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Arizona schools fail to reach academic benchmarks

A record 814 Arizona schools, or 42 percent, failed to get students to make adequate yearly progress in the 2010-11 school year, compared with 563 schools, or 29 percent, the previous year.

Schools will have to notify parents of the deficiency, and more schools could experience intervention by the state, The Arizona Republic reported Wednesday.

One of the main reasons for the jump was a higher passing requirement set by the state.

Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS testing, in math and reading was ratcheted up about 10 points for the past school year.

For example, the required passing rates for the fourth-grade reading test shot up from 56 percent last year to 67 percent this year. In 2012, the required passing rate will jump to 78 percent and to 89 percent the year after.

Overall, in spring 2011, about six in 10 students passed the AIMS math test and three-fourths passed the reading test. Students in third through eighth grades and 10th grade take the tests

Federal law requires rapid, steady educational progress for all students, including entire subgroups such as those learning English, living in poverty or in special education classes.

The failing schools cut across all categories and included suburban, rural districts, charter schools and inner-city schools.

“There were several factors that I think worked against us this year,” Craig Pletenik, a spokesman for Phoenix Union High School District, told The Associated Press.

“This year, we had the increased (federal) standards that were raised significantly. And that combined with lower math scores throughout the district. Kind of a double whammy.”

In the early years of the federal No Child Left Behind act, Arizona decided to gradually raise the required percentage for adequate progress. Now, with a 2014 deadline requiring that students pass standardized exams, the percentage must jump.

“The idea behind that was it gave schools some time to get ready,” said Joe O’Reilly, student-achievement director for Mesa Public Schools, the state’s largest district. “Also, I think the idea behind it, and I heard this expressed, was: Well, nine or 10 years from now, this system will change. And that hasn’t happened.”

After a decade of trying, and with 42 percent of schools failing to meet this year’s passing rates, the state could find it difficult to achieve the 100 percent passing rate in three years.

Some states have asked for a waiver and want the U.S. Department of Education to write new rules for No Child Left Behind to change the way a school can be measured to meet the adequate yearly progress standard.

John Huppenthal, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, hasn’t asked for a waiver.

Arizona is still counting on Congress to revamp No Child Left Behind requirements and will wait until fall before deciding whether to ask for one, said Andrew LeFevre, an Arizona Department of Education spokesman.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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