Original URL: http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/metro/7960.php

Tucson Region School districts downplay feds' adverse rating

By Sarah Garrecht Gassen

Three of the Tucson-area's largest school districts did not improve enough, according to a federal formula that measures test scores, attendance, graduation rate and the number of students who took the AIMS test last spring.

Tucson, Sunnyside and Amphitheater unified school districts did not make "adequate yearly progress," the term the federal government uses to figure out if a school or district is improving quickly enough.

But Arizona and local school officials warn parents not to put too much stock in the federal labels for entire school districts and to focus instead on labels the state places on individual schools.

Flowing Wells, Catalina Foothills, Tanque Verde, Sahuarita and Vail unified school districts made enough progress, according to the calculations. Information for Marana Unified School District was unavailable from the Arizona Department of Education on Friday, and district officials could not be reached for comment.

The federal yearly progress label "is not a good measure, because you have all these ways to fail," said the state superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne.

The federal measure, which is part of the No Child Left Behind legislation, uses 144 separate categories, breaking down schools and districts by grade, by academic subject, and by race and ethnicity.

If a district misses the mark on just one of the categories, the entire district fails to make "adequate yearly progress."

That's what happened to Amphitheater Public Schools.

Fifth-grade students who do not know English as a first language did not score high enough on the state's AIMS test according to the federal formula - sinking the entire district rating.

"It's an interesting paradox," said Patrick Nelson, associate superintendent for school operations. "The kids are learning to read English - so it's maybe not a complete surprise that they have problems taking a test on reading, in English."

The federal measurement differs from the state label system because it counts all students, regardless of how much English they know. The Arizona system gives students three years in a district before their test scores are counted in the school scores.

TUSD made enough progress in 136 of the 144 categories. The city's largest district was faulted because not enough American Indian eighth-graders took the AIMS reading test and students who are learning English didn't raise their AIMS scores high enough, said Jay Midyett, of TUSD's accountability and research.

The federal measurement system paints districts with too broad a brush, said Joan Gabusi, a fifth-grade teacher at Marshall Elementary School. For example, schools offer attendance incentives like certificates or small prizes, but that doesn't mean parents always send their children to school.

"There are just too many variables out there," she said.

* Contact reporter Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or at