Kindness and equality are two things that helped Tavan earn an A from the ADE.

The words “be kind” seem so simple, but they are often forgotten and fall through the cracks. 

Scottsdale Unified School District’s Tavan Elementary used those two words as the basis for a program to help the school improve. Along with other changes, this initiative has helped Tavan increase its scholastic letter grade from a C to an A in the past year. 

Tavan Principal Margaret Serna was thrilled to announce the improvement to her students, referred to as “scholars,” that all their hard work paid off. 

“It’s nothing short of a miracle,” Serna said. 

The letter grades, assigned by the Arizona Department of Education, are based purely on numbers and are calculated by looking at overall growth in the classroom on a four-level scale (Mildly Proficient, Partially Proficient, Proficient and Highly Proficient). 

Tavan Elementary students boosted their rating from Proficient to Highly Proficient. One example of their immense growth is one fourth grade class achieving 100 percent Proficient in science, with 25 of the 26 students in the class receiving a Highly Proficient rating.

The school’s single year jump is impressive, due in part to the challenges the educators and students face. Students at Tavan speak 18 languages and nearly 70 percent of them qualify for free and reduced lunches. 

“We have many factors that go against us,” Serna said. “I like to think of my school as the little engine that could – we beat every odd there is.” 

So how did Tavan progress from a C to an A? The school made a number of changes, but the one that seems to have stuck with the students the most is to increase their confidence with The Be Kind People Project. 

Serna believes that many factors can stop a student from excelling at school, like not getting enough sleep or not doing their homework, but by addressing those struggles, students can begin to take care of themselves and come to the classroom more prepared. 

“If they can’t be kind to themselves, they can’t be kind to others,” Serna said. “We only have two rules – be kind and follow directions.” 

Tavan received a significant amount of money from Governor Doug Ducey from the Results-Based Funding initiative, which rewards schools showing success. 

Tavan placed first in all Scottsdale Unified schools that qualified for this money. Tavan has used the funding to establish a guided reading program, hire retired reading specialists and strengthen their teachers with workshops and staff development opportunities. 

The A letter grade has led to an immense increase in parents’ interest in sending their kids to Tavan. That is due both to the new grade and the message of equality central to Tavan’s identity. 

 “All means all,” Serna said. “All our children are going to learn and all our children are going to be treated equally.” 

Although it may come with challenges, diversity is one of the most important concepts for a child to learn in the early stages of education. It allows them to feel comfortable anywhere life may take them in the future, Serna said. 

“Our diversity is our greatest gift,” Serna said. “We consider it enrichment for our students so that they are prepared to go out into the world and know how to get along.” 

As for the future of Tavan, Serna would love to maintain the A-rating, but more importantly to make sure each child continues to make progress, no matter how big or small. Plus, they should keep the foundational aspects of kindness and equality close as they grow and lead their lives. 

“Engage every child every day, meet their needs, and success follows,” Serna said. 

Federal and state government require that each school in Arizona is assigned a letter grade. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to measure school performance based on a range of quantitative measures, including the AzMERIT test.


How school letter grades work

The purpose of the letter grade is so that parents can compare schools and school leaders can be on the lookout for where they are doing well and where they might need improvement.

The five deciding factors are:

• Student growth from year to year.

• Proficiency on AzMERIT. 

• English language proficiency and growth. 

• Indicators that an elementary student is ready for success in high school, and that high school students are ready for success in a career or higher education. 

• High school graduation rates.

What each letter grade means: 

A: Distinguished performance on the statewide assessment, significant student growth, high four-year graduation rates, students on track to proficiency; overall performance is significantly higher than state average. 

B: High performance on statewide assessment and/or significant student growth and/or higher four-year graduation rates and/or moving students to proficiency at a higher rate than the state average. 

C: Adequate performance but needs improvement on some indicators, such as proficiency, growth or graduation rate. 

D: Inadequate performance in proficiency, growth and/or four-year graduation rate relative to the state average. 

F: Systematic failures in proficiency, growth and graduation rates (below 67%); performance is in bottom 5% of the state.

SUSD arcadia - complex

letter grades, 2018

Arcadia High School: B

Ingleside Middle School: B

Echo Canyon Elementary School: B

Hopi Elementary School: A

Tavan Elementary School: A

— Stats from Arizona Department of Education