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School accountability measures up in the air amid pandemic

November 21, 2020 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak prompted the Arizona Legislature to cancel statewide standard tests and skip assigning new A-F grades to schools for the 2019-2020 school year.

But what about the current school year?

It’s not yet clear whether it will be possible to grade schools’ academic performance under the state’s accountability program in the same way it did before the pandemic, KJZZ reported.

But Bullhead City Elementary School District Superintendent Carolyn Stewart and others hope the state Board of Education will support continuing the suspensions of the testing and grading.

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“The last thing educators and students need this year is the weight of a grade for their school sites or their districts, particularly when the elements that go into those grades are so far beyond their control,” Stewart said.

Calvin Baker, a board member who fills the seat on the state board reserved for district superintendents, supports collecting student data without grading schools.

“We need to look at the ugly, cold hard facts of what this pandemic is doing to student achievement,” said Baker, former superintendent of Vail Unified School District on Tucson’s eastern outskirts.

Wendy Davy, the state board’s chief accountability officer, said there are many unknowns, including whether schools will even be able to hold in-person testing, but it’s still a good idea to do as much assessment as possible.

“That is what everyone is encouraging at the national level is to go ahead and continue to gather those data points, be aware of the challenges of them, and then use them appropriately to address the needs, especially subgroups or equity issues that may show up in the data,” she said.

The board expects to vote on a statement on what it supports at its next meeting, but state and federal lawmakers will have the final say. The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be on Dec. 14.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency related to COVID-19 on March 11. Four days later, Ducey and state Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, announced the closure of all public schools started March 16.

On March 19, with both chambers voting unanimously, the Legislature approved emergency legislation to help schools by relaxing rules requiring a minimum number of school days, canceling statewide assessment testing and ordering that a school’s letter grade from the 2018-2019 school year be used as its 2019-2020 letter grade.

Ducey signed the bill into law on March 27 and it took effect immediately.