New labels' impact will be far-reaching
Arizona Daily Star, Tucson- Monday, 14 October 2002
By Mary Kamerzell and John Pedicone
SPECIAL TO THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
On Tuesday, the state of Arizona will attach a label, or classification, to each
public schools. These labels are part of the state's school accountability
called AZ LEARNS.
Based on our students' performance on the Arizona Instrument to Measure
Standards, or AIMS test, annual yearly progress data and graduation and dropout
rates, schools will be labeled as "excelling," "improving," "maintaining" or
Officials at the state Department of Education have told us that about 18
or 200 of the state's public schools will be labeled as "underperforming" in
All the rest will likely be "maintaining" or "improving."
Officials report that there may be just one school in all of Arizona identified
Unlike the other three labels that are defined by the state board of education,
criteria for reaching an "excelling" status are outlined in state law. (Ninety
of all the students in a school must meet the state's academic standards in
writing and mathematics; in other words, pass the AIMS test.)
If labeling Arizona schools triggers improvement of student achievement, we're
for it. That really is the only reason to design an accountability system in the
place and upon which it needs to be judged.
To determine whether the system accomplishes this goal, the following questions
should be asked:
* Did the accountability system lead to improvement in student achievement?
* Did the accountability system provide accurate information to parents,
and others about the performance of their school?
The answers to these questions will be important as we evaluate our state's
approach to school reform.
For example, once a school is designated as "underperforming" this year, the
school board has 30 days to provide written notification of this fact to every
household within the attendance area of the school.
In addition, a school improvement plan must be developed and a special public
meeting must be held to present the plan to the community.
Improvement plans are due at the Department of Education sometime in January.
At that point, of course, the school needs to be "working" that improvement
In April, four months after the improvement plans have been submitted, students
will be taking the AIMS test again.
The results of those tests, which will not be received until late summer, will
next October's school labels.
It is highly unlikely that any "underperforming" school will be able to change
achievement status before next year's round of labeling, regardless of the
improvement plan it sets into motion. There won't be enough time to improve
The news then gets worse. If a school is "underperforming" for a second year, it
will be labeled "failing."
The consequences for "failing" schools are severe and could include a state
takeover if these schools are identified as "chronically struggling."
The impact of this process will certainly be felt by all of us, not just
parents and educators working in schools, but by an entire community.
Improvement should be an ongoing commitment of every school in every district
across our state, and none of us should resist that agenda. It is critical that
decisions that have such serious implications for communities are made carefully
It is also essential that effective solutions for improving the conditions
struggling schools are provided in clear and direct terms while supporting those
solutions with the resources necessary to yield successful results.
Anything less than this is punitive and will not serve to make Arizona's schools
The real losers will be our students. Let's resist the tendency to embrace a
fix or expect to shame schools into submission.
That approach has never resulted in improvement. If we are careful and focused
on solutions, Arizona's schools will be able to keep their promise to children
* Mary Kamerzell is superintendent of Catalina Foothills School District.
John Pedicone is superintendent of Flowing Wells School District.