Tucson’s largest school district has more F-rated schools than A-rated schools, and more D schools than B schools, according to TUSD’s school scores on the state’s new A through F accountability rating system.
Eight Tucson Unified schools were labeled failing, and an additional 18 received D grades. Meanwhile, seven schools received the highest grade possible, while 17 earned grades of B on the new accountability rankings. The remainder of the 81 schools that were graded received C’s.
That’s a sharp shift from the last time Arizona issued letter grades, in 2014. Under the old system, schools could only receive F’s after failing for three years straight to improve their D scores.
The failing schools were identified as Lawrence Intermediate; Cavett, Maldonado and Ochoa elementary schools; Drachman Montessori K-8 Magnet; and Pistor, Secrist and Valencia middle schools.
TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo, at a press conference announcing the scores Tuesday, urged parents and students in the failing or nearly failing schools to be patient.
“Don’t give up. Don’t give up on the teachers that are doing amazing things for kids. Don’t give up on your school. And give us an opportunity to redefine ourselves,” he said.
Trujillo said there were a variety of factors in the schools’ low grades, including that students didn’t get to take a practice AzMERIT test and that the district didn’t know what criteria schools would be graded on, since the Board of Education didn’t outline it in a timely manner.
Now that he knows the criteria, Trujillo said he wants to boost career and technical education, which makes up a large chunk of a school’s grade, and institute targeted during-the-day interventions for struggling students to boost their achievement.
He said by next year he expects TUSD to have no D or F schools.
In total, almost 10 percent of TUSD schools are failing, according to the state’s new ranking. That’s far above the estimated statewide average, which assumes 3 percent of schools statewide will receive F grades.
State law requires schools with failing grades to come up with an improvement plan, though Trujillo noted the details of what happens next from a state level are unclear.
The nearly 9 percent of TUSD schools that received A grades is also below the statewide average, which assumes 18 percent of Arizona schools will receive A’s.
The new accountability model is designed to take into account a more diverse set of data points than the previous A-through-F ranking system.
While the old system relied heavily on test scores, the new grading system weighs the AzMERIT test more lightly and takes into account high school graduation rates, college and career readiness and English-language-learners’ scores.
Elementary schools and high schools are graded on slightly different rubrics, but the State Board of Education decided to give both a break on the number of points necessary to receive better rankings.
Instead of setting “cut scores” at the typical 10 percentage point increments, all schools that receive at least 86 percent of the points available qualify for A rankings.
Elementary schools that earned 74 percent of the possible points received B’s, those with 52 percent of the available points received C’s and those that earned 50 percent received D’s. The standards for high schools are even lower, and a high school that received 41 percent of the possible points will still pass with a D.
TUSD decided to release their scores ahead of an Oct. 9 embargo placed on schools by the Board of Education after the district received multiple public records requests for the scores. First Amendment scholars say there is no law allowing schools to embargo their scores.
Only one Pima County school district has so far refused to comply with the Arizona Daily Star’s public records requests for its grades: the Marana Unified School District.