Education Experts: Teacher Training Is Key To AzMERIT Success

By Alexandra Olgin
Published: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 4:37pm
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(Photo by Sky Schaudt - KJZZ)
An AzMERIT asessment report.

The Arizona Department of Education released a school breakdown of AzMERIT standardized test scores Monday. Marks vary widely among public schools around the state. 

Coolidge Unified in Pinal County is a district that stretches more than 1,000 square miles and includes 3,500 kids. Less than 25 percent of its students got passing scores on the AzMERIT test. Superintendent Charie Wallace isn’t surprised. The district has been getting school improvement assistance from the state for the three years she’s been there. Wallace believes better teaching is one of the keys to improved scores.

“I don’t think that’s unique to Coolidge," she said. "I believe that elementary teachers don’t get the training, the deep understanding of math content.”

Teachers at the district, which switched to a four-day school week this school year, are now taking one Friday a month to get training.

“A lot of secondary teachers do have a deep understanding of their content, but haven’t been taught instructional strategies.”

Nearly 80 percent of Coolidge students are on free or reduced lunch and teacher turnover has historically been high. According to Wallace, since the switch to the four-day school week, retention is now close to 90 percent. District and charter schools across the state have struggled with teacher retention. A Department of Education report released in January showed 62 percent of the districts that reported data had open teaching positions. The same survey also found 53 percent of schools reported they had between one and five educators break their contract or resign mid way through the 2013-2014 school year. 

Kyrene School District, an East Valley district with 17,500 students, reported its teacher turnover mirrors state trends. On average, 30 percent of students in the Kyrene Elementary District are on free or reduced lunch, which is lower than the 58 percent statewide average. 

This year, more than 70 percent of students at Kyrene de la Sierra School achieved passing scores on AzMERIT Math and English tests. Educational Services Executive Director Lorah Neville attributed that to extra professional development time for teachers.  

“One of the things we have worked on in our district is to add additional contract days for teachers to meet when kids aren’t present," She said this time is important for teachers to evaluate how students are grasping the new standards. “We are being very methodical about how to help kids move through the learning progression to get where they need to be." 

Neville said part of the school’s success is that teachers adapted their lessons early to meet new standards adopted by the Arizona State Board of Education in 2010.

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