Scottsdale Schools start new year with trends, enrollment conversation

A view of the Aug. 23 Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board regular meeting. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

A view of the Aug. 23 Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board regular meeting. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Scottsdale Schools kicked off its first governing board meeting of the 2016-17 school year Tuesday, Aug. 23 with some heavy material: student test score trends and enrollment numbers.

Starting in January, district leadership has been using a data-driven approach to solve the problem of declining enrollment losing students and balancing funds, when the district approved an employment contract with Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell.

Dr. Birdwell has agreed to a contract through June 30, 2017, according to Scottsdale Schools Public Information Officer Kristine Harrington.

Dr. Birdwell and colleagues presented what she said was the first of several looks at how students are performing in Scottsdale Schools. The Aug. 23 meeting studied a general overview of math and English Language Arts, AzMerit and AIMS test results in each school since 2005.

Additionally, Assistant Superintendent of Education Leadership Dr. David McNeil presented student attendance numbers from the first day of school last year, and this year, after many feared SUSD would see dramatic loss after a charter school opened in the northern region of the district.

Dr. Birdwell illustrated to the group of educators, parents and community members the importance of having a clear vision for teachers to follow.

“Instructional leadership has not been the natural progression of administration in the state or in the nation,” she said.

“But it is now time to step-up for all children. I believe we do have teacher leaders who understand this. The greatest impact on learning is the teacher in the classroom, but even good teachers will get poor results when they have the wrong focus.”

The interim superintendent took a strong stance on making immediate changes and setting goals in order to see students succeed.

“The reality is we need to do things today, tomorrow and the next day, and the next day, and day-by-day to make the difference in lives of the children,” said Dr. Birdwell. “Great teachers miss the mark, when they don’t understand what they’re supposed to be aiming at.”

Student trends in the classroom

Assistant Superintendent of Accountability and Instruction Dr. Anna McCauley presented 2016 AzMERIT and historical trend data to the governing board.

Dr. McCauley explained that although this is only the second year of AzMERIT testing, the district can look at the scores compared to previous years by using score transformation in order to see trends over time. A normal curve equivalent is normalized scores that place values on a common, equal-interval scale.

“Since the Arizona state assessments are all on vertically aligned scales, that increase with grade level, if we were trying to look at a trend for growth or to see how we were doing it would be pretty confusing and probably misleading, because growths can happen just as the natural accession of scores along the vertical scale,” explained Dr. McCauley. “So, we transform them.”

Dr. McCauley presented trends for ELA and math across all grade levels, before showing data school by school. The state average for math, is 50, she said.

SUSD is working its way up from being in the 57-58 range, according to the graph.

“Looking at where they started in 2005, and where they are now, we’ve had some people who really turned things around,” said Dr. McCauley. “Anasazi, in 2005, in the low-to-mid 60s range, and boom — a standard deviation above the mean in this last administration of AzMerit. I’m really proud of that.”

In terms of school-by-school, Anasazi, Hohokam, Pueblo and Tavan are considered stand-out schools, she said.

Dr. McCauley presented some focus sites as well, including Tonalea, Supai, Coronado High School, and Desert Mountain High School.

“Well what’s next?” asked Dr. McCauley. “Well we’re going to do more digging. This was just the scratching of the surface — this is the ice burg and it’s only the top of the ice burg. We are going to get beneath the surface.”

She explained the district plans to take a hard look at all variables of the trends, and evaluate programs.

“We are really going to be evaluating programs and looking at all of the different things we’ve got going on, and putting them into the analysis and seeing if there’s any statistical significance to those programs,” she said. “Positive, negative or just no effect at all.”

Student enrollment update

Dr. McNeil, assistant superintendent of education leadership, presented an update on the district’s enrollment, showing the 2015 enrollment versus the 2016 enrollment.

“We know that we had some challenges come in the spring when we heard the news of a charter school moving into our neighborhood and how are we going to respond, and what was it going to look like,” Dr. McNeil said.

“Tonight I can sit here and very proud of all the behind-the-scenes work we’ve done across the board to show our community that the Scottsdale school district is a choice district.”

The first couple of days of schools are very interesting, said Dr. McNeil, because students miss the start of the school year either because they are unaware the new year started, or are still traveling and on vacation.

“If we look at enrollment for K-12, we can see our specific schools and if we add up first-day to first-day, we are down 107 K-12 students,” said Dr. McNeil. “If we look at the 100th day, we see we are down only 66 kids.”

Dr. McNeil said he believes Desert Mountain was impacted by the charter school opening up. The graphic shows a loss of 71 students. At the same time, Ingleside Middle School, although in a different part of town, has 100 more students than last year.

One by one, Dr. McNeil presented numbers for each grade level at each school.

Lastly, he presented numbers showing the difference in students from day one, Aug. 8, 2016, to day 11, Aug. 22, 2016.

“Eighty-four students have showed up since then, which makes us come to the conclusion that we are down only 23 kids from last year’s first day, to this year’s 11th day,” he said. “Which is a huge celebration from the support of the governing board to make sure that we continue to do great tours at every site and the great job of our principals.”

Dr. McNeil gave kudos to district departments for adding competitive programs, that other schools are offering.

“I think the influx of our strong numbers at Desert Canyon Elementary School, I saw at first blush from Principal Kinghorn about the survey results of Mandarin, and people are excited,” he said.

“Spanish at the elementary schools, again, you look at Anasazi, which has the Spanish elective and we did see some losses there. But you know, I’m going to be an optimist and say, I wonder what the numbers would have looked like if we had not put that in place to kind of wrangle with the curiosity of that charter school opening up down the street.”

Governing Board member Pam Kirby asked Dr. McNeil for last year’s 10th day number, with the thinking that with additional students showing up over an 11-day period this year, that same type of realization would have happened last year.

The Independent has not been provided those numbers at the time of publication.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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