What you need to know on A-F

By Eileen Sigmund

This week, Arizona issued its first “A-F” letter grades in three years. This is what you need to know about these grades and what the Association is doing on behalf of Arizona’s public charter schools to ensure our unique campuses are rated fairly and accurately:

  • First, keep in mind these grades remain preliminary and are subject to change. More than half of all charter schools in Arizona have yet to receive any grade whatsoever. One of the biggest problems is that the rating system assumes every school is either K-8 or 9-12 and does not account for non-traditional models. Additionally, many schools received an initial grade that they are appealing.
  • The Association believes strongly the new letter grade formula needs to be improved, and we are vigorously advocating for Arizona policymakers to immediately revisit the formula before parents are misled and schools are further harmed.

The State of Arizona initially instituted an “A-F” rating system in order to provide parents and families with easy-to-understand guidance regarding the relative performance of public schools across our state. This year, for the first time, the State significantly altered this formula to one that more heavily emphasizes the improvement and academic growth of students at individual schools, rather than simply looking at student performance.

The result: the new formula appears to actually penalize schools in which the majority of students were already achieving at or above grade level, unless that school continued to show marked academic improvement. The “A-F” grading system now places more worth in a school that demonstrates academic progress among students who are Minimally Proficient or Partially Proficient than it does in schools with students who are already Proficient or Highly Proficient.

This, of course, has resulted in a number of district and charter schools who are top performers on state assessments earning lower letter grades. Though well-intentioned, it seems clear the redesigned grading formula does not accurately reflect the performance of public schools that get students to proficiency early on. Worse, the formula misleads Arizona parents and families about the relative quality of these schools, which we know remain among our state’s very best.

What happens now? Over the next 90 days, the State Board of Education will engage a Technical Advisory Committee to conduct independent analyses of data, based on public input, to further refine the system of grading our schools before the release of final letter grades for school year 2016-17. Fortunately, the State Board has acknowledged these new grades are preliminary. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and his administration have also indicated the formula remains a work in progress and subject to revision.

On behalf of Arizona charter schools, the Association will continue to push strongly for changes to the formula before the grades are finalized to ensure public schools are rated appropriately and Arizona parents receive the accurate information they need to make decisions about their children’s education.

This letter by President and CEO Eileen B. Sigmund was originally published in the Association’s monthly ‘Arizona Charter News’ newsletter.