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How Do You Know If Your Child’s School Is High Performing?

by Expect More Arizona

As a parent or a community member, it can be difficult to understand what all the various school labels mean and whether your child’s school or neighborhood school is up to snuff. Below are three different ways that you may see your local school labeled. The distinctions are given by different entities and each mean something a little different.

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. Arizona recently took a two-year hiatus in issuing school letter grades as the state transitioned to a new assessment (AzMERIT) and revised the letter grading system.

Last month, preliminary A-F letter grades were assigned to all public schools (traditional and charter) according to the revised formula and using information (including AzMERIT scores) from the 2016-17 school year. 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.

It’s important to note that school letter grades currently do 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 others.

The Arizona State Board of Education created a Technical Advisory Committee in October and is currently reviewing some issues that need to be addressed before finalizing the letter grades for schools. In addition to the schools that are appealing their letter grades, there was also concern about the accuracy of the data used to determine letter grades, issues with how things were coded for the College and Career Readiness Indicator section (i.e., SAT, ACT, CTE skills attainment and AP), as well as schools that have non-typical grade configuration (i.e., K-3 schools or K-5 schools versus the K-8 model).

Read our blog to learn more about the revised A-F School Letter Grade system and the formula breakdown.

A+ Schools

The Arizona Education Foundation’s A+ School of Excellence Program celebrates public schools that have done an outstanding job of identifying and meeting the academic and non-academic needs of students.

Schools go through an intensive application process for the designation in which they are required to provide data showing high levels of achievement or significant improvement related to school programs, practices, community involvement and campus culture. Schools that earn the A+ School of Excellence designation retain their status for three years, then must reapply.

To be eligible for an A+ rating, the school must be a public district or charter school with some combination of grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12, be rated by the Arizona Department of Education as an “A” or “B” school for the previous school year, demonstrate high student academic achievement or growth over time for all students through other assessments, be in at least its sixth full year of operation in its current (or similar) grade configuration, and have a principal who has completed at least three full years as leader of the applicant school when the application is submitted.

For a list of current A+ Schools of Excellence, click here.

National Blue Ribbon Schools

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools for overall academic excellence or making notable improvements in closing achievement gaps among at-risk students. This coveted award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.

The U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE) determines which schools receive this award. More than 8,500 schools have earned the honor in the program’s 35 year history. The Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction can nominate up to five Arizona schools for the program each year, with at least two of them serving at least 40 percent low income students. Once vetted, the U.S. DOE invites the nominated schools to submit an application.

All schools are honored in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates:

  • Exemplary High Performing Schoolsare among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.
  • Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schoolsare among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s subgroups and all students over the past five years.

The five Arizona schools named National Blue Ribbon winners in 2017 include:

  • Acacia Elementary School (Vail Unified School District)
  • Arizona College Preparatory – Oakland (Chandler Unified School District)
  • Franklin at Brimhall Elementary School (Mesa Unified School District)
  • Palm Valley Elementary School (Litchfield Elementary School District)
  • Seton Catholic Preparatory (a private school in Chandler)

To learn more about the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, click here.

Choosing a School

During the school year, children spend close to half of their waking hours in the classroom. Not only is it a sizable portion of their day, but a student’s educational experiences will set the stage for the rest of their life. Every child has unique needs, and as the parent or caregiver, you know best what kind of environment they need to flourish. Because Arizona has been at the forefront of school choice, often families have a distinctively diverse selection of schools to choose from – traditional public, public charter, private, career/technical are some of the primary options. Read our blog to learn about what things you should consider when choosing the best school for your child.

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