Accountability is the key to the future of education in Arizona, and charter schools are in the vanguard in adopting letter grades for measuring standards and progress, according to the organization representing the institutions.
The Arizona Charter Schools Association, involved in crafting the state's education plan mandated under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), welcomed the emphasis on grading, which it believes merges with its advocacy for accountability.
"That's the driving force," Ildi Laczko-Kerr, the association's chief academic officer, told Arizona Business Daily. "We absolutely support accountability, and it begins to do that." She added that charter schools have already adopted the A-F grading as their own framework.
The ESSA plan was submitted by the state to the U.S. Department of Education in May. At its core is the A-F grading system for schools in the state, with consequences such as potential closure for low-rated schools and incentives for those higher on the scale.
In a report published last month, the plan was praised by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank.
The rating system was described as fair, "clear and intuitive," and one that encourages schools to focus on all students, according to a report in azednews.com, an education website.
“The most important thing ESSA does is empower states to design improved school rating systems,” the insitute's president Mike Petrilli was quoted as saying. “Arizona has done just that, developing one of the best approaches we’ve seen to date. With clear and intuitive A-F ratings, a design that signals that all students matter, and an approach that is fair to all schools, including high poverty ones, Arizona has become a national exemplar.”
Laczko-Kerr, of the charter schools association, said the plan is still a work in progress, noting there are references to work to be done throughout the document.
She added that a major component of the grading system is growth, with as much as 50 percent based on where a school started and its improvement. This is particularly important for schools in low-income areas, Laczko-Kerr said.
"This is measuring, through the letter grades, the quality of the school, and not where a student comes from," she said. "We are sensitive to that fact."
While some studies rank Arizona's schools as low as 48th in the country, Laczko-Kerr argues that in terms of growth, the state leads the nation.
"And it is driven by charter schools performance," she claimed. If taking just charter schools, Arizona is second in the nation behind Massachusetts in terms of growth, Laczko-Kerr said.
"We are moving the needle in teaching and learning in Arizona," Laczko-Kerr said.
The Arizona Education Association, which represents 20,000 educators, has welcomed ESSA, which is replacing what it calls the "deeply flawed" No Child Left Behind Act.
It returns decision-making for education to local educators, parents and communities, the association states on its website.