Arizona releases new school letter grades, first since pandemic
Arizona’s first post-pandemic school performance scorecard has been released.
School letter grades are an estimate of how schools are performing on a variety of measures, including state test scores, that families can use to compare schools.
The 2021-2022 school year grades, released this week by the Arizona State Board of Education, are based on spring 2022 test data.
Letter grades are preliminary. Schools have until Nov. 15 to appeal the state board’s assessment. Final grades will be released in December or early 2023.
Due to COVID-19, no letter grades were released for the 2020-2021 school year, and grades for the 2019-2020 school year were the same as the 2018-2019 school year, according to the board.
Big improvements despite the pandemic
Several Arizona districts saw significant and positive changes in their school letter grades.
The improved grades show the hard work districts have done despite concerns from COVID-19, said Rebecca Beebe, director of government affairs with Arizona School Administrators.
“I’m excited to see … a lot of improvement and good letter grades across the state,” Beebe said.
Test results:Arizona student reading scores steady as of 2019; declines in math scores on the national test
The Buckeye Elementary School District saw their four D and F schools move to As and Bs.
Assistant Superintendent Mike Lee credits the district’s participation in Project Momentum, a state-funded initiative that gives struggling schools $150 in additional funding per student to spend on teacher development, intensive lesson planning and time with instructional coaches.
“You don’t get this kind of support normally,” Lee said.
The Peoria Unified School District, which serves the Northwest Valley communities of Glendale, Peoria, Surprise and Youngtown, had 10 schools increase by a letter grade. The district now has 37 schools, out of 42 primary and secondary schools, rated A or B.
Dysart Unified School District, also in the Northwest Valley, doubled the number of A schools from 2019, according to a statement from the district.
Letter grades required by law
Letter grades are mandated by state law. Federal law also requires states to measure school performance using comparable measures across schools.
A letter grade is a snapshot of assessment test scores, year-over-year student learning growth, middle and elementary school students’ level of preparation for the next grade, and high school graduation rates.
School letter grades are meant to give parents a way to judge how schools are doing. Arizona has an open enrollment school system, meaning that students can enroll in schools regardless of specific geography and district boundaries.
Critics say the letter grade system penalizes low-income communities because wealthier schools are likely to perform better on the measures used to calculate the base grade score.
Grades that are then appealed will be marked “UR” or under review until the state board acts on the appeals at its Dec. 9 meeting.
School letter grades are available at https://azsbe.az.gov/f-school-letter-grades.
Yana Kunichoff is a reporter on the Arizona Republic’s K-12 education team. Join the Republic Facebook page and reach Yana at [email protected]