Thursday, September 28, 2017

Catalina Foothills Districts Earns Bragging Rights With Its AzMERIT Scores (Or Maybe Not)

Posted By on Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 11:00 AM

In early September, it was an article in the Star praising Catalina Foothills District for having the highest AzMERIT scores in Pima County. Last week it was the same thing in the print edition of the Tucson Weekly. Both articles gave Cat Foothills' Assistant Superintendent multiple paragraphs to pat herself and her district on the back.

From the articles, I learned the district achieved its high ratings through its "commitment to rigorous curriculum in schools, ongoing evaluations for its students and professional development for teachers." Also by "developing a curriculum that considers the end goal and works backwards from there to achieve that goal." And by using "authentic real-world scenarios." Wow. Good stuff. Other districts should consider using similar strategies if they hope to match Cat Foothills' success. Especially Tucson Unified, which apologized for its poor scores in both articles and swore it would try to do better.

But I'm not sure Cat Foothills is the district we should be looking to for pedagogical advice. Among its seven schools, the highest passing rate is 77 percent for Language Arts and 74 percent for Math. In a district outside of Pima County, three schools topped that, with Language Arts passing rates from 79 to 84 percent and Math passing rates from 77 to 85 percent. We should really be asking the superintendent in Scottsdale how the district manages to pull such spectacular achievement from its students. I know Scottsdale isn't in Southern Arizona, but listen, if it's getting results, the whole state could benefit by learning more about the secrets of its success.

And while we're at it, we should also be asking a low-scoring Phoenix-area district how it plans to improve. One of its schools has a 16 percent passing rate in Language Arts and a 17 percent passing rate in Math, and other schools are in the teens and twenties. We need to hear the educational improvement plans for . . . Scottsdale? Really? The same Scottsdale district with those 80 percent-plus passing rates?

Yes, Scottsdale. The reason for the wide disparity in its schools' passing rates is, some are filled with students from high income families and others draw mainly from low income families. The free/reduced lunch rates in Scottsdale schools range from 3 percent to 83 percent. And, no surprise, the schools in low rent areas have low passing rates, and the schools in high rent areas have high passing rates.

Catalina Foothills district avoids the large fluctuation in passing rates because it's nestled in a uniformly affluent area. The schools' free/reduced lunch rates range from 11 to 17 percent. Just like in real estate, Cat Foothills' success is all about location, location, location.

While we're looking at school's passing rates, lets's look at two Tucson Unified schools that leave Cat Foothills in the dust—and that doesn't include University High which only admits top students and, naturally, has ridiculously high passing rates. At Sam Hughes Elementary, 80 percent of students passed the Language Arts portion of the AzMERIT test, three points higher than the top Cat Foothills school, and only one Cat Foothills school topped Sam Hughes' 73 percent passing rate in Math. The other is Fruchthendler Elementary School with a passing rate of 77 percent in Math, three points higher than the top score in Cat Foothills. Its 73 percent passing rate in Language Arts isn't too shabby either. To make the Tucson schools' achievement even more impressive, both have a higher percentage of students on free/reduced lunch than any Cat Foothills school. Maybe someone should ask the principals at those two great Tucson Unified schools how they managed scores that topped the top-scoring district in Pima County.

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