Suspense grew in early October as the Vail School District anticipated the arrival of the first time AzMERIT grading scores only to have what were determined final grades changed by the Arizona State Board of Educated on Monday, Oct. 23rd to “preliminary.” Transitioning from the previous AIMS test to the new grading system of measuring proficiency in Arizona schools named AzMERIT was moving into the unknown. The new designation of “preliminary” will allow for adjustments that may serve the Vail School District well.  For example, Andrada Polytechnic missed being graded an “A” by only one point.

In a message mailed to parents of students in the Vail School District, Superintendent Calvin Baker explain where previously most Vail Schools in Vail received an “A” grade this may change with the new system. The new system is significantly more difficult. For example, the number of “A” schools in the State is expected to decrease by almost half (from about 30% to about 17%), he explained.

The new system puts a much greater weight on academic growth. Half of the grade is based on how much students grow. It is more difficult for schools with many students who are already performing at a high level (like schools in Vail) to earn the highest level of growth points, he continued.  Vail’s overall grade-point average on the state ranking system dropped from 3.9 GPA to a 3.7 – still the highest GPA in Pima County by far.

Fourteen of Vail’s 20 schools received an “A” grade.  Five schools received a “B” grade.  There were no “C,” “D,” or “F” grades. Pantano High School is an alternative high school and does not qualify to be graded. Those receiving an “A” grade were Acacia Elementary, Copper Ridge Elementary, Corona Foothills Middle School, Desert Sky Middle School, Empire High School, Esmond Station K-8, Mesquite Elementary, Ocotillo Ridge Elementary, Old Vail Middle School, Rincon Vista Middle School, Senita Valley Elementary School, Sycamore Elementary School, Vail Academy K-8, and Vail High School 9-12.

Those schools receiving a “B” grade were Andrada High School, Cienega High School, Civano Community School, Cottonwood Elementary School, and Desert Willow Elementary.

“Now that we can actually see the target, we can focus our instructional aim more effectively,” Baker wrote in a congratulatory email to staff.  “Schools with an “A” grade will need to work smart to keep that grade. Since many of the scores are relative to how others are performing — simply maintaining current performance may not be enough to keep an “A” rating. And, I know schools with a “B” are already examining the data and developing plans to also hit the bull’s eye.  Again, we are thrilled with this year’s grades and look forward to doing even better in the future.

Remember, everyone owns these outstanding grades. Obviously teachers and principals are key, but our outstanding instructional support staff and all of you who provide safe transportation, beautiful schools, beautiful grounds, efficient offices, technology, business services, human resources and on and on and on. . . make our top performance possible,” Baker concluded.

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Anne Gibson