Many East Valley schools learned Wednesday that they passed Arizona’s grading system with high marks — only to fail the standards measured by the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law.
In most cases, they flunked the federal standard because they didn’t test 95 percent of students in each subgroup of students broken down by ethnicity, poverty, gender, English learners, and special education.
Eight Scottsdale schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under the federal standard because they didn’t test enough students.
"You are going to see that everywhere," said Joanne Bauman, executive director of research and assessment for the Scottsdale Unified School District. "Nationally, it’s going to be a huge issue."
Overall in the East Valley, about 40 district schools and several charter schools failed the federal standard, which is based on reading and math results from Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards. If any subgroup with 30 or more students fails to meet performance targets or 95 percent taking the test, then the entire school fails. The vast majority of East Valley district schools that failed did so because they didn’t have enough test-takers in a subgroup.
Arizona’s top education official said parents and the public should not rely on the federal system to judge schools accurately.
"Under the federal system, there are 144 ways for schools to fail," Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a news release. "A school that excels in 143, and falls short in one, still fails . . . "
Statewide, 72 percent of Arizona’s schools passed the federal standard, while 28 percent did not.
The Kyrene Elementary School District, with schools in Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills had nine schools fail and 16 pass — but on the state labeling system, many Kyrene schools were given the top designation of "excelling."
Like Scottsdale, Kyrene’s schools failed because of the 95 percent participation rate. The same thing happened to a number of schools in the Mesa Unified School District, including Stapley and Taylor junior high schools, which were both labeled "excelling" by the state.
"It’s not a matter of students’ academic performance. It’s a matter of making sure every student takes the test," said Joe O’Reilly, Mesa’s executive director for student achievement support.
Across the East Valley, school officials said the 95 percent tested rule can be difficult to meet, especially in the special-education subgroup, when students are ill or suddenly drop out.
While every school is rated under the No Child Left Behind law, schools that receive federal dollars to educate poor children face the most serious consequences if they fail to make sufficient progress. These Title I schools must develop improvement plans and provide students with the opportunity to attend other schools if they fail to improve. Schools face such consequences when they fail the federal standards two years in a row.
School districts can also be placed on the federal government’s "in need of improvement" list if half of their schools fail to make sufficient progress. No East Valley district had that many schools fail.
Officials said the biggest problem for East Valley schools is explaining why a school excels on the state system — but fails the federal one.
"I think parents will be somewhat confused by the federal and state labels, especially if the two are inconsistent with each other and with their own experience with the school," O’Reilly said.