Arizona Standardized Testing Reveals Students Failing In English, Math

Arizona Standardized Testing Reveals Students Failing In English, Math

By Corinne Murdock |

The latest Arizona Department of Education (ADE) statewide assessment results revealed that Arizona students are failing in English and math. ADE published the results Friday, culled from the 2020-2021 versions of AzM2 and MSAA – the two versions of standardized testing administered to grades 3-8 and 10. The average passing rates differed depending on whether a student was from a district public school or charter school; charter schools had resoundingly better outcomes in statewide assessments, with an average of 10 percent more charter students passing the ELA and math sections compared to their district peers.

In district public schools, only 38 percent of students on average passed the English-Language Arts (ELA) section, while even less passed the math section – 31 percent. Approximately 84 percent of students took the ELA section, while 86 percent took the math section. Federal law requires at least 95 percent participation, but that requirement and others were made optional due to the pandemic.

When broken down by race, American Indian/Alaskan Native students had the lowest average passing scores in public schools, even below students who were classified as in the foster care system or homeless: 15 percent for ELA, and 11 percent for math. However, they ranked slightly above migrant students, 13 percent of whom passed the ELA section, and 11 percent passed the migrant section.

The highest passage rates by race came from Asian students: 69 percent for ELA and 68 percent for math. The highest passage rates of any non-racial classification came from military children: 53 percent for ELA, 44 percent for math.

All of the average passing rates in public schools under various classifications remained relatively consistent when broken down by grade level.

As for charter schools, the average percentage of students who passed the ELA and math sections increased by around 10 points or more. This was true for all types of students classified by ADE – students had higher passing rates at charter schools than the district public schools regardless of race, sex, or circumstance.

AZ Free News inquired with ADE what their plans are to address these falling test scores and the overall proficiency of Arizona’s students. They didn’t respond by press time.

In their press release, ADE called the test results “just one part of a student’s academic record.” The department announced that they had already “proactively” begun addressing the results through funding, programs, and initiatives, such as $9.6 million for online math education assistance from Arizona State University (ASU) and $6.5 million for extracurriculars from Discovery Education.

It appears that metrics of student success, like test scores, aren’t as much of a focus for ADE leadership. ADE Superintendent Kathy Hoffman has focused especially on COVID-19 mitigation in K-12 schools, calling for universal masking and criticizing Governor Doug Ducey for his opposition to such measures. It is unclear if Hoffman believes the same should be true for adults such as herself. As AZ Free News reported, the superintendent was caught maskless at a party last weekend. Hoffman still hasn’t addressed this incident.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Scottsdale School Board President – Mask Mandate Imposer – Caught Maskless At Bar

Scottsdale School Board President – Mask Mandate Imposer – Caught Maskless At Bar

By Corrinne Murdock |

After another long week of defending his decision to impose mask mandates for Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) students, Governing Board President Jann-Michael Greenburg hung out at a bar maskless last Saturday.

When asked, Greenburg told other reporters via email that confusion over his enjoying a maskless night at the bar while imposing mask mandates at SUSD was nothing more than a “baseless attack.”

“This video is another baseless attack by people whose agenda is to destroy public education and discourage people from serving,” said Greenburg. “It won’t work.”

The CDC cautions that pregnant women are at more of an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Just a few days earlier, Greenburg cursed at concerned parents during a board meeting. Greenburg later apologized, saying he let his frustration get the better of him.

“Jesus f***ing Christ, people,” muttered Greenburg on the hot mic.

Greenburg hasn’t been the only pro-mask mandate public education leader caught enjoying a maskless social life as of late. Arizona Superintendent Kathy Hoffman attended a baby shower maskless and without adhering to social distancing. None of the other guests wore masks or socially distanced themselves, either.

 Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Scottsdale Teacher’s Homework Assignment Included Political Jab At Governor Ducey

Scottsdale Teacher’s Homework Assignment Included Political Jab At Governor Ducey

By Corinne Murdock |

A mother recently discovered that her sixth grader’s teacher slipped a politicized jab at Governor Doug Ducey’s opposition to school mask mandates into a homework assignment. Cocopah Middle School Language Arts teacher Susan Mulhern included a question asking students to check the grammar of a sentence asking when Ducey would impose K-12 mask mandates statewide. The question is reproduced below:

“What THREE rules would correct the following two sentences’ errors: ‘When will governor Ducey mandate the use of masks in schools?’ inquired william. I think it is time to begin that at cherokee elementary school.”

homework question

Just one of the politically charged questions on a homework assignment from Cocopah Middle School Language Arts teacher Susan Mulhern.

To clarify, Cherokee Elementary School had nothing to do with the assignment. The mother of the student, Joanna Lawson, explained to AZ Free News that Mulhern had only happened to mention the other elementary school in the homework question.

“[The statement] doesn’t reflect all of the beliefs of the students or their families. It’s no place for politics or personal opinion, and it creates divisiveness,” observed Lawson.

Lawson told AZ Free News that this homework assignment was just one of several issues they’d experienced.

Last week, Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) forced Lawson’s son to quarantine after being listed as a “close contact” with an infected student. This occurred prior to SUSD instituting its mask mandate. After missing four full days of instruction, Mulhern’s first response when Lawson’s son returned to class was to email Lawson that her son was “falling behind.”

The Language Arts teacher also claimed that Lawson’s son hadn’t turned in a certain assignment. Lawson responded with proof that they had – and received no response from Mulhern. Instead, Mulhern reportedly singled Lawson’s son out in class the day he’d returned from the forced quarantine.

“He came home that same night and burst into tears. He told me that she’d singled him out in class for falling behind,” recounted Lawson. “He feels this pressure, and what’s worse, it triggers a lot of what is happening during the COVID lockdown and when we were trying to do this stuff from home.”

Lawson’s son also recounted how Mulhern told students that day that they needed to mask up because “coronavirus lives in your nose.”

Lawson, a single mother, described to AZ Free News how school has become a looming burden for their family. She explained that the four days of in-person education lost has a ripple effect on the rest of her son’s education.

“Not only is he behind those four full days of instruction – then he’s behind on a quiz, a project. It compounds, and I’m feeling the weight of all of that here,” explained Lawson. “I’m also trying to divide my attention between a fourth grader and sixth grader between working, while making dinner, while doing laundry, and all of the things that we’re doing as parents. It’s really disheartening.”

Lawson explained that her family is new to this school this year, and wasn’t aware of the district’s quarantining policies. According to Lawson, Mulhern told her that students were expected to keep up with their schoolwork during forced quarantines if they weren’t “actually sick.”

All of these incidents in the first few weeks back to school has Lawson questioning whether her family will continue to be part of SUSD. She told AZ Free News that the public schools they’ve experienced are nothing like what she’d experienced growing up.

“This has me really doubting whether I should keep my sons in [SUSD],” said Lawson. “They’re the ones at the end of all of this that will suffer. This does not feel the same as the elementary school I went to as a girl.”

It appears from Mulhern’s summer reading assignments that politicized educational material isn’t a new endeavor for her.

One of the assigned course readings, “The Perfect Shot” by Elaine Marie Alphin, is a murder mystery that grapples with social justice issues like racial profiling and systemic racism. The syllabus’ synopsis emphasizes that one of the protagonist’s Black peers was arrested only because he was Black, and hints that the justice system is unfair to minorities.

“Someone murdered Brian’s girlfriend, Amanda. The police think it was her father. Brian isn’t so sure. But everyone he knows is telling him to move on, get over it, focus on the present. Focus on basketball. Focus on hitting the perfect shot. Brian hopes that the system will work for Amanda and her father. An innocent man couldn’t be wrongly convicted, could he? But then Brian does a school project on Leo Frank, a Jewish man lynched decades ago for the murder of a teenage girl – a murder he didn’t commit. Worse still, Brian’s teammate Julius gets arrested for nothing more than being a black kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. Brian can’t deny any longer that the system is flawed. As Amanda’s father goes on trial, Brian admits to himself that he knows something that could break the case.”

Another assigned reading, “If a Tree Falls During Lunch Period” by Gennifer Choldenko, pointedly criticizes the whiteness of the protagonist’s new school, and the lack of diversity because everyone there looks white.

A third assigned reading, “Crossing the Wire” by Gary Hobbs, glorifies illegal immigrants and border crossings.

Lawson said that the district has responded to her concerns about the homework assignment. On Monday, Cocopah Middle School Principal Nick Noonan promised to meet with Lawson to discuss the issue.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Ignoring Educational Failure Is A Recipe For Disaster

Ignoring Educational Failure Is A Recipe For Disaster

By Dr. Thomas Patterson |

Oregon Governor Kate Brown doesn’t have a reputation as a deep thinker, but her recent attempt to do something “noble” for minority students was especially pathetic. She signed a bill that states “a student may not be required to show proficiency in Essential Learning Skills as a condition of receiving a high school diploma“ for the next three years.

She and her folks were mighty proud.  An aide wrote that suspending the graduation requirement to read, write or do math will benefit “Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Indigenous, Asia, Pacific Islander, Tribal and students of color.”  The benefit is assured because “leaders from these communities have advocated time and again for equitable graduation standards…”

But he couldn’t be more wrong. The only sensible meaning of a diploma is as verification of specific academic accomplishment. It has nothing to do with race. The alternative, no matter its label, is simply an attendance certificate.

When a student begins to fall behind, educators have a choice. They can address the failure head-on. Tutoring, different teachers, repeating grades, whatever it takes.

Or they can pretend to see nothing and advance the students through the grade levels even though they are failing to learn. Obviously, this is the path of least resistance. Students aren’t shamed, parents aren’t alarmed, teachers aren’t annoyed by the enhanced accountability. Moreover, this  results in maximum “equity,” since all students receive the same diploma.

But you can’t fool Mother Reality. We can pretend that all holders of a high school diploma are legitimate graduates.  But colleges know. Employers know. And eventually the students themselves find out the consequences when their lifetime earning level is limited by their meager abilities, which can’t be improved by a meaningless piece of paper.

This isn’t about Oregon. As the nation’s public schools continue to fail to educate the students who need it most, the go-to solution has been to change the standards rather than to beef up  instruction.

Statements once accepted as common wisdom like “you can get ahead if you work hard“ and words like “merit“ are now often regarded as racist and thus forbidden. It’s hard for many of us to fathom how deeply and quickly this recipe for failure has become embedded in our culture.

Over half of US colleges have affectively eliminated the ACT and SAT admissions examinations.  They were deemed racist on no other basis than that some, but not all, minority students underperformed on them. The possibility that the test could serve as a useful sentinel, a prod to improve educational quality for the underperformers was never considered.

The unspoken assumption is that certain racial minorities are inherently unable to keep up academically and expecting them to do so is unfair. What George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations“ is actually a particularly destructive form of racial bias.

This is the bigotry born of the union between black victimhood and white guilt that, as described by the scholar Shelby Steele, has stymied black social and economic progress for over half a century, in a nation of remarkable racial harmony. Most Americans are rooting for Blacks to succeed, but nothing ever happens.

We have been hijacked by a mindset that decrees the only permissible cause for the lack of progress is racism, not actual racial hatred, but “systemic“ racism, a much more subtle and pervasive racism not visible to the naked eye. Suggesting that factors like lack of effort may be involved is deemed “blaming the victim.”

We know how to foster success. Many charter schools, for example, have demonstrated that disadvantaged students are fully able to learn and achieve at high levels.

But the massive teachers’ unions are unmoved. Instead of academic improvement, they are devoting their efforts to teaching children that America is fundamentally shameful, that all whites are incorrigibly racist and that it is bigoted to even strive for colorblindness.

But enough is enough. We simply can’t keep turning out generations of uneducated, propagandized Americans.

Here are two things you can take to the bank. America will never close the income gap until we close the education gap. And no nation has survived that was despised by its own citizens.

Dr. Thomas Patterson, former Chairman of the Goldwater Institute, is a retired emergency physician. He served as an Arizona State senator for 10 years in the 1990s, and as Majority Leader from 93-96. He is the author of Arizona’s original charter schools bill.

Litchfield Elementary School District Board Member Resigns Over Frustration With Resistance to Equity Work, COVID Regulations

Litchfield Elementary School District Board Member Resigns Over Frustration With Resistance to Equity Work, COVID Regulations

By Corinne Murdock |

Litchfield Elementary School District (LESD) Governing Board member Dr. Tara Armstead announced her resignation during Tuesday’s special meeting. Armstead’s total time at LESD lasted five months. The only Black board member alluded to her frustrations with resistance to the district’s equity work.

Armstead’s resignation wasn’t originally a part of the meeting agenda. The ex-board member noted that she’d submitted her resignation on Monday, officially. She said it was her intention when she became a board member this spring to take her advocacy to another level on behalf of students and their families. Instead, Armstead said she’d faced many hurdles: slander against her character and intentions, court battles, and a general lack of support from the very community that purportedly requested her help.

However, Armstead insisted she wasn’t leaving due to these outside pressures. Rather, Armstead said the district was a “sinking ship” she could no longer help.

“I am not leaving because people are running me away, because of people scaring me, because of people pushing me in a position of fear where I feel like I can’t go on any longer, or because I’ve been asked. I am leaving because, even when I’m trying to fight for what is righteous and what is uncomfortably true, I am being treated as though I’m trying to destroy the entity with the intention of serving students,” said Armstead. “I was never here to be served, and I wasn’t here to serve adults. I was here to serve children. So after five months of constant, continuous situations letting me know exactly what they really want to have happen here in this district and in this community, I can no longer be a part of this sinking ship.”

Armstead emphasized that she wouldn’t show any thanks, gratitude, or appreciation for the opportunity to serve on the board. She expressed hope that the district would hire more people of color; she clarified that these hires shouldn’t be for the color of their skin, but for their ability.

“[I] will not say thank you for the time that I’ve served here, or express any gratitude or appreciation, because for the five months that I have been here, I have been treated as though I am not an expert in the field, like I have no idea what I’m talking about, and it’s sad that even a person who is invested in the field of education cannot come and help to improve education,” said Armstead.

Board President Danielle Clymer thanked Armstead for her service as a member, and for getting LESD where they are today.

No other members issued responses to Armstead’s resignation during the meeting.

On Wednesday, Armstead appeared on a “Wednesday Chat” episode with Jeanne Casteen,  a failed candidate for Maricopa County Superintendent. Armstead clarified that the final straw had to do with reception to her stance on COVID restrictions. She said she took issue with people challenging her as a professional.

Armstead added that she was tired of her attempts to help falling on deaf ears.

Tuesday’s meeting, starting from Armstrong’s resignation, can be viewed here.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com