Most Chandler schools get high grades - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Most Chandler schools get high grades

November 18th, 2019 development
Most Chandler schools get high grades

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A handful of schools in the Chandler Unified School District dropped a letter grade this year, while a majority maintained grades from previous years.

The Arizona Department of Education recently released its annual report cards; it grades schools based on academic performance, growth and readiness.

Most of Chandler Unified’s 46 schools received either “A” or “B” grades – signaling a high level of performance – and none were graded as “D” or “F” schools.

Bologna Elementary, Anderson Elementary, Sanborn Elementary, Willis Junior High and Frye Elementary were graded as “C” schools, indicating an adequate level of performance.

About half of the district’s schools maintained last year’s grade.

Basha Elementary, Tarwater Elementary, Fulton Elementary, Payne Junior High, Naverrete Elementary and Carlson Elementary all dropped from “A” to “B” grades.

Terry Locke, spokesman for Chandler Unified, said these dips are bound to happen due to how Arizona grades schools.

“The thing about school grades is they’re really prone to variation from year to year,” he said.

He highlighted how a large portion of the state’s grading formula for K-8 schools is based on academic growth over the previous year – meaning excelling schools have to sustain its performance on assessments, if it wants to keep its letter grade.

“When you’ve had a really good year,” Locke said, “it can be difficult to maintain that growth the following year.”

For example, Basha Elementary lost four points in the formula’s “growth” category, which was enough to drop it down a full letter grade.

Federal law obligates Arizona to regularly assess school performance and the state decided to use a range of qualitative measures, including graduation rates and English proficiency.

Some CUSD schools continue to improve upon the initial 2016 grades;  the year Arizona began factoring in AzMERIT scores into how the state measures school performance.

Both San Marcos and Galveston Elementary schools raised grades from a “D” to a “B” over the course of the last three years.

Galveston Principal Annette Addair credited this growth to her school’s focus on data-driven instructional decisions.

In the four years she’s been at Galveston, the principal said her staff examines data closely and collaborates with each other to track student performance.

According to the principal, teachers are monitoring students long after they leave their classroom and continue to check on former students to see if they’re adjusting to higher grade levels.   

“They don’t just finish the year with them and send them off,” Addair said.

Two years ago, Galveston received 57 out of 100 possible points on the state’s grading formula. The school managed to score more points in the formula’s “growth” category, raising its letter grade two slots.

“The letter grade is important, but so is everyday learning,” Addair added.

None of the district’s high schools had any change in letter grades.

Locke noted how some high schools scored more proficiency points this year, which he attributed to Chandler Unified’s switch from AzMERIT to the American College Testing assessment, or ACT.

Several districts across Arizona decided this past year to use an alternate assessment to measure growth for high school students. Locke said students tend to take ACT more seriously, as colleges look at these scores during the admission process.

It is unclear how much can actually be gleaned from grades, even though the Education Department says it issues them to help parents “better understand what school is best for their child and to help the state identify which schools are in need of support and how to better prioritize resources.”

Critics have long cautioned that letter grades – like the ones used in Arizona – rely heavily on standardized test scores, tend to favor wealthier schools over poorer ones.

“There is a correlation between test scores and student demographics and risk variables,” Arizona State University professor Audrey Beardsley told the Progress last year.

“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 even the test taking place,” she said.

Alicia Williams, Arizona Board of Education executive director, acknowledged the gap between poorer and wealthier schools and said this is why Arizona’s letter grades reward growth and not just proficiency.

Arizona uses AzMerit tests to gauge student proficiency in language arts and math. For K-8 schools, proficiency accounts for 30 percent and growth accounts for 50 percent of a school’s point total used to determine letter grades.

For high schools, proficiency also accounts for 30 percent of a school’s points.

Last year, growth on the AzMerit tests accounted for 20 percent of a high school’s score.

This year, the state changed its rubric and that same 20 percent is now subdivided to correlate to improvements in proficiency, graduation rate and dropout rates.

Overall, Locke said the district’s pleased with the letter grades it received this year and doesn’t intend to appeal any of them to the Department of Education.

“We’re going to continue looking at all the data and see where we can continue to improve,” Locke added.

Staff Writer Wayne Schutsky contributed to this report.