​When AzMERIT scores rolled out last month we could see that for the third year in a row, economically disadvantaged students as a cohort improved in academic outcomes and proficiency levels on the state assessment. This created great anticipation for the preliminary calculation of new school A-F letter grades based on those scores.

Now that grades are out, our A for Arizona schools are rightfully confused by the preliminary accountability results, wherein grades for schools with very similar performance on state assessments are receiving very different grades ranging from ‘A’ to ‘F’. Right now, the formula is rewarding schools making progress in student achievement for students that are not proficient over progress for schools that keep students proficient. Notably, the pass rate range for ‘A’ schools is 35.4-96.5 percent passing and the pass rate range for ‘F’ schools is 2-37.5 percent passing.

A for Arizona has continually advocated for an A-F model that emphasizes both proficiency and growth, and may also consider factors outside of the state assessment as academic indicators of school quality.

However, the indicators in the formula outside of proficiency should not have such a dramatic impact as to make it possible for a school’s score to literally swing from an ‘A’ to an ‘F’ or vice versa.

Communicating all the relevant information in a single grade is statistically challenging, and all attempts to create meaningful grades must be reviewed for their actual ability to do so. The State Board of Education can ensure the A-F system absolutely recognizes schools that are overcoming the deficits that poverty can create. The revised formula must better credit all schools whose students attain at least a year’s worth of academic growth, and must be simplified to ensure that classroom teachers and other school leadership know clearly what their “targets” for performance and growth are.

We were not surprised to learn that even with grades now under revision, many of our school leaders have already convened internal team retreats with leadership teams and other principals to dive into the data, examine trends, expand best practices, and discard methods or approaches not yielding the highest outcomes for kids.

Because in the end, ‘A’ reflects the attitude and culture held by principals and teachers who believe every student can achieve at the highest level and are working relentlessly to ensure this becomes reality.

Now more than ever we must double down and support Arizona schools that want to continue to push the bar on rigor, serve more students and families, and close the achievement gap. We welcome modifications to the preliminary A-F formula to present a true picture of what’s happening in Arizona schools as well as a timeline for schools to clearly communicate final letter grades to parents and community members.