Third of CUSD pupils failed test SanTan Sun News

Third of CUSD pupils failed test

September 2nd, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Third of CUSD pupils failed test
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By Colleen Sparks, Managing Editor

More than a third of all Chandler Unified School District students who took the AzMERIT statewide test for English Language Arts and math last school year failed.

Yet, the total percentage of students passing in the Chandler district was higher than the statewide percentage as well as higher than the district’s passing percentage in 2016-17.

AzMERIT is an annual statewide test measuring how students are performing in English language arts and math. While passing is not a graduation requirement, the test results weigh heavily in the state Education Department’s grading of a school’s achievement rate, which is reflected in letter grades annually.

Chandler’s results in 2017-18 also showed noticeable improvements among individual grade levels and specific schools in the district.

In the 2017-18 school year, 56 percent of all CUSD students passed the test’s English language arts portion and 58 percent passed math, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

Those percentages were higher than the results in 2016-17, when 54 percent passed the English part and 55 percent passed math.

Across Arizona, 41 percent of all students passed English last school year while 41 percent passed math.

Students who score “minimally proficient” and “partially proficient” are considered having failed the test, while those who score “proficient” and “highly proficient” are deemed passing or “proficient.”

“When looking at all exams administered we had an increase in proficiency of almost 3 percent,” said Matt Strom, CUSD assistant superintendent, comparing 2017-18 results to the previous year.

He said that in the past four years that the test has been administered, “we have increased our proficiency by a little more than 5 percent.

“Our mission is to develop students to have the knowledge, skills and attitude to be successful learners in life,” Strom said. “Our goal is to continue to improve each year in this mission for each student.

“AzMERIT is one of several indicators we use to measure whether we are meeting our mission and we will continue to look for opportunities to improve our practices so that students improve their performance on this exam,” he added.

Arizona public school students in grades 3 through 12 take AzMERIT exams.

“Although most know that I think the AzMERIT test has a long way to go to become the most effective tool of student assessment in our state, I am pleased to announce that our students have improved in 26 of the 30 grade-level and test categories,” Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said.

“While we still have much work to do, I congratulate all of our educators and students for widespread gains across the board,” she added.

In CUSD, Strom noted that particular schools and grade levels have shown significant growth over the years in AzMERIT scores.

He said Chandler Traditional Academy – Freedom Campus showed 67 percent of students in all grade levels and all subjects tested in spring of 2015 were proficient or passed while 76.8 percent of those tested last spring were proficient or passed.

Weinberg Elementary School also showed some big improvements in recent years. Of all their students, 56.2 percent passed in 2015 compared to 65.3 percent who passed in spring of 2018, Strom said.

In the English Language Arts section of AzMERIT, of all 11th graders in the district who were tested, 45 percent passed in 2017-18 – up from 42 percent who passed in the 2016-17 school year.

As for those students’ scores, Strom said “information can be sliced in several different ways.”

“We do look for areas of opportunity as we disaggregate the data,” he said, adding the district is “looking for opportunities of growth as we move to the menu of assessments approved by the state Board of Education.”

Next spring, all CUSD high school juniors will be taking the ACT exam while elementary and middle school students will continue to take the AzMERIT exam.

“Next year our high school exam will be the ACT for all juniors and we expect that our college readiness scores on this exam will be significantly higher in English and reading,” Strom said.

The Arizona State Board of Education adopted a menu of locally procured achievement tests for high school students to measure their performance.

School districts will be able to choose the exam they want for high school students rather than administer a statewide test.

Of all students in the Chandler school district who took the AzMerit geometry test school year, 57 percent passed – a 2 percent improvement over 2016-17.

CUSD scores on AzMERIT varied considerably among different ethnic groups.

Of all Asian students who took the English part last school year, 75 percent passed. Of all white students, 64 percent passed. Hispanic/Latino students recorded a 39 percent passing rate while 38 percent of African Americans passed.

The Chandler school district is trying to erase the differences between test scores among students of different ethnicity.

Strom said there has been some improvement in test scores among some minority groups from the 2016-17 school year.

“Our proficiency rates in each of these race/ethnicity categories improved over the prior year,” Strom said. “Hispanic students had an increase in overall proficiency of 2.5 percent. African-American students had an increase in proficiency of 2.5 percent. Asian and Caucasian students had a 3 percent and 2.5 percent increase, respectively.

“While the data shows improvement, we know we still have room to get better and close achievement gaps,” Strom continued, stating the district is taking “a deep dive in achievement gaps, opportunity gaps and discipline gaps.”

As part of those efforts, the Chandler district hired Adama Sallu as director of equity and inclusion in the district.

Sallu said her mission is to meet the district governing board and Superintendent Camille Casteel’s goal of ensuring “all children coming to Chandler schools have access to an equitable and inclusive learning environment where they’re valued and excellence is demanded.”

“As a result of the data work accomplished last year, we have brought Dr. Sallu, our Director of Equity, into the district to work with schools and teachers to improve culturally relevant teaching practices,” Strom said, adding:

“Our goal is that with the efforts of our teachers, the mindfulness of our administrators and the work of Dr. Sallu we will see progress in our achievement gaps in the next testing cycle.”

Amber Hutchinson, an African American mother of three girls in the Chandler school district and Black Mothers Forum, East Valley President, also expressed concerns about the discrepancies in test scores among students of different ethnicities but she is hopeful for improvement.

“Earlier this year, Black Mothers Forum, concerned parents and community members requested education and disciplinary data from the district,” Hutchinson said.

“Through the honest and transparent reporting of Dr. Strom, we learned CUSD is overall doing some excellent work for their students,” she added, stressing:

“However, there’s more work to be done to ensure all children are properly serviced and set up for success; particularly African American, Hispanic, and special needs students. The 2017-18 AZ Merit test scores align with Dr. Strom’s reporting; white children are excelling while their counterparts struggle. There’s hope!”

She also said she was “confident” that with Sallu “we will begin to see CUSD student AZ Merit scores and education improve.”

Information: azed.gov/2018/08/16/azmerit.

Special to SanTan Sun News

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