Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/Wed/30917MAPSCORES.html

Labeling of schools to change
Academic progress, not just test scores, will be factored
Tucson, Arizona Wednesday, 17 September 2003
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen and Jennifer Sterba

Arizona schools will be judged not only on standardized test scores, but whether students know more than they did the year before, under changes the state Board of Education made Tuesday.

That could be welcome news for the 21 Tucson Unified School District schools that were labeled "underperforming" last year because most showed improvement on this year's Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP, scores.

Overall scores for TUSD, which has 107 schools, stayed flat from 2002 to 2003 in reading and math. But scores at more than half of the 21 "underperforming" schools went up over last year.

Such improvement will count for up to 40 percent of a school's grade when the state starts labeling schools later this fall as either "excelling," "highly performing," "performing" or "underperforming."

The rest of the score will be based mostly on students' performance on the AIMS test, with factors like graduation and dropout rates playing a small role.

The Measure of Academic Progress is based on scores on the Stanford 9 test, which students take each spring. A student must score as well or better on the test each year, compared to the year before, in order to be counted as making one year of academic progress.

That's different from the AIMS test, which measures how much students know in math, reading and writing and if the students know as much as the state says they should at each grade level.

TUSD posted its MAP data on its Internet site this week to give principals and parents the data as quickly as possible, said Anna Rivera, senior academic officer for leadership.

District scores show that about 71 percent of TUSD students made one year of growth in reading and math, judging by 2003 Stanford 9 scores.

TUSD's data are different from the MAP scores the Arizona Department of Education will release today because the district included only students it could verify were in the same school two years in a row. The state data rely on students' accurately filling out their school attendance history on the test.

The Arizona Board of Education changed the way the state will label schools in order to recognize hardworking schools in poor areas and to increase the number of "excelling" schools and decrease the number of "underperforming" schools, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.

The changes will reduce the number of "underperforming" schools statewide from about 19 percent last year to an expected 13.5 percent this year, he said.

Last year, Arizona had just two "excelling" schools, one of which was TUSD's University High School.

Flowing Wells Superintendent John Pedicone, who just joined the state board, said the changes will be "a vast improvement" over the way schools were evaluated last year. The old formula was mostly based on AIMS scores and used the improvement scores as essentially a tiebreaker.

"This system is much more reasonable in terms of allowing schools to be evaluated fairly," Pedicone said.

TUSD does not yet know how the changes in the evaluation formula will affect its schools, but chances are the added weight given to the MAP test will prompt teachers to focus more on preparing students for the Stanford 9 in addition to the AIMS each spring, said Rivera.

"Probably the students won't see a difference, they'll just see it as another test," Rivera said. "But we're still saying focus on the state academic standards and instruction."

Parent Virginia Hamann volunteers at Wright Elementary School, 4311 E. Linden St., which was labeled as "underperforming" last year.

"I know the tremendous amount of effort there," said Hamann, whose two children, a 6-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, attend Wright

She said she's seen the number of parent volunteers at the school double in the past year.

The efforts have paid off in students' reading scores. This year, almost 75 percent of Wright students showed one year of academic growth in reading on the Stanford 9 test - up from 64 percent last year.

The percentage of students making one year's academic growth in math remained steady at about 65 percent. Hamann said the state is on the right track by weighing academic improvement more heavily than actual test scores.

"I don't really think you can tell that much from the test scores," she said. "If they're making progress consistently - that makes a bigger statement, I think."

* To contact reporters: Sarah Garrecht Gassen, 573-4117 or sgassen@azstarnet.com; Jennifer Sterba, 573-4191 or jsterba@azstarnet.com.