October 12, 2005  
Arizona assessment program features several changes

By Daniel Scarpinato

Just like kids, schools receive report cards, too.
The public will find out this week how schools across the state rate in Arizona's assessment program. But comparing the labels to previous years may not tell the whole story. Changes have been made in the criteria for the labels and a new label has been added.
The labels are for all public and charter schools and are based on a combination of scores on the state's AIMS test and factors such as academic progress and attendance. They will be available to the public Friday, Department of Education spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico said.
Schools have been labeled "excelling," "highly performing," "performing" and "underperforming." They receive a "failing" tag if they're "underperforming" three years in a row. This year, they may receive a "performing plus" label if they have enough points to be highly performing or excelling but not enough students exceed the standard to qualify for those labels.
Among the other changes approved by the Arizona Board of Education, reflected in the soon-to-be-released labels:
● English-language learners will not be included in high school profiles, a factor that has been a burden for some schools.
● Schools will receive a profile in their first year of operation. Previously, they had a three-year wait period.
● The so-called "status year" for assessment of the labels will change, meaning students' progress now will be measured from year to year. In the past, improvement was measured by matching the latest student achievement against scores from 2001.
Last year, 11 schools were labeled "failing" by the state Department of Education. Two were in the Tucson area, Tucson Unified School District's Van Buskirk Elementary and Sunnyside Unified School District's Craycroft Elementary. Also, last year, nine underperforming schools avoided the failing label and about 10 percent of schools in TUSD showed improvements. No schools in TUSD are at risk of failing this year, district spokeswoman Estella Zavala said.
Failing means government intervention, including the possible replacement of administrators. It's a demoralizing experience for school communities but also a chance to refocus goals, said Van Buskirk Principal Chandra Thomas.
"When we had our parents meeting" after the failing label was released, Thomas said, "people didn't understand how we could be making (progress under the federal system) but also be 'underperforming.' They were measuring it with the teachers' work, the teachers' dedication."
The state labels are in contrast to the federal system of Adequate Yearly Progress, a pass/fail assessment that punishes schools if they don't show progress on standardized tests in 144 categories, many based on group identity such as race and income.
But the labels seem to have less impact at performing schools. Harelson Elementary School parent Donna Kimble says the "excelling" label her daughter's school received last year was good recognition for the principal and teachers at what she calls an "unbelievable" school. But if it dropped, she wouldn't change where she sends her third-grade daughter, Mallory.
"If I see the principal's goals and I see the teachers' goals and everything is cohesive" then the label doesn't matter as much, she said.
Still, to Nora Nash, a parent in Nogales, both the state and federal labels are essential in deciding where she will send her son to middle school next year. Nogales' Wade Carpenter Middle School has repeatedly failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal system. Nash will be watching the latest labels closely.
"I'm deeply concerned about where to send him," she said.
● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 573-4195 or at