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Six out of the 276 schools that have pending letter grades by the Arizona Department of Education are in the Flagstaff area.

Those six schools include two schools from Flagstaff Unified School District, Flagstaff High School and Sinagua Middle School. The remaining four schools are charters including Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, Flagstaff Junior Academy, Basis and Northland Preparatory Academy.

Some of the schools, such as FALA, FHS and Sinagua, are appealing their grades. Others are listed as pending by the state because they have an unusual mix of grade levels, like Basis and NPA. The Arizona State Board of Education has announced that final letter grades for schools will be available in December and that it is reviewing its current letter grade formula and seeking public input.

Sinagua Middle School plans to appeal its grade, said Principal Teri Popham. The school dropped from a B in 2014 during the AIMS test to a D this year with the AzMERIT test.

“We’re not a D school, we don’t feel that grade is reflective of our students or our teachers,” she said.

She said staff believe they found a number of calculation errors that were made by the state when computing the letter grade.

She also pointed out that the school's special education students were missing their regular teacher during the testing period. The teacher had broken her leg and several substitutes were need to cover the testing period.

The state recommends that special needs or education students have as consistent an environment as possible while taking the test, Popham said. Schools try to make sure that the students’ regular teacher is there during the test day and that the students take the test in their classroom.

Popham also said that schools are allowed to submit, as part of the appeals process, data that is gathered throughout the school year showing student improvement, such as student grades, quarterly assessments, etc. Sinagua plans to submit that data as part of their appeals package.

Flagstaff High School Principal Tony Cullen said his school is appealing for a number of reasons. The school dropped from an A in 2014 to a C in 2017. Cullen didn’t have a specific list of reasons Tuesday, but said that staff are working on gathering and examining the data they would use to make their appeal case. He did say that one of the appeal items they were looking at is the effect on the learning environment in the school when a series of threatening notes were found in the school this spring.

FALA Executive Director Larry Wallen told the Arizona Daily Sun last week that he planned to appeal the school’s letter grade, a C for the high school grades, because of a snafu that happened when the AzMERIT scores for the schools 10th graders were submitted to the state.

Tom Drumm, the executive director for Flagstaff Junior Academy, said the school has sent out a note to parents explaining that it plans to appeal the C grade it received from the state.

“I would like to emphasize to parents that although we value the AzMERIT testing process and the results it provides us as educators, we believe that the new criteria still overemphasize the value of standardized tests,” Drumm wrote in his letter. “We do not teach to the test, and we feel that a letter grade administered by the state is not an accurate portrayal of the culture, health, and effectiveness of a school community. The letter grade is in effect a snapshot of a couple of data points, primarily the AzMERIT test results.”

Drumm stated in an email to the Arizona Daily Sun that the school believes there was a mistake in the calculation of the grade.

Drumm believes that the state left off some bonus points FJA should have received for students studying beyond their grade level in its calculation of its letter grade. Schools can receive bonus points for students who are taking classes in math that are above their grade level. For example, eight graders who are taking Algebra.

Phil Handler, the vice president of communications for Basis Educational Ventures, said that the school was not appealing its A letter grade. He explained in an email that the state had held grades for schools with non-traditional grade configurations like Basis Flagstaff and listed them as “pending.” Basis Flagstaff teaches students in grades 3 to 12.

The Arizona State Board of Education is holding 10 open houses at its offices in Phoenix between Oct. 10 and Nov. 6. Public comments on the letter grade system can also be emailed to inbox@azsbe.az.gov.

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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