Tucson Unified School District students continue to score far below the statewide average on the AzMERIT test, with less than 30 percent of TUSD students passing either the language arts or math portions of the test.
But TUSD’s Governing Board appears to be in no rush to address the problem.
The board at its Thursday meeting ran out of time to discuss what board members agreed were disappointing AzMERIT scores and what can be done to bring them up.
Over protestations from two board members and Interim Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo, the board majority decided to adjourn the meeting at 10:30 p.m. without taking up either agenda item.
“The critical items (on the agenda) are how the students across the system did on the AzMERIT in (English language arts) and math, and what the team is going to do about it to support schools across the district,” Trujillo told the board. “We probably want to communicate before the opening of the school year.”
But board Chairman Michael Hicks disagreed, and along with board members Mark Stegeman and Rachael Sedgwick, moved to adjourn the meeting without discussing the test results.
Board members Adelita Grijalva and Kristel Foster opposed the motion.
“Our big role here is supposed to be talking about student achievement, and those are the items we’re not going to review,” Foster said, asking that the board get to those items first at its next meeting on Aug. 8 — five days after the first day of school.
AzMERIT, which tests students from third grade up on English language arts and math, is said to be more difficult and rigorous than the AIMS test it replaced, and the majority of Arizona students have not tested proficient in any subject at any grade level over the last three years it has been administered.
Unofficial results from the spring 2016 test show TUSD students fared even worse and tested far behind the statewide average in every subject and in every grade level.
The unofficial results show that certain segments of TUSD students have made some small strides in the areas of both math and language arts since first taking the test.
But the vast majority of TUSD students are still struggling with the new standardized test, which first came online in 2015.
In some cases, the contrast between TUSD students and the state average is relatively minor.
Only 21 percent of TUSD 11th-graders scored proficient on the English language arts section of the test, for example, as compared to 26 percent statewide.
In many other cases, however, the contrast is stark.
Statewide, 41 percent of Arizona sixth-graders scored proficient on the math portion of the test. For TUSD students, that number is only 21 percent.
In eighth-grade math, only 13 percent of TUSD students scored proficient, while statewide, 29 percent were proficient.
But within the district, scores have slowly and marginally improved over the past three years, most noticeably in elementary school math, where the number of proficient students has increased since 2015 by 5 percentage points in third and fourth grades, and 10 percentage points in fifth grade.
That upward trend, however, is not across the board. Math scores for TUSD’s eighth-graders plummeted over the past three years, dropping to just 13 percent proficient from 23 percent.
The data also show a sharp disparity between white, Asian-American and multi-racial students and Hispanic, Native American and African-American students.
The former group continued to score much higher on both the math and English language arts portions of the test, outperforming the latter group of students by a wide margin.
Stegeman and other board members agreed that the results were abysmal, but argued that while it would have been nice to address the issue before the school year began, the discussion shouldn’t be held so late at night.
After the meeting, Trujillo explained that he hoped to present the board with a comprehensive plan to improve student achievement on the test, but that will now have to wait until after the school year begins.
He said he will emphasize three major points: Teacher training, a focus on early education and increasing K-3 scores, and using intervention methods for middle and high schools students who are falling behind.
To that end, the district will start requiring mandatory teacher training for the district’s curriculum. Trujillo said in the past, that training has been offered during the summer and has been optional. He plans to change that by making the training mandatory and offering it during the school year.
Additionally, Trujillo wants to enact a “rotation station-based approach” for K-3 students that would allow teachers to break classes into smaller, more manageable groups and offer students who are falling behind in math or language arts special guided instruction, while other students who are already succeeding do more self-guided study.
Finally, he wants to implement an intervention for high school students who are falling behind on math and language arts that would take students out of their normal classroom for special instruction until they catch up.
“When you look at the AzMERIT data that shows that our kids are behind, the natural next question is what is the school district leadership going to do about this? And those are the critical actions we need to take, consistent with what highly successful schools do,” Trujillo said.
The Arizona Department of Education will release official results for the AzMERIT test, along with detailed school-by-school analysis, on Sept. 18.