Arizona Schools See Rise in Performance Grades

The results are in, and Arizona schools improved their letter grades in part because of the improvements among the state’s lowest performing students and those learning English.  Close to one-third of the state’s public schools received an “A”, according to data released on Monday by the state Department of Education.  Mary Beth Faller, in an article written for The Republic, says that of more than 1,700 district and charter schools in Arizona, 542 (32%) received an A.

Of the schools, 33% received a B, 25% received a C, and 10% received a D for the 2013-2014 school year.  That means that 65% of schools received an A or B, compared to 63% of schools which made the same grades the 2012-2013 school year.

Also, fewer schools had low grades – 35% earned a C or D, compared to 37% in the 2012-2013 school year.  Annie Gilbert, parent of two sons at Chandler Prep charter high school uses the grades to establish how well her children’s school is doing.

“I know parents look for them, and to make sure their schools are doing a good job compared with other schools,” Gilbert said.

The school grades are largely based on the scores of students on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standard (AIMS) tests that students take in the spring of the school year.  One-half of the letter grade is based on how much student scores improve.  Other factors include the school’s ability to lower dropout numbers and moving non-English speakers into regular classes.

The overall pass number remained the same as last year, but success in the English language-learner program and the improvements among lowest-scoring students made the difference.  The overall pass rate on the math portion of the AIMS stayed the same as last year at 61%.  The pass rate increased for the reading portion of the test by 1 percentage point, to 79%.

Phoenix TV station KTVK, in a report by Amanda Goodman, quotes the principal of one of the A grade Arizona elementary schools.

 “It’s a wonderful celebration,” said Elizabeth Mullavey, principal of Sousa Elementary School. “We’re always excited when we meet our goals.”

“It’s been nice to be able to keep that up,” Mullavey said. “Again, it’s a lot of work, a lot of dedication from everybody, from parents, from kids from the teachers and the administration, as well.”

Now, according to Mullavey, she will study the tests to see which students need help and in which areas they need the assistance.  Much of the remediation is done in the classroom, but parental involvement is crucial, she adds.  Still, some schools are struggling.  Supai Middle School, for example, fell from a C school to a D school.

“I know that my staff was very disappointed when they were told today what the letter grade was because everybody worked tremendously hard,” Principal Shelley Slick-Hummon said.

This is Slick-Hummon’s first year at this school, after being principal at an A school in the Scottsdale area.  She hopes that she and her teachers will be looking at programs they can improve and in increasing parental involvement.

An editorial in The Arizona Daily Republic, the editorial board expresses a bit of skepticism concerning the AIMS test.  The main area in question, is the fact that the AIMS is an instrument to measure improvement, not for student achievement.

“The achievement gap between rich and poor, along with a serious achievement gap between White and minority students, is a major problem for Arizona’s education system.”

The editorial board also has questions about the timing, relevance, and politics surrounding the test.

• Students and teachers do not see the results of the test taken last spring until the beginning of the next school year.  That means they could not use their scores to see how they can improve and teachers could not establish or tweak their strategies for the coming school year.

• The test is a paper and pencil test in the age of digital testing tools. But, Arizona is scheduled to change its test instrument in the spring of the 2015 school year.

• A good test with timely results can actually be a teaching tool.

• The new test is the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards and will be more relevant and rigorous, but it is already being rejected by the Tea Party and Republicans who are running on the promise to undo the new test.

• The improvements made by schools as displayed by the current test should be applauded, but now it is time to step up and take on higher expectations and hold schools accountable for achieving them.

08 8, 2014
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