ZIP code, wealth and skin color are the real primary differences between “A” and “D” schools

It seems that only one person in Arizona actually supports the proposed A-F school grading system – and that’s Governor Ducey.

As an educator, I’ve taught in “A” schools and in “D” schools. I can assure you that teachers work just as hard in the so-called D schools, if not harder, and the students and families are just as invested in education.

So, what are the real primary differences between “A” and “D” schools? I’ll tell you: ZIP code, wealth and skin color.

Year after year, our Legislature defunds public schools, dealing our poorest schools the hardest blow. Yet, they have the nerve to ask, “Why are poor students behind the curve?”

Grading schools has a human impact, and it’s not a positive one. A “D” grade carries a stigma and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It shames kids and families into believing their schools are not worthwhile, their hard work will not pay off, and their teachers are not making the grade.

Families yank their kids out of “failing” schools and prospective families and teachers choose to move elsewhere, leaving behind only those students with the fewest resources who would benefit most from high-quality teachers and motivating classmates.

The State Board of Education recently sought input on their proposed grading system, and received vehement opposition from teachers, parents and administrators.

It has been opposed by the Arizona Chamber, Arizona school administrators and the Arizona School Boards Association. I’ve even been told that members of the Ad Hoc Committee responsible for seeking input don’t support it – they know that this system measures poverty, not achievement.

So, who does support this grading system? It’s a simple answer: Gov. Ducey and the board he appointed – a board which has complained about the volume of calls it has received in opposition.

Members of the board’s Ad Hoc Committee responsible for finalizing the letter grading system were directed from the outset that 80 percent of the formula would be based on AZMerit scores and 10 percent on English Language Learner testing.

In other words, 90 percent of the assessment they were seeking input on was already determined. Does that sound like the board was really seeking input?

But let’s talk about that 10-percent wiggle room the board was allegedly willing to negotiate.

Thus far, Ducey’s board has refused to consider teacher retention rates and parent satisfaction surveys, which are excellent indicators of a school’s culture.

It rejected the notion that school clubs or activities should count toward a grade, even though a majority of parents support such a metric. Finally, it denied awarding “bonus points” to schools in poverty, the very schools that have been denied equitable funding for decades. It seems to me the measly 10 percent they sought feedback on isn’t really up for discussion after all.

As a teacher, I wrote this column because I need your help.

Let Gov. Ducey and your local legislators know that when they say they’re seeking input, they need to honor that input. Call and tell them you want a better way to measure school success. Stand with teachers, principals and lifelong education advocates by insisting our students receive an equitable and fair education.

Remember, education never fails.

– Beth Lewis has been a public-school educator in Tempe for seven years. Follow her on Twitter @thebethlewis

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