State to aid underperforming schools
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 21, 2005
Pat Kossan and Matt Dempsey

16 can't meet U.S. standards

Too many students at 16 Arizona schools have failed the AIMS reading or math test, and now federal law requires state officials to step in and push the schools to do something about it.

The schools must make changes to show progress on AIMS two years in a row.

The schools will be required to pay more attention to each child's academic needs, change what is taught in their classroom and how it is taught. Some already have changed principals. The schools' staff members will be required to attend training, and state officials will monitor the schools to measure their progress.

Requiring schools to pass "Adequate Yearly Progress" is part of the No Child Left Behind Act, the cornerstone of the Bush administration's education-reform movement.

Four of the schools that have failed for four consecutive years are in Maricopa County, and all of them made the list because a portion of their students have consistently failed the AIMS reading tests: Isaac Middle School in Phoenix's Isaac Elementary District; Challenger Middle School in the Glendale Elementary District; Ignacio Conchos School in Phoenix's Roosevelt Elementary District; and Phoenix Advantage Charter School.

Despite the failures, many parents continue to have faith in the schools.

Norma Quintanilla, 30, is a secretary in a lawyer's office and has two children in Phoenix Advantage. She said her third- and fourth-grade daughters, who speak Spanish at home, have made academic progress and are reading and writing English well. Parents need to monitor their own children's progress, she said. Quintanilla drops into the school regularly, e-mails and visits with her children's teachers.

Mayra Gomez has two children in Isaac Middle School and said parents and teachers must work as partners to make sure children are doing their homework and understand what they need to learn.

"They know you are going to be working as a team with the teacher and they're not going to get away with much," Gomez said. She encourages parents in her neighborhood to do the same. Many don't speak English well, but she tells them that many teachers and their classroom aides know Spanish and can show them ways they can monitor their child's progress.

Federal officials use scores from the state's AIMS reading and writing tests to help determine if a school passes the standard. Most often, Arizona schools fail Adequate Yearly Progress because too many students fail AIMS.

A school can also fail if it doesn't test 95 percent of its students, if an elementary school's attendance fluctuates, or if a high school's graduation rate shows no growth. When a school does not meet Adequate Yearly Progress three years in a row, federal law requires state officials to begin helping that school take a harder look at its weaknesses. In a school's fourth or fifth years of failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress, state officials begin intervening and directing more and more of the school's operations.

Tom Horne, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the standard creates too many ways a school can fail.

Horne prefers that parents pay more attention to the way Arizona officials label their own schools.

Schools can appeal their Adequate Yearly Progress decision. This year, nearly 200 did so. That reduced the number of schools originally labeled as failing from 384 earlier this month to 263 two weeks later.

Some districts, such as Phoenix's Alhambra Elementary, are still waiting to hear. Six of the district's 15 schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress. Alhambra Superintendent Jim Rice said he met with state officials this week, and they assured him that they would recalculate the data for five of the six schools. While the schools hang in limbo, Rice called the meeting "somewhat reassuring."

Eight of the 12 schools that were on last year's federal failing list passed the Adequate Yearly Progress standard this year. But federal law requires all schools to pass two years in a row to get out from under government monitoring.

Reporter Anne Ryman contributed to this article.