The Arizona school grades map is actually worse than it looks

by David Safier

This map shows the concentration of state school grades in various areas of greater Tucson. It's a clear indicator that AIMS scores correlate with socioeconomic status. And since the school grades include an improvement component, the map also indicates how inadequate that component is.

Tucson-school-score-map

An earlier post explains the map and discusses its clear message: student achievement on standardized tests correlates more closely with socioeconomic status than any other factor. That finding is consistent with data collected on national and international tests. It's the closest thing to an undisputed fact you'll find in education research.

But something isn't evident on the map. The schools' grades aren't simply based on their raw AIMS scores. That only makes up half the number that determines a school's grade. The other half is based on a school's improvement — how much its AIMS scores went up compared to the previous year. Proponents of the scoring method claim the improvement component helps level the playing field. A school with a low score, the theory goes, has lots of room for improvement, so it can grow its way into a high grade even if its raw AIMS scores are low. The map shows that theory is a fiction.

If improvement were a way for schools with low AIMS scores to boost their state grades, we'd see lots more schools in central and south Tucson with Bs and As rather than the Cs and Ds that predominate. The improvement component is a fig leaf to cover the blatant bias of the scores.

State grades aren't only a way of shaming schools in poor communities and praising schools in wealthier communities. They'll soon be a dollars and cents issue. Governor Brewer's Performance Funding plan, pushed by Craig Barrett, her education point man, gives more money to "high performing" schools than "low performing" schools. That system also has an improvement component just like the state scores, but that won't stop the money from flowing toward  schools in wealthy communities and away from schools in poorer communities. Since the state doesn't plan to increase education funding, it's a reverse Robin Hood program: steal from the poor and give to the rich.

I wrote three longish posts on the problems with Performance Funding (here, here and here).  Dr. David Garcia, who is running for Superintendent of Education, created a far more rigorous analysis than mine, and his conclusions were virtually identical.

3 responses to “The Arizona school grades map is actually worse than it looks

  1. Is it all the commercial and industrial development in the Foothills that gives them so many A schools?

  2. Well, you have to think about this in much greater depth than the map makes apparent. TUSD, more than a decade ago, put in place a highly punitive tax on commercial and industrial property within its boundaries. That tax was enormously destructive of job growth within the TUSD boundaries, but to what gain educationally? Go back and look at your map.

    The C area appears to have been created by TUSD both academically and economically.

    All that money and so much destruction to show for it.

  3. Your use of the maps illustrates your points very well. Thanks.