New Accountability System for Arizona Schools An A for Effort an F for Confusion

Are Arizona schools making the grade? Under a new accountability system beginning in the 2011-12 academic year they just might. . .or might not. The new system now uses letter grades, in the same way students are graded, to assess each school's performance. Unfortunately, transitioning to the new system has not been as smooth as some might have hoped. So will the new system pass muster or fail miserably?

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A State of Confusion

Students who do well get As and those who don't get Fs. Now, schools in Arizona will be assessed using the same type of grading system. Sounds simple, right?

Maybe not quite.

For one, there's an old system that's been used since 2001 that is still in place as the new A-F letter system is incorporated. The old system, AZ Learns, uses results based mostly on Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) testing, which are assessment tests given to grades 3-10 in areas of writing, reading, math and science, and the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) testing. Graduation and dropout rates are also factors. Schools are then rated as Excelling, Highly Performing, Performing Plus, Performing, Underperforming, Failing to Meet Academic Standards or Pending.

Currently, the new system awards points to schools based on AIMS results in math and reading and the number of students who demonstrate academic growth. Graduation and dropout rates also figure into the mix, and eventually officials would like to add writing scores and opinions about schools from teachers, parents and students into the equation. Schools with high points get an A, those with low points a D (Fs won't be given until a school receives a D for two consecutive years).

What makes things most confusing is that it will take two years to fully adopt the new system and phase out AZ Learns, which means schools will essentially receive two assessment labels. And even more confusing than that? Since the old and new labels are not calculated in the same way, one school could look good using one method and bad using the other.

It's sure to leave many in Arizona scratching their heads. In fact, the entire affair has even left the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, issuing an apology. What's more, the Arizona Board of Education announced on September 26th a 2-week delay in publishing the letter grades and labels due to the need for further discussions concerning some outstanding issues, such as how the new accountability system will impact small schools as well as students who have moved during the school year.

So for now and possibly for the next two years, the whole accountability system in Arizona schools might just receive a C. . .for Confusion.

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