole story. Sometimes even gifted students of color, like Adreana, have difficulty adapting to college. In fact, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, while 24 percent of white high school graduates in Colorado completed a postsecondary credential within five years of enrolling in college, only 11 percent of Latinos did.

Adreana thrived during her first year at MSU Denver, which was only a few minutes from her family home, even making the dean’s list. She wanted a traditional, live-in-a-dorm college experience, though, so she transferred to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley before her sophomore year. “That was a huge change for me,” Adreana says. “I was still so inclined to do so much at home and take care of the family.”

Moreover, at North and at MSU Denver, she had been one brown face among thousands. In Greeley, she was often the lone minority in her lecture halls. She felt that otherness most acutely when class discussions turned to, say, socioeconomics, and her white peers expounded about how poverty was a choice. UNC offered venues for Adreana to connect with other Hispanic students, whether at the Latina sororities or at the on-campus César Chávez Cultural Center. But disconnected from her family, she felt alone and sank into a depression, which deepened when a beloved cousin died. Eventually, Adreana decided to move back to Denver. Living in the same house as her family, her mental health improved.

Adreana’s experience isn’t rare, says Yuri Shane, the executive director and co-founder of Access Opportunity, a Boulder nonprofit that coaches high-achieving low-income students: “One of our students at the University of Denver told me the only people he can speak Spanish to are the janitorial and food-services staffs.” Identifying with the custodians and cooks, rather than his classmates, reinforced his own initial insecurity that he didn’t belong at DU—at least not as a student.

Adreana couldn’t shake the feeling of being an outsider at times, either. After returning to UNC in the fall of 2011, she left Greeley during the spring semester of 2012, re-enrolled there that fall and then came back to MSU Denver. Then, in August 2013, an infected blood clot burst near her jugular vein, flooding her body with what was essentially poison. While she recuperated from that trauma, doctors discovered a rare form of cancer in her kidney. Although her cancer treatment was covered by Medicaid, Adreana was forced to cover out-of-pocket expenses for the blood clot. By the end of her treatment, Adreana’s medical bills were more than $100,000.

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Happily, Adreana made a full recovery and returned to MSU Denver. In December 2016, six-plus years after she started college, Adreana graduated with a degree in Spanish. “I told my mom, ‘If I have to crawl across that stage, even if it’s the last thing I do,’  ” she says, “ ‘I’m going to get my degree.’  ” Now a college and career counselor at Hinkley High School in Aurora, Adreana (who is still dealing with her medical bills), is advising the next generation of success stories through the pitfalls of the achievement gap.

Positive Notes

These three out-of-state schools are deploying strategies that seem to have them headed toward a future when the gap is gone. Here’s how Denver schools could crib their work (and the institutions and programs that already are). —Kali Robinson

Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School

Location: Los Angeles, California
Grades: 9 through 12
Strategy: When students aren’t in class—whether because of illness or ill behavior—they fall behind. By refusing to send students to the principal’s office unless absolutely necessary, this Los Angeles Unified School District institution has seen its Hispanic population shrink the math gap and nearly erase the gaps in English exams.
How Denver Is Duplicating: Skinner Middle School (pictured) in north Denver has already implemented similar restorative justice practices. When students act out, instead of removing them from the classroom, educators initiate restorative dialogues to allow the students to resolve conflicts.

Success Academy Cobble Hill

Location: Brooklyn, New York
Grades: K through 4
Strategy: This charter school emphasizes literacy—not only the ABCs, but also thinking critically about texts. Started in 2012, the school’s early results are promising: While some nearby schools have gaps between 22 and 57 percent, the proportion of black and Hispanic students scoring proficient on language arts exams at Success Academy Cobble Hill is within 10 percent of white kids.
How Denver Is Duplicating: DPS’ Each One Teach One program recruits tutors from the community to provide intensive small-group language development and reading instruction.

Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School

Location: Dallas, Texas
Grades: 6 through 12
Strategy: Founded in 2004 on the idea that any girl can go to college, Rangel regularly exposes its students to a “culture of college” that includes a rigorous, STEM-focused curriculum. Although 78 percent of students at the public magnet school are Hispanic or African-American and most come from low-income homes, nearly every pupil performs at grade level or higher.
How Denver Is Duplicating: Middle schools, including Marie L. Greenwood Academy, participate in DPS’ Individual Career and Academic Plans program. Starting in sixth grade, students can work with counselors and teachers to explore various colleges and careers.

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Not Making The Grades

Unlike most districts in the Denver metro area, DPS’ achievement gaps between white students and students of color are wider than the state’s overall. That’s according to the percentage of kids who met or exceeded expectations on the 2018 Colorado Measures of Academic Success exam, taken by third- through eighth-graders in public schools.

Colorado

Reading
Black Students: 29.4%
Hispanic Students: 28.6%
White Students: 54.9%
Math
Black Students: 17.3%
Hispanic Students: 18.6%
White Students: 44.4%

Mapleton

Reading
Black Students: 25.4%
Hispanic Students: 21.9 %
White Students: 37.5%
Math
Black Students: 9.4%
Hispanic Students: 15.1%
White Students: 23.6%

Adams 12

Reading
Black Students:35%
Hispanic Students: 26.5%
White Students: 56.3%
Math
Black Students: 21.4%
Hispanic Students: 16.2 %
White Students: 45.8%

Adams County

Reading
Black Students: 28.8%
Hispanic Students: 18.9%
White Students:24.8%
Math
Black Students: 13.8%
Hispanic Students: 10.9%
White Students: 19.3%

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School District 27J

Reading
Black Students: 45.1%
Hispanic Students: 26.8%
White Students: 44.2%
Math
Black Students: 23.7%
Hispanic Students: 20.4%
White Students: 38.6%

Westminster

Reading
Black Students: 23%
Hispanic Students: 26.8%
White Students: 44.2%
Math
Black Students: 23.7%
Hispanic Students: 20.4 %
White Students: 38.6%

Englewood

Reading
Black Students: 14.8%
Hispanic Students: 25.3%
White Students: 40%
Math
Black Students: n/a
Hispanic Students: 16.4 %
White Students: 25.9%

Sheridan

Reading
Black Students: n/a
Hispanic Students: 23.7%
White Students: 21.7%
Math
Black Students: n/a
Hispanic Students: 7.9%
White Students: n/a

Cherry Creek

Reading
Black Students: 30.6%
Hispanic Students: 32.8%
White Students: 58.5%
Math
Black Students: 20.5%
Hispanic Students: 24.2%
White Students: 51.8%

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Littleton

Reading
Black Students: 43.6%
Hispanic Students: 42.6%
White Students: 70.4%
Math
Black Students: 25%
Hispanic Students: 28.8%
White Students: 58.6%

Adams-Arapahoe

Reading
Black Students: 24.1%
Hispanic Students: 19.7%
White Students: 44.2%
Math
Black Students: 14.1%
Hispanic Students: 12.1%
White Students: 32.7%

St. Vrain Valley

Reading
Black Students: 40.9%
Hispanic Students: 26.9%
White Students: 58.5%
Math
Black Students: 21.7%
Hispanic Students: 17.5%
White Students: 46.7%

Boulder Valley

Reading
Black Students: 36.2%
Hispanic Students: 30.3%
White Students: 66.6%
Math
Black Students: 18.6%
Hispanic Students: 19.7%
White Students: 57.1%

Denver County

Reading
Black Students: 28.5%
Hispanic Students: 29%
White Students: 72.4%
Math
Black Students: 17.4%
Hispanic Students: 19.8%
White Students: 64.5%

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Douglas County

Reading
Black Students: 28.8%
Hispanic Students: 36.7%
White Students: 56.6%
Math
Black Students: 17.1%
Hispanic Students: 24.6%
White Students: 46.5%

Jefferson County

Reading
Black Students: 31.3%
Hispanic Students: 32.8%
White Students: 58.4%
Math
Black Students: 18.7%
Hispanic Students: 20.9%
White Students: 48.6%

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