Arizona grades its public schools - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Arizona grades its public schools

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Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 11:19 am, Wed Oct 12, 2011.

For the first time, the East Valley's public schools have been graded just like their students.

Today, the Arizona Department of Education released letter grades for public district and charter schools.

The grades are part of a new accountability program adopted by Arizona lawmakers last year.

In the East Valley, traditional or back-to-basics schools fared well. Most of Mesa Unified School District's Franklin schools received As, as did Gilbert Unified School District's Neely Traditional Academy, Tempe Elementary School District's Ward Traditional School, and all of Chandler Unified School District's Traditional Academies.

All high schools in the Chandler district also earned As.

"It doesn't matter where you live" in the district, Chandler district spokesman Terry Locke said. "All our high schools performed well."

At the other end of the report card, Mesa and Chandler were the only districts in the East Valley to have schools that received Ds. Four Mesa schools - Lehi and Lowell elementary schools, Mesa Junior High School, and Crossroads (an alternative campus) - received the lowest mark possible. And, Chandler's Hartford Elementary School received a D.

Schools will not receive Fs until they receive a D for two years in a row.

School districts also received letter grades this year, using the same formula the individual schools were measured by. In the East Valley, Chandler, Higley and Queen Creek districts earned As, while Apache Junction, Gilbert, Kyrene, Mesa, Tempe Elementary and Tempe Union received Bs.

Nearly 80 percent of charter schools earned an average letter grade or better, and of those, over 70 percent received an A or B. Schools that are small (125 students or less) were not graded, leaving many of Arizona's charter schools off the list.

Among East Valley charters receiving As were Mesa Arts Academy, EduPrize in Gilbert and Tempe Preparatory Academy, which was recognized recently on the Global Report Card.

Two online charter programs - Arizona Virtual Academy and Arizona Connections Academy - received Cs.

ASU Preparatory Academy, an east Mesa charter school operated by Arizona State University, received a B.

The results included grades for a number of schools that have closed or are at risk of closing. Bustoz Elementary School, which was closed by the Tempe Elementary district this school year, received an A. McKemy Middle and Meyer Elementary schools, which were also closed in Tempe, received Cs.

Mesa Junior High, which has been recommended for closure by Mesa district officials, received a D, while Brimhall Junior High, which has also been recommended for closure, earned a B.

In addition to letter grades, the state also released performance labels for Arizona's public schools today. Those labels are part of the old accountability system that the state is phasing out as it moves to the letter grade system. As of right now, schools will receive grades and labels - excelling, highly performing, performing plus, or underperforming - for two years.

And some schools may fare better under one set of criteria than another, state officials have said. For example, Mesa's Summit Academy was labeled "excelling," but received a B.

"There will be schools (labeled) ‘excelling' with As and some (labeled) ‘excelling' with Bs," said Joe O'Reilly, Mesa Unified School District's executive director of student achievement support. Excelling is the highest achievement possible under the AZ Learns system. "You almost have to think about it as if you're taking three different classes and getting three different grades."

O'Reilly said the district is posting a video on its website - mpsaz.org - to explain the differences.

The grades schools received are basically based half on test scores from Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards and half on academic progress or growth. The labels look mainly at the test scores, with a few points possible for growth.

"To get a high label, you have to have a lot of kids scoring 90 percent or higher on a test," O'Reilly said. "To get an A, you have to have a lot of kids passing AIMS and having a lot of students making growth."

Mesa's schools use the information to target problems and increase achievement, O'Reilly said.

"This is another way of looking at the data, and to inform the staff when they're looking at those plans," he said.

Chandler's Locke said the district is planning to mail letters home about the labels and grades this week.

"We're pleased with our grades overall," he said. "The grades will probably get the most attention this year since they're new ... I think parents will discuss, ‘How did their school get an A? How did their school get a B? How did their school get a C? How do we take this information and continue to improve?' "

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

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