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East Valley school districts fail to meet federal academic standard

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Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011 9:00 am

Not one East Valley school district made adequate yearly progress this year based on federal and state academic standards.

But few are surprised by the information, released Wednesday by the Arizona Department of Education.

In fact, only a handful of districts in all of Maricopa County achieved the complicated requirements - Fountain Hills, Mobile, Morristown, to name a few.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that public schools - district and charter - make adequate yearly progress based on test scores, graduation rates, the number of students tested and attendance. The law mandates that the data is examined for all students as well as different subgroups - five ethnic groups, English language learners, special education and students in poverty. Should any one group fail in just one grade and subject, a school - and ultimately a district - fails.

And this year, it was tougher to meet the standard.

By 2014, federal law requires that all students - 100 percent of every student in every subgroup - make adequate yearly progress on their grade level. Arizona, like every state in the country, set yearly requirements that inch up a bit until that level is met.

For example, to meet the required standard this year, 65 percent of all third-graders tested in math in the spring had to pass Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards. Last year, that number was 53 percent. Next year, the number is 77 percent. And in reading, 65.5 percent of eighth-graders had to pass the test to meet adequate yearly progress. That number was 54 percent last year and will be 77 percent next year.

Schools labeled as Title I - meaning they have a high number of low-income families - could face consequences should they fail to make adequate yearly progress. The federal law requires states to dictate steps schools take if they end up in "corrective action," a label slapped on when test scores fail to improve for any one group of students several years in a row. When that happens, a school may face "restructuring," such as a change in leadership, staffing or a takeover by a charter school or the state. Across the board, the Kyrene School District saw AIMS scores of 77 percent passing in reading, 89 percent in math, 73 percent in writing and 79 percent in science.

Ken Baca, new superintendent of Tempe Union High School District, said it's important for parents to realize that the federal adequate yearly progress mark is only a "snapshot" of what happens in the classrooms.

"That's one snapshot of how students did at any one given time. It is important information, but it's as though you have 230 questions on an exam and you get one wrong, you fail the exam," he said.

Parents and the community should also look at other indicators: How many students graduated, how many achieved national rankings, how many are going on to college.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

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