An Open Letter to the State Board of Education and the Arizona Department of Education


We are writing about serious errors and inequities in the coming A-F announcements.

We accept the concept of school accountability, and that statewide programs necessarily lack subtlety and nuance, but we equally believe that such a system must itself be accountable for accuracy, fairness and precision. We deplore the statistical connection between the number of students on free and reduced lunch in a school, and that school’s likely A-F grade, as well as the link between school grades and a school’s location in suburban, urban or rural areas.

Last year’s A-F grades were intended to be released privately to schools, with an opportunity to review data and petition for corrections. This plan was subverted when the Arizona Republic and others litigated the preliminary grades into the open. We understand why the press desired the early release, but suspect they failed to consider the unintended consequences, which are now upon us.

This year’s early peek at raw scores reveals significant errors in an already confusing process, including the errors in our school’s data described below. Under the process jointly produced by the State Board of Education (SBE) and the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), school grades will be announced in the next few days, followed by a short period during which appeals may be filed. There are three critical problems with this approach.

First, A-F grades were originally created to meet a requirement under No Child Left Behind. When NCLB was replaced by Every Student Succeeds Act, this requirement was eliminated. In other words, ADE and the SBE are pushing forward with an expired federal mandate no longer deemed useful by the federal government.

Second, until the Attorney General intervened last week, the A-F appeals process was designed to preclude appeals based on faulty data. Imagine telling a student that her grade stands, even though the teacher incorrectly graded the exam. This is not the hallmark of a program designed to help schools.

Third, releasing initial school grades based on bad data harms schools. The SBE website states, “The A-F Accountability System is not designed to stigmatize schools…,” but this is either naïve or disingenuous. No appeal result will ever reverse the impact of an unfairly low grade. Parents decide which schools are best for their children, and thus where to buy a home or take a job; students and staff working to improve their schools are deterred from continuing their efforts; donors and grant agencies see a school sliding and withhold support; and, those impressions of a school’s quality inform agency and legislative action. Our school district has been working for years to improve and we are making great progress; the damage from a grade based on bad data will be incalculable, harmful and permanent.

In the case of Miami Junior-Senior High School, a rural 7-12 school of 500 students:

Our graduation rate has been grossly undercalculated by ADE and SBE. Six of 66 students in the cohort are listed with a “P” rather than the “G” indicating Graduation. These six students graduated a year early and should certainly be credited to our school. Curiously, “P” is the label for passed out of eighth grade and, according to the technical manual for the A-F grades, should not be used with seniors.

Our College & Career Readiness Index (CCRI) reported last summer included one bonus point, yet that bonus point does not show up in the preliminary scores.

Our scores show significant growth in AZ Merit and AIMS scores — six of the 12 exams administered showed major gains — yet our proficiency scores declined. How do students get higher scores and simultaneously earn lower letter grades? Imagine your child coming home saying, “I did lots better on my test, but my grade went down.”

We were told that the SBE had eliminated the minimum number of students required to earn English Language Learner (ELL) points, yet that score is blank.

The state agencies announce expectations and cut scores for K-8 and 9-12 scores but provide no guidance for hybrid schools serving sixth or seventh graders through high school. Last year’s A-F grades for more than 200 schools had to be reevaluated because they did not fit the “traditional configuration,” yet that lesson seems not to have sunk in, as the new scores include no provision for hybrid schools.

Does it matter? It does to us. Something this important ought to be correct, as it directly affects our school grade. If our graduation rate is corrected, we keep our hard-won C. The other items — CCRI, proficiency and ELL — could put us in striking range of a B.

For all of these reasons, general and specific, and for all the reasons raised by others around the state, we respectfully request that SBE and ADE review and verify the data used to determine A-F grades before releasing the 2017-2018 A-F grades.

Respectfully,

Glen Lineberry, M.Ed.

Miami High School Principal

Sherry Dorathy, Ed.D.

Miami Unified District Superintendent

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