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Lawmaker: Bill would allow troubled schools to get help quicker

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PHOENIX – Allowing education officials to immediately assign schools failing grades under Arizona’s new system for measuring performance would allow troubled schools to get help faster, a state lawmaker contends.

Under the state’s new system of letter grades, a school can only be assigned an F, for failing, if it receives a D, or below-average performance, for three consecutive years. Current law calls for the state to intervene when a school gets an F.

Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, has authored a bill that would allow the State Board of Education to immediately assign a grade of F if it determines that a school isn’t reasonably likely to improve to a grade of C, denoting average performance, within two years.

“This is really about embracing those underperforming schools much more quickly, so those students can achieve academic success,” Yee said.

The House Education Committee unanimously endorsed HB 2663 on Monday, sending it to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

The state Department of Education currently creates annual achievement profiles for each of Arizona’s public schools, providing performance labels such as “excelling” and “performing.”

Beginning this year, schools are getting grades under the new A-F system but won’t be accountable for those grades until the 2013-2014 school year, after the current performance system is phased out.

When a school receives a grade of F under the new system, the state will intervene by creating a custom improvement plan covering areas such as teacher training, summer school options and tutoring services.

Jaime Molera, president of the State Board of Education, told the committee that waiting three years doesn’t make sense when data clearly shows that a school needs intervention sooner.

“I think it is incumbent upon us to get the resources and, as much a possible, to get the expertise in those schools to move them up as quickly as possible,” he said.

The Arizona branch of Stand For Children, an organization that advocates for education, was among several groups that registered support for Yee’s bill.

“Think about it as a parent,” said Luis Avila, the organization’s interim executive director. “If I have a child in a D-performing school, I know it will take three years to get help for that school. It wouldn’t make that parent feel confident in his or her child’s education.”