Arizona State Board of Education Adopts New A-F School Accountability Plan

Author: Janice Palmer, Vice President and Director of Policy, Helios Education Foundation

May 3, 2017

In 2010, Arizona passed legislation that established the A-F school accountability grading system, which required one-half of a school’s grade to encompass proficiency and the other half student growth. In 2014, Arizona took a two-year hiatus in its A-F school accountability system to allow time for implementation of the new statewide assessment that reflected the updated, and more rigorous, English Language Arts and Math standards. It also provided an opportunity for Arizona to relook at its A-F accountability system by providing the State Board of Education greater flexibility in what could be included in the system.

In September 2016, the State Board of Education established an A-F School Accountability Ad Hoc Committee to develop the new accountability models.  Janice Palmer, Helios' Vice President and Director of Policy, was appointed to the Committee to provide policy expertise and serve as one of the two education policy representatives. After seven months of work, fifteen meetings, seventeen public hearings and survey input, the Ad Hoc Committee made recommendations that were adopted by the State Board at its April 24th meeting.

The work of the Ad Hoc Committee was extremely complicated, challenging, and time consuming. Helios Education Foundation is appreciative of the opportunity to serve on the Committee to help guide the work, and we offer three key takeaways that are embodied in our core values:

  1. Every Student, Regardless of Zip Code, Deserves a High-Quality Education: This was at the forefront of Ad Hoc deliberations – ensuring that the A-F School Accountability System was not reflective of the zip code those students and school reside in. It was important to Ad Hoc Committee members and technical advisory representatives that correlation to socioeconomic status was mitigated as much as possible so that we honor the excellent work our teachers and leaders are doing every day in our schools, as well as to identify those schools that are struggling. Both the K-8 and 9-12 final models successfully do this. In addition, the K-8 model includes subgroup growth as one of the acceleration measures, providing incentive to schools to focus on closing the achievement gap.

  2. Education Changes Lives and Strengthens Communities: Every student must have the opportunity to succeed in postsecondary education. To do this, a student must leave high school not just with a diploma, but also with the college and career readiness necessary for life success. In the adopted 9-12 model, 20 percent of the school’s letter grade will be focused on college and career readiness, based upon indicators that the student -- not the school -- chooses to pursue. This is a strong leap forward that incentivizes schools to provide students with those needed opportunities.

  3. We Will Achieve Our Mission through Partnership and Collaboration: Something as significant as recreating the A-F School Accountability system requires the work of many people. It took everyone to create a strong product including: Arizona Department of Education and State Board of Education staff; school district and charter assessments experts that provided hundreds of hours of volunteer time to the Ad Hoc Committee for technical and data assistance; various education, business, and community organizations that provided input; and the Ad Hoc Committee itself, which engaged in heated discussions and negotiations over policy decisions. The result is the Final A-F School Accountability models, which have strong buy-in from those who will be held accountable, as well as those from the state policy-making level.

There is still work to do, as the State Board of Education must adopt cut scores for what constitutes the various letter designations, which is slated for the May meeting. In addition, the alternative, small school, and Arizona Online Instruction (AOI) models will be built upon the newly approved models, and the plan is to have those ready for State Board of Education approval in August.

While there is strong buy-in for these adopted models, it is also clear that no system is ever perfect. There is still concern that the A-F School Accountability models rely too heavily on one assessment and that additional, non-test indicators need to be added. There is also concern that many schools have too small of an English Language Learner (ELL) population to be held accountable for the ELL portion of the models. As the State Board made clear in its motion of adoption, there will be at least annual review of the new models. It will be important to monitor, refine, and strengthen the models as new data and information comes forth.

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