by David Safier
Four TUSD schools that have received a D grade from the state two years in a row could be seeing a change of principals. If any of the schools' test scores show a significant improvement over last year's, those principals will probably keep their jobs. The District gets the scores in June, so right now everything is in limbo.
This is a complicated issue. I don't have enough information to know how capable the four principals are, but I do know the situation is filled with red flags.
All four schools have low income populations, and income is the single best predictor of student achievement. The schools also have lots of ELL students with language barriers that increase their educational difficulties. If the principals were working in schools with higher income — meaning higher achieving — students, their jobs would probably be secure. In a real sense, the principals are being punished for the socioeconomic makeup of their student bodies.
The three elementary schools — Manzo, Ochoa Magnet and Utterback Magnet — range from 84% to 97% of their students on free or reduced lunch. The fourth school, Catalina High, has the least students on free/reduced lunch — 76% — but it also has students from all over the world (it has a large population of Sudanese refugees, for instance) with a wide variety of languages and cultures, which complicates its ELL education process exponentially.
To the extent these principals' jobs are hanging on the results of a standardized test that's stacked against their students, they're being judged unfairly. The AIMS test is a very crude instrument which is incapable of assessing the overall educational quality of a school.
On the other hand, if any of these principals isn't up to the job of meeting the critical educational needs of the students, that principal should be replaced. There's no room for mediocrity in a school leader, especially when the students face so many educational challenges.
I hope the Board does its due diligence and sounds out the school staff, parents and students to see what kind of "grades" they give their principals. If someone is doing a bad job, people involved with the school on a day-to-day basis know it better than a number generated by a fill-in-the-bubble standardized test.