The praises for Project Momentum (AZ Free News March 21, 2023 Horne: Project Momentum To Receive Funds To Resume Its “Worthy Operations) such as
“all participating districts (in Project Momentum) have made objective improvements in student achievement outcomes as measurable by the state assessments in English Language Arts and mathematics.” – Dan Parris Project Momentum
“Since its inception, Project Momentum has achieved incredible outcomes,…” – ADE – Tom Horne Superintendent of Public Instruction
…should be recognized as nothing more than trite platitudes which our state assessments do not substantiate.
According to the Prescott e-News (April 30, 2021 Governor Ducey Announces Nearly $27 Million To Support K-12 Students) in 2021-23 Project Momentum (described by Dan Parris as a public/private partnership during the recent March 15th Senate Education Committee meeting) was slated to receive $17.5 M. At that time it was partnered with 3 districts, Avondale ESD, Wickenburg USD and Deer Valley USD. The article cited Avondale ESD going from zero A-rated schools in 2015 to four in 2021. The article also named Vulture Peak Middle School in Wickenburg USD with an 8% growth in math scores.
The State Board of Education (SBE) has divided the State Wide Assessment scores into 4 categories: Highly Proficient, Proficient, Partially Proficient and Minimally Proficient. And while the SBE chose not to assign comparable letter grades to each level making it easier for the public to understand I have always considered “Highly” to be comparable to A or B, “Proficient” to C, “Partially” to D and “Minimally” to F. Partially and Minimally Proficient are what I, and arguable any rational parent or taxpayer should, consider to be not only failing but also unacceptable.
The SBE has also created a formula for calculating the A-F School Letter Grades. While the letter grade formula does include the assessment scores other factors are also incorporated which apparently result in grade inflation for Arizona’s schools.
As of 2022 the Avondale Elementary District still had 4 A-rated schools. Three of those schools have over 50%* of the students who are partially or minimally proficient – essentially failing ELA and Math; the 4th school, Avondale Accelerated, has over 40% failing both. The remainder of Avondale schools have B-ratings with three of those schools having over 70% of the students failing ELA and Math!
And while Vulture Peak Middle School in Wickenburg may have raised its math score 8% the 2022 assessments show 70% of the students were only partially or minimally proficient in math, 67% failing ELA and yet the school received a B letter grade from the SBE.
During his presentation Parris continued “results from the 2021-2022 school year show the Project supported seven schools with a D or F State rating for performance; and after one year under Project Momentum Arizona, all seven schools earned an A or B rating in the State.”
Clearly the hyperbole that is cherry-picked to support such programs is specious – at best.
Of those seven schools the only one with an A rating, Eagle Ridge in Paradise Valley USD, had only 64% of the students failing math and 62% failing ELA. The remaining B rated schools named in the presentation (from Avondale, Buckeye and Union ESDs) range from 72% – 79% of the students failing ELA and 73% to a staggering 86% failing math on the current state wide assessment.
I concede that the data does in fact show an improvement in the test scores of these schools year-over-year from 2021 to 2022. However, and most importantly, the vast majority of the students in these schools are still overwhelmingly failing in unarguably the two most important foundational subjects on which their future education depends. But also isn’t it equally likely that the nominal improvement is correlated to students returning to the classroom after the government imposed COVID hiatus which in many if not most districts was from March 2020 until January 2021?
Whether it is Project Momentum or returning to the classroom all Arizonans, especially our elected representatives from school board to legislature, should be questioning the validity and credibility of an A-F School Letter Grade system that “after one year” takes schools from a “D or F State rating for performance” to “all seven schools earned an A or B rating” with negligible increases to assessment scores and the vast majority of students dismally failing the only two core academic subjects currently being assessed.
Whether or not Gov. Hobbs cancelling the Project Momentum grant funding agreement is legitimate is for the legislators to determine.
Regardless Project Momentum is just one example. There are innumerable non-profits and education organizations which have been promising to facilitate K-12 academic improvement for decades while clamoring for more money from the public and/or private sectors with virtually nothing to show for all the funding but an appalling lack of improvement in student scholastic performance. Now we have even more cropping up intending to divert attention and funding away from core academic subjects and towards SEL, CRT, DEI and CSE.
What Arizonans need to recognize is that the SBE – with the help of educrats – has set up a bogus system of evaluating, exaggerating and disguising the performance Arizona’s failing government schools. Parents should put no faith whatsoever in the letter grade assigned to their child(ren)’s schools or when evaluating a school in which to enroll their child(ren).
Parents, if your child is in a burning building and those responsible to put out the fire are demanding funding which accomplishes virtually nothing while the flames intensify in magnitude how long will you stand by without running in to get your child OUT?
*Percentages are from the AZ School Report Cards.
Diane Douglas was AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction 2015-2019. She served on PUSD Governing Board 2005-2012; President 2008, 2009; the State Board of Education and the State Board for Charter Schools 2015-2019.