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Four Tucson schools fall to an F after letter-grade appeals
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Four Tucson schools fall to an F after letter-grade appeals

Catalina High School’s letter grade was dropped to an F by the state.

Four schools in Tucson’s major school districts dropped from a D to an F after the Board of Education finalized letter grades issued by the Arizona Department of Education.

TUSD schools Magee Middle, Booth-Fickett K-8 and Catalina High School each received an F after the board voted on A-F appeals Dec. 13. As well, Marana Unified’s Tortolita Middle School received an F.

This brought TUSD’s number of F schools to five. All the district’s other school grades remained the same.

The grades are based on year-over-year student academic growth, scores on statewide assessments, high school graduation rates and indicators that a student is ready for success at the next level. The letter grades are designed to give school leaders, teachers, parents and community members a snapshot of where they are doing well and where they need to improve.

After preliminary grades are given, schools have a chance to file an appeal based on environmental challenges, emergencies, tragedies, other substantive events or incorrect data.

When schools are rated a D-school for three consecutive years, they automatically receive an F. The three TUSD schools that fell to an F after the appeals were in this category.

TUSD filed appeals for those three to maintain their D as well as three others in the same predicament. Dietz K-8, Pistor Middle and Grijalva Elementary all won their appeals to maintain a D.

TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo says the district is disappointed with losing the appeal for Catalina High School to keep its D grade. Last year the state adopted a new “menu of assessments,” allowing high schools to choose between three standardized tests: AzMERIT, used previously, ACT or SAT.

The Board of Education said schools wouldn’t be subject to a letter decrease for piloting the new menu of assessments, Trujillo said, adding that Catalina was showing incremental student growth in both the English Language Arts and math AzMERIT tests but saw a decline when it switched to ACT.

“We were given a good-faith commitment from the Arizona Board of Education that high schools would not be punished ... essentially a commitment is not being honored,” Trujillo said. “If we knew that Catalina was going to be held accountable this way, we would have stayed with AzMERIT.”

Alicia Williams, Board of Education executive director, was not immediately available for comment.

Schools were allowed to retain their letter grade from last year if it ended up being better than the grade they received this year, Arizona Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat told the Arizona Daily Star in April. But his comment didn’t apply to the rule of three consecutive D’s, which drops a school to an F.

In Marana Unified, Tortolita received an F because of three years of being D-rated as well. Principal Shelly Vroegh is new to the school this year and said she’s experienced a “school turnaround and transformation.” Tortolita appealed the F-grade on that basis but lost.

Vroegh said that while the grade is disappointing, the school is taking drastic measures to improve the grade and accepts the need for more accountability with students, the staff and leadership.

Only one other school in Pima County’s nine major districts fell a grade since the preliminary grades were released last month. Sunnyside’s Sierra 2-8 School went from a C to a D.

Other districts have schools that came up one letter grade. These were Amphitheater’s La Cima Middle and Flowing Wells’ Laguna Elementary, which both improved to a B.

Arizona’s D- and F-rated schools, most often found in poor and underserved neighborhoods, are required to send notices of their performance to homes as a form of accountability.

Contact reporter Danyelle Khmara at dkhmara@tucson.com or 573-4223. On Twitter: @DanyelleKhmara

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Danyelle joined the Star in 2018 and covers K-12 education. Previously, Danyelle wrote for the Tucson Weekly where she won several statewide awards including story of the year and first place investigative reporting.

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