School District Performance And Enrollment Declining As Controversy Increases

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While a number of Arizona school districts spent much of 2021 making headlines due to controversies over curriculum, extra-curricular activities, or their general disregard for the needs and wants of families, or the opinions of parents, a new problem promises to keep them in the news for more bad reasons — student test scores for these districts are sinking.

The average score among the top six news-making school districts for all students in Fiscal Year 2021’s AzM2 statewide assessment and the Multi-State Alternative Assessment (MSAA) is a dismal 47 percent passing.

Combined student performance results from the Spring 2021 AzM2 and Multi-State Alternative Assessment (MSAA)
District Name Subject Percent Passing MSAA Level 1 Minimally Proficient Level 2 Partially Proficient Level 3 Proficient Level 4 Highly Proficient
Chandler USD English Language Arts 56 26 18 38 19
Chandler USD Mathematics 49 29 22 29 20
Litchfield ESD English Language Arts 48 32 20 35 13
Litchfield ESD Mathematics 36 40 24 24 11
Paradise Valley USD English Language Arts 46 36 18 31 15
Paradise Valley USD Mathematics 39 40 22 24 15
Peoria USD English Language Arts 42 38 20 31 11
Peoria USD Mathematics 36 40 24 24 12
Scottsdale USD English Language Arts 55 27 18 36 19
Scottsdale USD Mathematics 52 28 20 29 24
Vail USD English Language Arts 56 26 18 37 20
Vail USD Mathematics 51 26 23 30 22

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, these districts held remote meetings that prevented parents from attending or participating.  In some cases, even when meetings were held in-person for board members, parents were kept outside of the boardrooms, and only allowed in one at a time for public comment. Officials in both the Vail School District and Chandler Unified School District have gone to extraordinary means to disenfranchise concerned parents.

All of this was happening while parental involvement has spiked over concerns ranging from the districts’ decisions to focus on the implementation of highly controversial Critical Race Theory-based (CRT) curricula, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs, and other controversies.  Masking and other unproven and often ineffective COVID-19 mitigation measures have only served to exacerbate parents’ frustrations with school boards.

Many boards are willing to debate CRT, SEL, and mitigation measures, but the question of student performance and test scores as a measurement of a district’s quality is not disputed.  Performance in fact, matters in a number of ways: from students’ future prospects to parents’ and other stakeholders’ property values.

Few districts have had as sensational news making year as the  Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD). A new entry into the 2022 SUSD Governing Board race, Robb Vaules, a marketing “expert,”  in a recent tweet discussed the impact of good Public schools on property values.

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The performance of the Scottsdale Unified School District may not be affecting property values in the short term, but it has driven families in search of other options. The district’s enrollment is plummeting, forcing Superintendent Menzel to notify the Governing Board that over 120 students have not returned to school this year.

Menzel assured Board members that the District would engage in a public relations campaign to recruit new students.

Unfortunately for districts like Scottsdale Unified, it appears voters have also had enough. Most school districts in the Phoenix Valley failed to pass override and bond measures this year, as voter frustration with ever increasing spending mounts, particularly with districts like these producing worse results than before.


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