A $200,000 audit commissioned by Tucson’s largest school district found inadequate curriculum, a lack of oversight and little to no evaluation of interventions designed to help struggling students and schools.
The findings, which TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez referred to as “brutal,” will be used to come up with a plan of action that will be incorporated into the Tucson Unified School District’s five-year strategic plans.
“Our current model hasn’t served our students well,” said Sanchez, who ordered the audit shortly after coming on board in the fall. “It hasn’t led us to the type of success expected by parents or the community.”
The deficiencies have led to low student achievement, a districtwide C-rating from the Arizona Department of Education for the last three years, and the loss of thousands of students over the years.
The audit, which took five months, was conducted by an external consultant — Curriculum Management Systems Inc. — as a way to better understand what is being done well, what can be improved and what the district should move away from, Sanchez said.
As part of the study, the auditors surveyed 1,402 teachers, 63 principals and 866 parents. They interviewed more than 300 individuals including administrators, teachers, board members, support staff and parents.
Eighty-nine schools were visited, including more than 1,200 classrooms, as well as support facilities. And hundreds of documents were analyzed.
The investigation yielded a nearly 500-page report, which has not been released to the public.
Among the findings were:
- Curriculum is not aligned with the state assessments in place.
- Students are not being taught to master concepts; rather, the majority are learning only to understand and cover the material presented.
- Clear expectations are needed for rigor. School leaders also need to be effective monitors for classrooms.
- Curriculum guides are inadequate for effective teaching and learning.
As a result of the deficiencies, decisions are being made by teachers on what to teach without a rational determination of appropriateness, said William Poston, lead auditor for Curriculum Management Systems.
“When you don’t have anything defined, teachers won’t sit and be idle,” Poston said. “They’ll teach something and something will bubble up ...
“No amount of inspired teaching will close the achievement gap unless the test and the curriculum are aligned. We need to align what is taught with what’s being measured.”
In fact, when teachers were asked what they use to plan instruction, some said they generate their own ideas, and a select few noted that they are not responsible for planning. A vast majority said they utilized textbooks.
While TUSD has worked over the years to introduce various interventions and teaching techniques, the focus has not been on what is being taught, rendering many of those practices ineffective, the audit found.
In addition to focusing on what is occurring in classrooms, the audit looked at equity and found that TUSD’s efforts have not been effective.
“(TUSD) practices have perpetuated a two-tier system of have and have-not student groups,” Poston said. “Poverty shouldn’t predict retention in a school, but in TUSD it does. Graduation rates — similar phenomenon.”
While the findings may be hard to accept, Sanchez reminded the Governing Board Tuesday that the results are a call for action.
“This is not a matter of taking this audit personally,” Sanchez said. “It’s a matter of saying we understand what is before us in terms of a challenge and we don’t take it lightly.
“We need to know what we know. We can’t operate off of assumptions, stories, tales, myths and legends. We have to operate with our eyes wide open, our ears listening and our attention fixated on addressing those things that are ever so present before us that we haven’t been so bold in the past to say we want to know what they are so we can fix them.”