Root Causes of Declining Academic Results | Susan L. Miller

Jeffco's Continued Achievement Decline has Many Deeply Rooted Causes

Since Colorado's school accountability law was enacted in 2010, every school district has been required to prepare a "Uniform Improvement Plan", which is modeled on the performance improvement method that has been successfully used in the private sector and elsewhere in the public sector for more than 50 years to substantially improve results.

The method can be described as follows:

  • Compare your actual results to your goals.
  • If your actual results are below your goals, identify the root causes of the shortfall.
  • Root Cause analysis essentially involves systematically asking "why" to go beyond the symptoms of a problem to dig down to the underlying root causes (that's why root cause analysis is often called the "5 Whys" technique).
  • Once you have identified the true root causes of the performance shortfall, design improvement plans to address them.
  • Rigorously implement those plans.
  • Then once again compare results to your goals.
  • Repeat this process until your goals have been achieved.
  • Then set more aggressive goals.

Here is a list of all the Root Causes for Jeffco's poor achievement performance that have been identified by the District Accountability Committee in the Unified Improvement Plans it has prepared since 2010.

The fact the same Root Causes keep repeating suggests that either (a) the true root causes have not been identified; (b) people know what they are, but nobody wants to talk about them; (c) the wrong improvement plans have been chose to address the identified root causes; and/or (d) the right improvement plans were chosen, but they were poorly implemented.

Two other outside analyses shed some light on these issues. In 2017, the consulting firm Deliver-Ed presented
this analysis to then Superintendent Jason Glass and the Board. It highlighted many issues that had never made it onto the UIPs' lists of Root Causes.

In 2021, Superintendent Tracy Dorland commissioned Jaime Aquino (now the Superintendent of San Antonio schools) to perform
an independent analysis of Jeffco's declining student achievement performance. As was the case with Deliver-Ed, Aquino identified a set of interacting Root Causes — including the district's processes, systems, structure, staff, and culture — that had never appeared in 11 years of Jeffco Unified Improvement Plans.

Learn why once a student has fallen behind, catching up to proficiency is very hard.