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Arizona schools’ academic performance now rated with grades of A through F

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A new school accountability system based on letter grades and taking into account students’ academic improvement in addition to test scores offers a clearer view of how schools perform, Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal said Wednesday.

“All of our parents and our voters are familiar with the letter grade system and what it means,” Huppenthal said at a news conference. “There can’t be anything more clear than what an A means, what a D means or what an F means.”

Until now, schools were judged as “underperforming,” “performing,” “performing plus,” “highly performing” and “excelling.” That system, which relies on standardized test scores, will remain in place until 2013.

The new accountability system assigns public schools, charter schools and school districts grades of A through F and values year-over-year improvement in standardized test scores as much as the test scores themselves.

Under the new system, 295 schools got an A, 536 got a B, 486 got a C and 184 got a D. No school got an F as it takes a D during three consecutive years to get that grade.

Huppenthal helped push for the change as a state senator in 2010.

Because the two systems don’t evaluate the same things, a school getting a good label under the old system can find itself with a bad grade under the new one.

“There will be some confusion this year, but we’re going to stick with the letter grade system on off to the future,” Huppenthal said.

Debra Duvall, executive director of Arizona School Administrators, a nonprofit that represents school administrative leaders, said even though the difference between the two systems can be confusing the new one is easier for parents to understand. However, she said that grades aren’t the only way to assess performance.

“I do think that many parents recognize that there are many other factors that go into determining their child’s motivation to learn and the effectiveness of the school,” she said.

Joe Thomas, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, called the new system “a step in the right direction” and said parents should use the grades to start conversations with schools.

“If we just use the data as an end point, we are missing the picture,” Thomas said.”

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