Arizona rolls out new way of measuring its schools

2011-10-12T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:37:11Z Arizona rolls out new way of measuring its schoolsAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 12, 2011 12:00 am  • 

More than half of Arizona's schools received "B's" and "C's" under a new letter grading system the state is using to measure how well schools are performing.

Only 297 of 1,550 schools from across Arizona were designated "A" schools - 37 of those come from the major school districts in the Tucson area. The remaining 211 schools received a "D" - 34 of those from Tucson-area districts.

No schools were issued an "F." That's reserved for schools ranked as "D" schools for three consecutive years.

The new letter-grading system will fully replace the AZ Learns accountability system in 2013. Until then, both are being used.

The switch has caused some schools that historically were rated performing or performing-plus to now be identified as "C" and "D" schools, which are considered average or below average.

The AZ Learns scoring system resulted in more than 90 percent of schools statewide being labeled performing or better last year and again this year.

While both systems consider student AIMS scores, graduation and dropout rates, and the reclassification rate of English-language learners, the biggest difference is the way in which student growth is measured.

The new letter grading system tracks individual student growth year to year, whereas AZ Learns measures average fourth-grade scores from one year to the next.

John Pedicone, superintendent of Tucson Unified, Tucson's largest school district, struggles to say which of the two systems is better.

"I'm not a true advocate of the way schools are labeled," Pedicone said. "It's limited at its best - a very narrow lens that is used to look at whether schools are effective."

He believes that using the two systems simultaneously is bound to cause confusion - under the new system, 77 percent of TUSD schools earned grades of "C" and "D," even though under AZ Learns 86 percent of TUSD schools fall into the performing and performing-plus categories.

Nonetheless, Pedicone isn't looking to make excuses. After all, of the nine major school districts in the Tucson area, TUSD is the only one with under-performing schools.

"It's very clear looking at the scores that there's a lot of work to be done," Pedicone said. "We have an obligation to make sure that students do well on the AIMS test. We are looking at achievement of individual schools and individual students to address their needs, and we expect to see an improvement next year based on work this year."

While Arizona Schools chief John Huppenthal agrees that labels and letter grades should be used as only one measure of how well schools are performing, he feels the new system will empower parents in selecting which educational environment best meets the needs of their children. He also says schools benefit by identifying both areas of strength and areas that need improvement.

"All students deserve a quality public education that moves them academically ahead every year," Huppenthal said.

On StarNet: Search database of AZ Learns results by school, district, achievement profile or letter grade at azstarnet.com/databases

Did you know?

In 2002, the Legislature passed the AZ Learns accountability system. It mandated a research-based method of evaluation to effectively measure school performance. At that time, schools could be classified as excelling, improving, maintaining or under-performing.

What the letters and labels mean

Letter grades

"A" schools demonstrate an excellent level of performance

"B" schools demonstrate an above average level of performance

"C" schools demonstrate an average level of performance

"D" schools demonstrate a below average level of performance

"F" schools are those that rank as "D" schools for three consecutive years. "F" schools are placed under the school improvement process by the Arizona Department of Education so they can receive extra support and resources.

Labels

• Excelling: The percentage of students meeting state standards is in the top 10 percent. In addition, the school is in the top 16 percent of schools measured by the percentage of students exceeding state standards.

• Highly Performing: The percentage of students meeting state standards is in the top 25 percent. In addition, the school is in the top third of schools measured by the percentage of students exceeding state standards.

• Performing-Plus: The percentage of students meeting state standards is in the top 25 percent.

• Performing: The percentage of students meeting state standards is generally above average, or the school is showing significant improvement.

• underperforming: Percentage of students meeting state standards is generally below average, and school is showing no growth.

How Pima County Schools fared

Amphi

• Excelling: 6

• Highly Performing: 4

• Performing-Plus: 8

• Performing: 2*

• underperforming: 0

• A: 3

• B: 9

• C: 6

• D: 1

Catalina Foothills

• Excelling: 7

• Highly Performing: 0

• Performing-Plus: 0

• Performing: 0

• underperforming: 0

• A: 6

• B: 1

• C: 0

• D: 0

Flowing Wells

• Excelling: 0

• Highly Performing: 2

• Performing-Plus: 6

• Performing: 1*

• underperforming: 0

• A: 3

• B: 4

• C: 1

• D: 0

Marana

• Excelling: 3

• Highly Performing: 6

• Performing-Plus: 7

• Performing: 2*

• underperforming: 0

• A: 3

• B: 10

• C: 3

• D: 0

Sahuarita

• Excelling: 1

• Highly Performing: 2

• Performing-Plus: 2

• Performing: 1

• underperforming: 0

• A: 0

• B: 2

• C: 3

• D: 0

Sunnyside

• Excelling: 0

• Highly Performing: 2

• Performing-Plus: 12

• Performing: 7*

• underperforming: 0

• A: 0

• B: 5

• C: 10

• D: 5

Tanque Verde

• Excelling: 3

• Highly Performing: 1

• Performing-Plus: 0

• Performing: 0

• underperforming: 0

• A: 2

• B: 2

• C: 0

• D: 0

TUSD

• Excelling: 6

• Highly Performing: 6

• Performing-Plus: 44*

• Performing: 51

• underperforming: 3

• A: 8

• B: 12

• C: 43

• D: 28

Vail

• Excelling: 15

• Highly Performing: 0

• Performing-Plus: 0

• Performing: 1*

• underperforming: 0

• A: 12

• B: 2

• C: 0

• D: 0

Across the state

• Excelling: Of the 306 schools earning this label statewide, 41 of them are in Pima County.

• Highly performing: Of 261 schools earning this label statewide, 23 of them are in Pima County.

• Performing plus: Of 755 schools earning this label statewide, 79 of them are in Pima County.

• Performing: Of the 551 schools earning this label statewide, 65 of them are in Pima County.

• underperforming: Of 47 schools earning this label statewide, 3 of them are in Pima County.

• A: Of the 231 schools earning this label statewide, 37 of them are in Pima County.

• B: Of the 544 schools earning this label statewide, 47 of them are in Pima County.

• C: Of the 498 schools earning this label statewide, 66 of them are in Pima County.

• D: Of the 211 schools earning this label statewide, 34 of them are in Pima County.

* Grades for schools with fewer than 126 students were not released.

* Denotes that at least one school counted is classified as an alternative program.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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