The Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board is already working on a plan to improve next year’s school letter grades.
The Arizona State Board of Education released preliminary letter grades for school on Monday. Two FUSD schools, Flagstaff High School and Sinagua Middle School, are appealing their letter grades of C and D, respectively. FUSD Director of Research and Assessment Robert Hagstrom updated the FUSD Governing Board on the letter grade situation Tuesday
FUSD board member Kara Kelty asked if there were any surprises with the FUSD school letter grades.
Hagstrom said the drop in letter grades for FHS and Sinagua were something of a surprise, especially since both schools are within a few points of the next letter grade up.
“It was a punch in the gut to a lot of teachers,” he said. Principals and teachers are working together to use the letter grades as a baseline to improve from.
The district needs to work strategically to use the data, including students’ grades and attendance records, to improve education for FUSD students, Kelty said.
“We don’t want to be here, wringing our hands, next year,” she said.
Board member Carole Gilmore pointed out that the district will need hard information to show substantial growth before going to the public for any bond issues.
Hagstrom said that first-quarter assessments for district students should be coming out soon. District staff were also working on a data warehouse where information on student and teachers could be stored and sorted to spot problem and improvement areas. The warehouse would include data on student and teacher attendance, grades, human resource information, test scores, teacher evaluations and more.
FUSD Governing Board member Kathryn Kozak asked if it was true that students don’t feel motivated to do well on the tests because there are no consequences for failing it or rewards for passing it.
Hagstrom said he there isn’t enough data out there to determine that. However, when the state took away the Regent High Honors Endorsement scholarship, FUSD did see a dip in AIMS test scores. The scholarship originally gave students who had high scores on the AIMS test full tuition to any Arizona public university. The scholarship was cut back in 2010 and then later eliminated.
He said that principals and teachers at each of FUSD’s schools are looking at ways to motivate students to do well on the tests.
Hagstrom told the Board there were a number of differences between how the last time letter grades were calculated for schools in 2014 and how they were calculated this year.
The most obvious change was the change in standardized tests used to score the students and schools, he said. The 2014 letter grades were calculated using data from the AIMS test. This year’s scores were calculated using data from the AzMERIT test, which is a more difficult test.
The data used to create the letter grades is also weighted differently this year, Hagstrom said. The state is looking not only on how well students are doing in their own grade cohort but comparing them to the cohort from the previous year.
According to the Arizona State Board of Education, the kindergarten through eighth grade school grades were weighted as follows: 30 percent for students scoring proficient, 50 percent for growth in student scores, 10 percent for growth and proficiency in scores by English Language Learners and 10 percent for students scoring in the acceleration/readiness.
The formula for calculating the high school grades is different. High school grades are weighted with 30 percent of the grade going to students scoring proficient, 20 percent for growth in scores, 10 percent for growth and proficiency by English Language Learners, 20 percent for a school’s graduation rate and 20 percent for a schools college and career readiness.
The cut scores for each letter grade were also calculated differently from the 2014 grades, Hagstrom said. The 2014 scores were based off of a 200 point system. The 2017 stores are based off a 100 point system. The State Board of Education based the cut off point for the different letter grades based on a mean 2017 grade that would fall somewhere between a B and a C.
Hagstrom also said that the State Board of Education is now calling the grades preliminary and that final grades for schools will be coming out sometime in December. One of the changes to the letter grade formula that schools are expecting between now and December is a request from the state to include career readiness for all high school seniors, not just the seniors that graduate.
In the meantime, the State Board is holding a series of 10 open houses at its headquarters in Phoenix from Oct. 10 to Nov. 6 to collect input from the public on the grade system. The public can also submit comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The board is also creating a Technical Advisory Committee to review the letter grade system and report back to the Arizona State Board of Education.