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What happened? Drachman drops from A to an F school

Principal says school performed better than others
Posted at 9:01 PM, Nov 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-06 23:01:43-05

Many Arizona schools are still reeling from the grades they recently received from the state. Though the grades are not final, one TUSD school, Drachman,dramatically dropped from an A to an F. The plunge has many people asking how did that happen?

Jesus Celaya is just as shocked as anyone. He leads this nationally recognized K-8 Montessori school on the south side so the new school grade hit him hard. "I knew it wouldn't be an A. I did not believe it was going to be an F," he said.

Drachman took pride in being a rising school -- soaring from a C in 2013 to an A in 2014. But those grades were based on AIMS scores. Many principals had been prepared to take a hit with the more challenging AZMerit tests, including Celaya.

In just one year (2016 to 2017), the AZMerit passing scores in English Language Arts dropped nearly in half from 70% to 41%. And dropped more than half in Math from 73% to 34%

Celaya said, "We acknowledged that before the letter grades came out. We looked at the data, we looked at the students, we looked at the scenarios and what factored into these drops. Is it a lack of understanding the content? is it a lack of understanding how to show their knowledge of the content on the online format?"

He surmised -- technology played a big role. This was the first year paper tests disappeared and students answered questions solely online.

Celaya says Drachman is a hands-on learning school where technology takes a  back seat. "In our role here -- and our team knows this -- we have to acknowledge AZMerit for it's significance and that we have to adapt our instruction program to support it and show it," he said.

Though Celaya says students struggled with the technology, in a letter to the Arizona Board of Education, he argues against the F grade. Data shows Drachman still tested better than dozens of other Arizona schools that received higher grades under ADE's new formula, where growth -- rather than actual AZMerit scores -- eats up half the pie. 

"There's 19 schools in Pima County itself that have B letter grades and we outperform them --we had more kids passing the assessment," he said.

As the Board of Education works to revise the school grade formula, Celaya can only anticipate, at best, a "C". "So it is a difficult place for the state to all of a sudden to choose to recalculate it to a significant degree -- that changes other letter grades I would anticipate there would be discontent across the state."

The AZ Board of Education is expected to release the final grades in the coming months.