Here’s how an Arizona school district improved student performance

Feb 17, 2023, 4:35 AM
(Facebook Photo/Buckeye Elementary School District)...
(Facebook Photo/Buckeye Elementary School District)
(Facebook Photo/Buckeye Elementary School District)

PHOENIX — After disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic caused many students to fall behind, one West Valley elementary school district is lauding its latest strategy that it says is seeing significant academic improvements among students.

“We knew that there was some heavy lifting to do,” Mike Lee, Buckeye Elementary School District assistant superintendent, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “Our schools were not where they needed to be.”

The district had several schools that were issued D’s and F’s by the state’s letter grade system, which takes into account test scores and other measures. In 2020, district leaders made a bold decision.

“That summer, the message was, ‘We’re going to take on the greatest challenges of our professional careers right now, and we’re going to do it within weeks,’” Lee said.

The district began participating in Project Momentum, a state-funded initiative that provides schools with an extra $150 per student. Much of the funding goes to cover additional time and work teachers spend to improve outcomes.

Ana Gutierrez, the district’s executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, explained teachers come together regularly to assess how students are performing. They work to answer key questions, including where students are academically.

“What are their next steps in learning, and then how do we get there?” Gutierrez said. “What instructional practices yield these types of results?”

“And then what do we do for those kids who need enrichment and extension opportunities and those that need extra support?”

School principals and district leaders also play a role by working together to define expectations for increasing student learning, monitoring progress and acting to hold each other accountable.

Gutierrez noted a big focus is on academics without losing sight of providing social and emotional support for students.

“Students really need to feel cared for by their teachers,” Gutierrez said.

These efforts are working. Last year, the Buckeye Elementary School District exceeded the state averages for growth in English and Math test scores.

“It wasn’t one school or two schools,” Gutierrez said. “All of our schools grew in this direction. They were all on this trend. That’s unheard of.”

That’s not all. The district saw its D and F schools move to A’s and B’s.

Lee pointed to Buckeye Elementary School as an example of a school in the district that improved. It had been grappling with performance issues for years and was labeled as an F school.

Lee was recently in a meeting where school staff found out they had become a B school.

“There were tears of relief and happiness and validation that this is working – it’s actually working,” Lee said, pointing to the district’s efforts under Project Momentum. “This feels great to know our kids are on the right track.”

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Here’s how an Arizona school district improved student performance