Editorial: Subjective nature of school grades makes final result suspect
It’s report card time for Arizona schools across the state. In the Verde Valley, there is not much to brag about.
At the same time, there are plenty of questions about the reliability of the Arizona Department of Education’s grading system.
Last year, for example, ADE Board Member Patricia Welborn was among those who admitted something was fundamentally wrong with the results of the state’s attempt to assign letter grades to individual schools. “I’m very concerned that one of the fundamental rules that we intended not to happen has happened,” Welborn said.
Indeed, many schools throughout the state successfully petitioned ADE for a re-assessment of their grade last year. Case in point: Mingus Union High School successfully petitioned last year to have its “C” grade improved to a “B.”
Across the board throughout the Verde Valley, local public schools averaged a “C” this year. Most interestingly, at the high end of the grading scale, the former Big Park School in the Village of Oak Creek was the only school in the region to receive an “A.” Ironically, in a school reorganization plan that went into effect in August, Big Park School was closed down by the Sedona School Board. Also on the high end of the grading scale in the Verde Valley, American Heritage Academy in Camp Verde received a “B,” as did Cornville’s Desert Star Community School, Sedona Charter School and the Clarkdale-Jerome School. It bears emphasis that over the past 10 years with all the various measuring sticks used by the Arizona Department of Education to determine school excellence, Clarkdale-Jerome has always been at or near the top of the class when compared to other schools in the Verde Valley.
At the low end of the scale, South Verde High School received an “F.” Beaver Creek, Mingus Union and Cottonwood Elementary – now closed in a campus restructuring – all received a “D” grade.
Once again, in Mingus’ case, that may be up for debate. A well-documented online meltdown occurred last year at Mingus during the AZMerit testing cycle that horribly botched student testing results. Those AZMerit scores weigh heavily in the ADE assessment, so the “D” grade for Mingus is highly suspect, especially since the Arizona Educational Foundation ranks Mingus as an A+ School of Excellence in its current three-year grading cycle. Chew on that one for a bit: The Arizona Department of Education report card says Mingus is a “D” school, while the Arizona Educational Foundation gave MUHS an “A+.”
The Mingus example is a classic case in point that school grades are largely dependent on who is giving the grade. It’s as true for schools as it is for students.
Some 60 years ago in a small Minnesota high school, there was a student who just did not fit in. He was an average student at best. His interest in music far surpassed his classroom acumen, but even when he appeared on stage in a school talent show doing his best Little Richard imitation, the school principal ordered the curtains closed on his act.
Through it all, one English teacher -- B.J. Rolfzen – saw something special in the student who sat attentively in the front row of his classroom. Rolfzen encouraged, praised and mentored the student. He shared poetry and famous works of literature with the student. He strongly encouraged him to become a writer. For years after he graduated high school, the student would make it a point to visit his old teacher when he returned to his home town.
The student’s name was Bobby Zimmerman.
He later became known as Bob Dylan.
In 2017, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.