On Oct. 15, the Arizona Department of Education officially released the Arizona LEARNS rating for every public school across the state. Arizona LEARNS is the state's vehicle of compliance under President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.
The new label is a tool to measure progress, an achievement profile in the state's efforts to improve test scores and lower state dropout rates.
On Tuesday, the ADE made the labels public while some school administrators received a sneak preview late last week. The labels were based on condensed student achievement using a three-year history of standardized test scores (AIMS, Stanford 9), graduation rates and yearly dropout statistics.
The new rating mechanism did not include a "failing" label this time around, but if a school is labeled failing in the future, it has one year to improve or the state steps in. It was reported only two schools received the highest possible rating this year, a charter preparatory academy in Tempe and a high school in Tucson.
• Underperforming was the lowest label the education department attached.
• Maintaining performance (meets state performance goals/needs to meet progress goals)
• Improving (exceeds state performance and state progress goals)
• Excelling (requiring 90 percent of students to graduate and pass the AIMS tests)
Superintendent John Tavasci said they were all relieved at the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District because "there's lots of questions as to the validity of the tests and how they were being interpreted."
Clarkdale-Jerome Principal/Superintendent Kathleen Fleenor agreed that they were happy with their schools "maintaining" label. "I think it’s a relief, but we must keep it up. Right now the schools feel like they have a hammer over their heads even though I totally believe in high standards."
She said she's concerned that the state will "hammer" a school instead of helping it.
"What the public might hear is underperforming and immediately assume it's a bad school not taking into consideration many other factors," she added.
"Our kids have a hard time; we struggle," Beaver Creek Superintendent/Principal Judy McBride commented after learning the rural K-8 school in Rimrock was labeled underperforming.
She said the school board meets tonight to discuss the matter.
"Our first decision is to decide on how to contact our parents. We have 30 days to get the word out. We are going to get more information from the state on how they came up with the labels and then we'll go through a problem-solving effort and put together an action plan."
Sedona's Superintendent Nancy Alexander explained that they were seeking a different label for its high school. She said the state was missing some of the school's drop-out components and agreed to review the matter. In the meantime, the high school's rating would be pending, she explained.
Staff reporter Paula Blankenship contributed to this article.
So how did Verde Valley and Sedona schools do?
High School: Improving
Middle School: Underperforming
Beaver Creek (K-8)
Sedona Red Rock High School: Maintaining (pending)
West Sedona School (K-8): Improving
Big Park Community School (K-8): Improving
Mingus Union High School
Cottonwood Elementary: Maintaining
Cottonwood Middle School: Maintaining
Dr. Daniel Bright Elementary: Improving
Oak Creek Elementary: Maintaining
Charter Schools: Schools with less than 100 students or with fewer than three years of data were exempt from the achievement profile released Tuesday by the ADE. Those that did receive a rating were:
Cottonwood Excel Education Center: Maintaining
American Heritage Academy grades 9-12: Improving.