Arizona’s new A-F letter grades are just one measure of how a school is doing. The letter grades are largely based on how students do on the AzMERIT assessment (if they are proficient and growing) and if students are graduating from high school or taking steps to prepare for career or college, among other things.
A more comprehensive picture is needed to evaluate a school’s success that includes things like: the school’s ability to create a safe and inclusive school environment, engage students in the classroom, hire and retain great leaders and teachers, prepare all students for success after high school, meaningfully involve parents, and much more.
WHAT DOES A SCHOOL’S LETTER GRADE MEAN FOR PARENTS?
There are many other factors to consider when choosing the best school for your child or gaining a better understanding of how your child’s school is doing. Every child has unique needs, and as their parent or caregiver, you know best what kind of environment they need to flourish.
In addition to a school’s letter grade, parents/guardians should ask questions like:
- Is the school doing its best to meet my child’s needs (social, emotional, academic)?
- How is the school helping struggling students grow?
- Are they using a rigorous curriculum to help all kids to be prepared for college and career?
- Are parents engaged, and if so, is it meaningfully supporting student success?
BACKGROUND ON A-F SCHOOL LETTER GRADES
Arizona is required by federal law to measure school performance. Since 2011, the state has used an A-F letter grade system to do so. The last time letter grades were issued was in 2014. Since then, Arizona has taken a two-year hiatus in issuing school letter grades as the state transitioned to a new assessment (AzMERIT) and revised the letter grading system.
In fall 2016, the Arizona State Board of Education formed a committee made up of education officials, advocates, and policy experts to update the A-F school letter grading system. Adjustments to the A-F school letter grade system were necessary given a variety of changes at the state and federal level, including the switch to AzMERIT and the replacement of No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act.
The recommended updates were approved by the State Board in late April 2017. Recently, A-F letter grades were assigned to all public schools (traditional and charter) according to the new formula and using information (including AzMERIT scores) from the 2016-17 school year.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES THE A-F SYSTEM MEASURE?
Much like the previous A-F letter grade system, this new model relies heavily on AzMERIT. However, the new model places more emphasis on growth, which is important because students come into the classroom at different starting points – some at grade level, some ahead and others behind. Measuring growth acknowledges the work that schools do to help each child make progress, regardless of where they begin.
Including growth is also important from an equity perspective: many schools with high concentrations of low-income kids, who often start the school year behind, may make gains of the equivalent of one school year, but may still struggle to hit a proficiency target (e.g. 70% of all students being proficient). Including both growth and proficiency gives credit to schools who able to help their students grow and achieve.
WHAT DOES THE A-F SYSTEM NOT MEASURE?
School letter grades are just one measurement of a school’s success. The A-F system does not account for things such as awards a school may have received, the availability and quality of art, music or STEM programs, extracurricular offerings or the strength of the athletic program, the availability of Pre-K or full-day Kindergarten, before-and-after school care options, and much more.
The committee who worked to update the A-F grading system tried to find a way to grade schools without relying so heavily on AzMERIT scores. However, it became clear that there is not enough valid and reliable data available yet for many of the proposed ideas. The Board has committed to refine and enhance the system and to incorporate new measures of school performance as data becomes available in future years.
WHAT DOES EACH LETTER GRADE MEAN?
As the State Board of Education shared letter grades, they also shared this table that describes what each letter grade means:
WHAT HAPPENS TO D & F SCHOOLS?
The Arizona Department of Education will partner with D and F schools to improve their A-F ranking through the development and implementation of a comprehensive improvement plan.
HOW SHOULD PARENTS USE THIS INFORMATION?
It’s important to remember that Arizona’s new A-F letter grades are just one measure of how each school is doing. To better understand whether or not a school is successful we should also consider the school’s ability to create a safe and inclusive learning environment; hire and retain great teachers and school leaders; prepare all students for success after high school; meaningfully involve parents, and much more. Every child has unique needs, and as the parent or caregiver, you know best what kind of environment he or she needs to flourish.
Also, please be aware when making comparisons between previous years and between schools that this year’s letter grades are based on completely different measurements.