Patagonia Elementary School students, teachers and staff face a new academic year with the hope that they will improve on the D rating that the AZ Dept. of Education issued the
school last fall. This grade reflected the school’s score of 58.36% for the 2017-2018 school year. A D grade is described on the AZ Dept. of Education website as “minimally performing.” The Patagonia Union High School received a C, and the Elgin Elementary School earned a B grade.

The grades are based on several factors. Proficiency counts for 30%, growth for 50%, proficiency and growth of English language learners and ‘acceleration measures for 10%
each. Acceleration measures reflect “inclusion of students with disabilities in general education, growth of subgroups and decrease in chronic absenteeism,” according to the website.

The major factor in the determination of a student’s proficiency is the AzMERIT test, according to Rachell Hochheim, superintendent of the Patagonia School District.
Patagonia Elementary students scored 14.68 out of a possible 30% in this category. The students scored 29.85 out of a possible 50% in academic growth. The school scored 6 out of 10 on acceleration measures and scored 2 bonus points.

A small school like Patagonia is at a disadvantage in this system. According to Cynthia Matus Morriss, President of the Patagonia Elementary School Board, “about half of the 235 schools that received a D or F rating have a higher than average free and reduced lunch rates, indicating that the letter grades are impacted by the socioeconomic make up of a school.”

Hochheim also pointed out that chronic absenteeism is a factor. Out of approximately 100 students, 17 were chronically absent, which affects all the parameters of the grading system.

Several changes are being implemented to address the issues raised by the state’s findings. “This year we are adding an incentive program for chronic absenteeism,” Hochheim said,
adding that this is a parental issue. Families can earn Fry’s gift cards or family movie passes if their kids do not miss school and arrive on time.

The school will also be conducting home visits this year to families that are not sending their children to school and is looking at finding extra class time for students who have been absent.

The school has hired a reading interventionist, as well, who will be providing intensive instruction for children who need extra help and enrichment for those who are ready for more challenging work. Multilevel instruction will allow students to work at their proficiency level, rather than at their age level.

There will be no curriculum change, according to Hochheim, but “the approach and instruction has to be refined.” The elementary school has retained all their teachers and one new teacher has been hired for the middle school. “I love our elementary staff,” Hochheim said. “They’re patient and kind and very gentle in their approach with our unique demographics.”

The Dept. of Education website states that the they will partner with schools with a D or F rating, although it is unclear to what extent they will be involved. “They want to know what we are doing now,” Hochheim said. “They want to see a plan of action.”

The school, which is designated as a Title 1 school because of the large percentage of low-income students, is already required to submit a plan of action, and has already done so.
Hochheim pointed out that the school scored only three points below a “C” rating and is confident that the school’s grade will go up. “We definitely expect to quickly see that letter grade change,” she said.

These grades, which the state uses to fulfill federal reporting requirements, do not necessarily give a complete picture of a school, cautions the Dept. of Education website. They “are just one measure of how each school is doing. To better understand whether or not a school is successful we should also consider the school’s ability to create a safe and inclusive learning environment; hire and retain great teachers and school leaders.”

Morriss agrees. “As the governing board president, I will continue to support our teachers and students and advocate that the state grading system include multiple factors that will provide the public a more comprehensive understanding of how the school is doing.”