Arizona releases new school letter grades, first since pandemic
Arizona's first post-pandemic scorecard of school performance is out.
School letter grades are a calculation of how schools are performing on a series 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, rely on spring 2022 test data.
The 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.
Because of COVID-19, no letter grades were issued 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 pandemic
Several Arizona districts saw significant and positive shifts in their school letter grades.
The improved grades show the hard work districts have done despite the disturbances from COVID-19, said Rebecca Beebe, director of governmental affairs with Arizona School Administrators.
“I’m excited to see … a lot of improvement and good letter grades across the state,” Beebe said.
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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 an extra $150 in per-pupil funds 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 Northwest valley communities Glendale, Peoria, Surprise and Youngtown, had 10 schools move up a letter grade. The district now has 37 schools, out of 42 elementary and high schools, rated A or B.
Dysart Unified School District, also in the Northwest valley, doubled its 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, student learning growth from year to year, the preparation level of middle and elementary school students for the next grade and high school graduation rates.
The school letter grades are intended to give parents a way to judge how schools are performing. Arizona has an open enrollment school system, meaning students can enroll in schools regardless of assigned 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 that are used to calculate the grade's underlying score.
Grades that are appealed will then be marked as “UR,” or under review, until the state board acts on 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's Facebook page, and reach Yana at firstname.lastname@example.org.