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Ed Board delays release of school grading system

The Arizona State Board of Education decided today to delay releasing the specifics of its new school assessment rating system to further study how certain populations of students should be figured into the overall score.

The new assessment system will assign an A-F letter grade to each school in the state. The Department of Education’s current system uses descriptive assessments for schools, such as “excelling” or “underperforming.” Gov. Jan Brewer announced the new system Sept. 8 as a part of the “Arizona Ready” education initiative.

Board members chose to delay for two weeks the release to consider which students’ scores should be eligible to influence a school’s rating. In past years, assessments have only included test scores of students who have attended the same school all year without transferring, called Full Academic Year (FAY) students.

The board considered including non-FAY students’ scores, since that would more fully represent the entire school’s performance and because it is also the method used by the other states that use the same growth model as Arizona.

“We want to be true to making sure all kids in the school count,” said Eileen Klein, education board member and chief of staff to Gov. Jan Brewer.

State Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal said including non-FAY students’ scores would lower the ratings of schools with larger proportions of students who transfer schools or start the school year late.

Board member Jacob Moore agreed, saying schools with a higher percentage of non-FAY students would receive lower grades based on the scores of students who had only been at the school for a short time.

Klein recommended the two-week delay so the board could take the time to research the issue further.

“I don’t want parents to have to have PhDs in statistics to figure out why their child’s school is a D or an F,” she said.

The board also discussed anomalies in the scores of particularly small schools. Schools with fewer than 127 students tend to have abnormally low test scores. The board wanted to research whether the tests were somehow biased against these small schools or if those schools had just performed poorly on the tests.

Board member Greg Miller argued against the delay, saying the board would not accomplish anything simply by waiting. “If we’re not going to run the analysis and have another discussion, it doesn’t make any sense to wait the two weeks,” he said.

Despite the delay, the board will likely decide to continue including only FAY students in the school assessments. “Chances are it’s going to stay the same,” said Andrew LeFevre, spokesman for the Department of Education.

Huppenthal said the delay will give board members a chance to consider all the options, even if no changes are made. “The changes could be discussed more, and communication is always a good thing,” he said.

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