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Updated Oct 13, 2011 - 7:50 am

Schools get letter grades from AZ Dept. of Ed.

State Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal introduces the new grading system for Arizona schools. (Photo by Bob McClay)

PHOENIX - Your kid's school now has a letter grade. The Arizona Department of Education has released the new school accountability report that rates school performance much like a report, with A being the best and F the worst.

State Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal says the new grading system gives an indication on how education is doing in Arizona.

"What it tells us is that we have some of the best school districts in the nation and some of the best schools in the nation," says Huppenthal. "But we also have school districts and schools that have very serious challenges, and they need to layout plans for which they improve outcomes."

One district that received a good report card is the Vail district near Tucson. Its' schools have been rated as "excelling" the past five years under the old system.

District Superintendent Calvin Baker says schools slipped a bit, but still did well with the new ratings.

"We have 12 schools that received a Grade of A, and two schools that received a grade of B," says Baker.

He says he knows what went wrong with the schools with B's.

"It has to do with the increase in learning, the student gain, between ninth and tenth grade in math," Baker says. "We have a very clear target. We know what we have to do to improve that score, and we're pursuing that."

Baker likes the new letter grade system.

"I like the issue of accountability. I like there being some way of keeping score and some way of comparing."

He's confident his district will continue to do well under the new system.

One Phoenix Charter School is making a comeback. Imagine Schools at Camelback in Phoenix used to be a failing school. Principal Freddie Villalon says things were pretty bad there.

"Bottom five of Arizona schools, we weren't making adequate yearly progress. Our academic levels declined for four consecutive years."

Villalon says attitude was part of the problem.

"We had low expectations, and a lack of belief in our children and our staff."

He says the start of the solution was hiring some new blood.

"Everyone we hired had to believe that these kids could and would be successful," he says. "That started the transition."

Because of that attitude change, Villalon says the school near 19th avenue and Camelback has improved from a failing grade to a "B." And Villalon has a plan for even more improvement. He says that if the school shows more improvement in reading, "that A's right there, my man. We're going to get it this year."

Baker says if parents find out that their kid's school is failing, they need to go to the school and see for themselves what's going on. That's because the grade is just one indicator of what may be going on...and there are probably good things to take into account.

"Because if you, for yourself, can see that good things are going on at that school....if you can see that teachers are teaching, and that kids are being treated right...that's more important than a label on a column on a piece of paper."

You can find grades for each of the schools here.


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