The Arizona Department of Education recently doled out official report cards for all public schools in the state, rating them each on an “A” through “F” scale. In the Marana Unified School District, Tortolita Middle School was the sole school to receive an “F” rating.

The state department’s rating system is based on annual student academic growth; proficiency in English language arts, math and science; state standardized test scores and graduation and dropout rates, according to its website.

New Tortolita principal Shelly Vroegh said the report card doesn’t accurately represent the Cougar community.

“Unfortunately, the system did not assess qualitative data such as the exceptional programs we offer, the awards we have received, the emotional and social growth of our students, our extra-curricular activities, or the other wonderful student opportunities our school offers,” Vroegh wrote in a letter to parents. “A letter grade also does not reflect our hard working and dedicated staff, all of whom are passionately committed to the success and well-being of your student.”

Tortolita actually received a score of 55 percent, which would have been a “D” letter grade, but according to the Department of Education’s rules, any school that has a “D” for two consecutive years is demoted to an “F.”

After receiving the poor rating, MUSD staff began a comprehensive needs assessment and a “root cause analysis,” according to district public relations director Tamara Crawley. These efforts will ultimately identify how the district needs to adjust its systems, curriculum and resources to ensure student success at the middle school.

“What they’re looking at is how can we better refine our system so we ensure that our students are successful?” Crawley said. “What additional district resources and tools can be deployed? How can we better identify areas where students are struggling? How can we engage students at their individual level to achieve success?” 

Tortolita Middle School has 669 students enrolled this year. This “F” letter grade is the district’s first, and like Vroegh, Crawley said MUSD believes the state’s rating system does not accurately represent all the work being done at Tortolita. 

“It doesn’t look at test scores across the board throughout the year, or what programs are offered, how students are excelling in extracurricular activities,” Crawley said. “The quantitative data is from one week of testing.”

Additionally, Tortolita has implemented multiple new strategies and programs, which Crawley said have yielded “favorable results.” She points to Tortolita’s new writing program, the district’s use of additional data to assist teachers and guide their instruction, new intervention tools, more support and tutoring for students and an additional English Language Arts specialist as evidence of their progress.

Crawley added they’ve also enhanced staff development at Tortolita. The district introduced instructional coaches that are on campus regularly to work directly with teachers at Tortolita to increase their abilities and improve lesson planning.

“From the resources and the changes, we’ve already seen success this school year,” Crawley said. “We’ve seen our assessments in both seventh and eighth grades in both math and English scores have gone up. Everyone is committed to higher accountability, they’re committed to enhancing educational strategies.”

Once the comprehensive needs assessment and root cause analysis are complete, those findings will go into an “integrated action plan,” which will lay out the exact actions and resources that will be directed toward Tortolita, and hopefully raise their letter grade by next year.

“We’re very confident that this continued commitment and enhancement of the tools and the interventions and the additional resources are going to be reflected and will improve next year’s letter grade,” Crawley said. “One of the ongoing challenges at the middle school level is engaging students in their learning. Those are volatile years for emotional growth and maturing, so we’re really looking at ensuring that each student’s individual needs are met.”

The integrated action plan will be presented at a public meeting on Friday, Feb. 28 at 9:30 a.m. at Tortolita Middle School, 4101 W. Hardy Road.

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