For the third year in a row, Flagstaff Unified School District is treading water on standardized tests compared with students across Arizona.
Out of 18 tests in reading, writing and math at a variety of grade levels, FUSD's pass rates exceeded the statewide pass rate on just three tests. That's the same rate as the past two years.
But another school accountability measure that assigned letter grades to schools showed improvement at FUSD, which as a district received a grade of B. Two schools, Cromer and Puente de Hozho, went from a C to a B, while the two schools with previous A grades -- Flagstaff High and Sechrist Elementary -- kept those grades.
The only school with a grade below C was Kinsey Elementary, which received a D.
"We're very pleased with the district's B and the progress at several of our schools," said Superintendent Barbara Hickman, adding that Killip Elementary, once a school labeled "underperforming," is now a B level school.
Four charter schools in the area -- FALA, NPA, Mountain School and Basis -- received grades of A. But schools in Fredonia, Tuba City, Page and Grand Canyon received grades of D.
Hickman said the fact that FUSD continues to lag the statewide passing rates on 15 of 18 tests does not mean FUSD is not improving, just that state scores are going up at a faster rate.
An analysis of passing rates this year and last shows that FUSD pass rates improved on four tests, declined on 13 and held steady on one. Statewide, pass rates went up on 10 tests, declined on five and held steady on three.
FUSD's enrollment has dropped by nearly 1,500 students in the past decade, leading to the closure of four schools two years ago. Many of those students enrolled in charter schools, and the latter's relatively higher scores signify an exodus of some of the district's higher-performing students.
But Robert Hagstrom, director of research and assessment at FUSD, said several key variable make it hard to compare a large district with a small charter school.
The main difference involves the reporting of scores by special education students and those learning English as a second language. FUSD. Those students' scores are counted at FUSD, but most charter schools do not have them counted because of small sample sizes at each school.
An analysis by the Daily Sun of combined math and reading pass rates for all schools in the Flagstaff region, including charters, showed that out of 14 tests, the combined pass rate was higher than or equal to the FUSD score alone. But even with increases on some tests of 10 percentage points, there were only 6 tests out of 14 with pass rates regionwide higher than the state pass rates.
Hickman was pleased with the reading results at Puente de Hozho, a trilingual school that had a 78 pass rate, with all tests taken in English.
On the other side, low fifth-grade reading and writing scores at Kinsey indicated to Hickman that the curriculum may be in need of a closer realignment with AIMS standards.
The letter grades are based on the weighting of student performance on the AIMS tests and student academic growth from year to year, along with additional points awarded for high English Language Learner reclassifications, and significant reductions in dropout rates.
Hickman said she was not "entirely comfortable" with something so complex as an entire school being labeled by a single grade. But she said that for schools like Flag High, which work hard to get high passing scores on AIMS, the A grade is well-deserved.
Of the nearly 1,300 traditional schools graded across the state, only 283 were awarded A's this year, compared to 231 schools in 2011.
AIMS: FUSD VS. ARIZONA
Number of tests on which FUSD pass rate exceeded statewide pass rate:
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010* 2011* 2012*
17 of 21 15 of 21 12 of 21 7 of 21 3 of 18 3 of 18 3 of 18
*Writing tests not given in grades 3, 4 and 8
Note: Does not include science
-- Source: Arizona Department of Education
Arizona School Letter Grades 2012
Sedona-Oak Creek B
Tuba City C
Grand Canyon C
DeMiguel Elementary School B
Cromer Elementary School B
Kinsey Elementary School D
Marshall Elementary School C
Killip Elementary School B
Sechrist Elementary School A
Thomas Elementary School C
Leupp Public School C
Knoles Elementary School B
Puente de Hozho B
Mount Elden Middle School C
Sinagua Middle School C
Flagstaff High School A
Coconino High School C
Williams Elementary/Middle School C
Williams High School B
Grand Canyon Elementary D
Grand Canyon High School B
Fredonia Elementary School D
Fredonia High School A
Desert View Elementary School D
Lake View Elementary School C
Page Middle School C
Page High School C
Tuba City Primary School D
Eagles Nest Intermediate School D
Tuba City Junior High School C
Tuba City High School B
Maine Consolidated School B
Pine Forest School B
Flagstaff Arts And Leadership Academy A
Mountain School A
Northland Preparatory Academy A
Montessori Charter School of Flagstaff B
Flagstaff Junior Academy C
Basis Flagstaff A
Peak School C
Dzil Libei Elementary School D
Gap Primary School C
Project New Start C-Alt