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Sun, March 24

Community View | The Arizona school report cards system is new, needs time to work out issues

Thanks for the opinion article pertaining to the new Arizona school report cards in Friday’s Miner. It's always good to see articles about education.

It was an interesting read indeed. As a veteran school teacher in Arizona (18 years) I wanted to point out a couple of things that the general public may not know.

The article states that the old grading system used by the state ADE from 2008 to 2014 caused no uproar. I am sure the general public would like to know that there were many schools statewide that appealed their grades for various reasons under that old system. Some won their appeals, and other lost their appeals.

I would consider an appeal to the state ADE an "uproar."

The article further suggests that the state should return to that grading system because "it wasn't broke, so why fix it?"

The public is likely not aware of how that system worked. The old system was very simple. It only looked at the bottom line academic scores of each individual student. A school's entire population of students' bottom line achievement scores made up the school grade. That sounds fair and easy enough, until you consider another factor that people might be interested to know.

Every year of teaching (over my 18 years I've taught grades 4-8) my class has been comprised of students on grade level, some a year or two behind grade level, some a year or two above grade level, and a few way above or below grade level.

So, the question is what does this have to do with the school grades? Let me pose an example that might help explain. I currently teach fifth grade, so let's take a fifth grade example. In a given fifth grade class, a few students are working at a second or third grade level. Conversely, the class has a couple of students who are working on a sixth or seventh grade level. In this example, using the old grading system, it is unrealistic that a student working at a second grade level would ever be able to achieve a "passing" bottom line score on the fifth grade standardized test. What is reasonable for this student? If our student who is working at a second grade level made, say, one year's growth or one and a half year's worth of growth, most teachers, parents, students, and administrators would be proud of that accomplishment.

The old system would have considered this particular student a "failure" student who falls far below the "passing mark" for that grade level. Thus, the school would get no positive credit for that student's academic gains.

This is where the problem with the old system begins. The teacher, school, and student are very proud of that student's gains, as they should be. Enter the new grading system the ADE used this year. It looks at both the bottom line academic scores for each student and a level of appropriate growth for each student. Most in the education sector would consider this to be a much more fair way to assign grades to schools.

Another issue that the article doesn't highlight is that of class size. Oh here we go, another teacher complaining about class size! Let me explain what class size has to do with this grading system. When I started teaching in Arizona (2000) acceptable class sizes were roughly 22-28 kids. Now, class sizes seem to be fine at 33-38 kids. I know many teachers here in Kingman and elsewhere that have over 40 students.

Using the example from above of having classrooms with a huge array of ability levels. The class of 25 from 2002, may have three to five students that are far below grade level. Now in 2017, that same class has 37 kids in it and so the odds are now much greater that there will be five to nine students working well below grade level.

The bottom line is that the new system, while not perfect, is trying to make the school grades issued as fair as they can be to all schools.

On a final note, when the old system began in 2008, problems and complaints were much more prevalent than in 2014 after people had gotten used to it. This system will be the same way. After a few years of getting used to it and adjusting to it, the problems and issues should minimize.

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