Most Chandler Public Schools Earn An ‘A’ From State SanTan Sun News

Most Chandler Public Schools Earn An ‘A’ From State

October 23rd, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Most Chandler Public Schools Earn An ‘A’ From State
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By Colleen Sparks

Managing Editor

Most campuses in the Chandler Unified School District are at the head of their class when it comes to the state’s letter grades.

Across the district, 26 schools earned the letter grade “A” for the 2017-18 academic year under a system that requires the Arizona Department of Education, subject to the state Board of Education’s final approval, to develop an achievement profile every year for every public school.

The letter grades must be based on an A through F scale with A being the highest. Of the other schools in the Chandler district, 12 received B grades and four got Cs for the 2017-18 school year.

“The primary reason that we had significant improvement in letter grades is we had quite a few of our sites increase the growth that happened with students on campus on a yearly basis,” Chandler school district assistant superintendent Matt Strom said.

“We probably have the most dedicated teaching staff in the state of Arizona improving outcomes for kids. They’re focused on making sure kids receive interventions when they need interventions, making sure skills and concepts get better. We constantly know what it takes to be college and career-ready. We’re constantly backfilling those skills to ensure their success.”

The letter grades are based on year-to-year student academic growth, proficiency on English language arts, math and science, as well as the proficiency and academic progress of English language learners, signs that an elementary school student is ready for success in high school, high school graduation rates and other factors.

Students’ scores and improvement on the AzMERIT statewide test in English Language Arts and math sections are among the criteria used to determine schools’ grades.

Strom said three schools in the Chandler district improved from C grades the previous school year to A grades in 2017-18 – Chandler Traditional Academy – Goodman Campus, Tarwater and Weinberg elementary schools.

Altogether, 20 schools in the Chandler district improved their letter grades, and the “vast majority increased because of growth of students” in their AzMERIT test scores from one year to the next, he said.

Most of the schools that moved up a letter grade went from Bs to As and some went from Cs to Bs.

Strom said the strong letter grades in the Chandler district show parents “that we’re one of the best districts in the nation at growing students.”

While some funding is attached to the letter grades, “it’s not directly tied to the letter grade,” he said.

“It’s not nearly as much about funding as it is about an aggregate measure so parents understand we’re doing the work we need to do on our campus,” Strom said.

Some parents said they had mixed opinions about letter grades.

Kathy Lynch, a kindergarten teacher at Carlson Elementary School and parent of children at Basha Accelerated Middle School and Santan Elementary School, posted on the Living Chandler Facebook page that “I don’t think it’s fair to label a school with a letter, though I am pleased we received an A at the school I work at as well as the schools my children attend.”

“That being said, a letter is so much more than the school, or the teacher or the students,” Lynch posted. “It is about the community. If a school is in a lower econ area, both parents must work, might have difficulty with English, and might not have the time to help their child succeed. In a higher econ area usually one parent works, the other parent is able to dedicate time and money for tutoring if need be.

“That letter grade bothers me when people won’t go to a B or C school. Parent involvement is a part of that grade. Just because you attend an A school doesn’t mean your kid is an A student… and there can be A students at a C school.”

District parent Christina Nguyen said “the letter grade system is not a good representation of our schools in this state.”

“It ranks schools based on test scores, which in my opinion is not an overall indicator of school and district performance,” Nguyen posted. “School culture is just as important. Do kids feel safe on campus? Do they feel supported? What about the kids who don’t test well or are not college bound? Where do they fall into the mix with how they feel supported and guided?”

Audrey Beardsley, professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, cautioned parents against putting too much emphasis on AzMERIT test scores and school letter grades.

Proficiency on AzMERIT tests is one of five quantifiable factors that affect Arizona’s school letter grades.

“There is a rule of thumb on this – the farther away from the classroom they are, the worse (these assessments) get for (grading) classroom level achievement,” Beardsley said.

She said that parents choosing schools should look at a host of variables beyond letter grades, including disciplinary data, attendance records, school safety and per pupil expenditures.

Beardsley, who specializes in educational policy, measurement and research methods, said one issue is the significant relationship between test scores and a school’s demographics.

She said poorer schools tend to do worse on standardized tests than more affluent schools and that researchers can predict tests scores with a high degree of accuracy just by looking at a school’s demographics.

“There is a correlation between test scores and student demographics and risk variables,” Beardsley said. “The correlations are very strong to the point that we as statisticians can use those risk variables and predict 80 percent of the time how students will perform without them even the test taking place.”

She served on a technical advisory committee for Arizona State Board of Education that was tasked with interpreting data and advising the board on A-F letter grades and other board policies.

Members of the committee, which began meeting in October 2017, were appointed to three-year terms, but the committee was sunsetted earlier this year after less than six months.

Beardsley said that some committee members suggested that the board should take a more holistic approach to grading schools that looked at factors beyond test scores, including social services, safety and programs for specialized populations offered on campus.

However, the “state wanted to stick with the easy answer test score approach,” she said.

To learn more about the state’s letter grades, visit azsbe.az.gov/f-school-letter-grades.

How they fared

Schools not listed received an A

B grades: Casteel and Chandler high schools; Andersen, Bogle, Santan and Willis junior high schools; Bologna, Conley, Hartford, Hull and Sanborn elementary schools and Shumway Leadership Academy

C: Andersen, Frye, Galveston and San Marcos elementary schools.

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