Accountability: A-F Grading System

Thunderbolt Middle School

695 Thunderbolt Avenue, Lake Havasu City, AZ 86406
928.854.7224     Fax 928.854.7482


Thunderbolt Families,

I share in your devastation in learning of our Arizona Accountability letter grade for 2016-17.  

90% of these letter grades are derived from the English and Mathematics Standards’ based AZ Merit test and the AIMS Science test, which are administered in each spring.

I would like to take this opportunity to communicate to you the factors we have identified that resulted in our test scores, as well as the plan we are already implementing to ensure students are getting what they need to demonstrate their mastery of essential learning for their grade level.

We do not make excuses at Thunderbolt.  We cannot argue we earned this letter for last year’s data; however, we are in a very different reality this year that is already resulting in improved learning for students as indicated by assessments we have reviewed from our first quarter.

We knew we had large gaps when we received our 2016/17 data in June.  We conducted an analysis of our results, looking to identify root causes.  We looked critically and honestly at each student’s data.  Some gaps were expected based on staffing factors we experienced last year. Others were not.  

If you attended our Comprehensive Needs Assessment parent meeting on August 12th, you were a part of an honest presentation and reflection of our data,  as well as our plan for improvement.  Our areas in need of addressing were clear, and parents had the opportunity to provide input on the plans we presented to address the gaps in standards’ mastery.  
The top two factors resulting in lowered scores were staffing and standards alignment.

1. Staffing

Our greatest challenge for the 16/17 school year was our staffing shortage, which resulted from many teachers leaving our district as well as a lack of certified applicants available for hire to fill the vacancies.

Research supports the greatest factor in student achievement is the teacher in the classroom.   We were severely impacted in this area last year.  This resulted in several classes being taught by multiple long term substitutes, most teachers teaching during prep times, and several positions simply not filled for the year as no applicants were available for hire.

Our staffing went from 38 certified teachers in the 15/16 school year to 32 certified teachers, two long term subs, and four unfilled positions in 16/17.   This was a factor we simply couldn’t overcome and it showed in our scores.  Class sizes increased to over 40 students in many classrooms.  The subject most impacted was math. We had five math teachers meeting the needs of our students, down from seven the previous year. 

Below is a chart showing our three year trend.

3 Year Staffing Data
  2015/16 *2016/17 2017/18


38 32 39
Long Term Subs 0 2 1
Unfilled 0 4 0
Academic Coach 1 0 .5
Total:  39 34 40.5
Total Student Enrollment:  855 913 889 (as of 9/30)
* Letter Grade based upon 2016/17

Thankfully, this factor is resolved for the current year.  We are beyond grateful to our community for passing the Bond and Override last year. We had minimal teacher turnover, and we were able to hire certified teachers.  As a result, we are fully staffed; in addition, we were able to add a full time intervention Title I math class with a fully certified math teacher.  We now have eight math teachers in the classroom, which is one more than our staffing from 2015/16.  All other subjects are also fully staffed with certified teachers.

Our staffing issues have been resolved.

2. Standards Alignment

With the changes in the Arizona standards over the years, we also identified some areas that needed to be better aligned with our district curriculum maps to ensure students are learning the skills and concepts that will be tested for their grade level.  Not only have we aligned these areas, we have added assessment points throughout the year, so teachers have the opportunity to reteach or enrich as needed to maximize the mastery of learning for every student. Teachers are deeply engaged in the data they gather which tells if students are learning the standards being taught.

Our first benchmarks for English show our students in both 7th and 8th scoring above the state average for the 16/17 school year.  While student learning is monitored regularly in classrooms, Math benchmark  data will be available and shared at the beginning of third quarter, as it is gathered through mid year assessments.  

I will be sharing data in detail at our quarterly Site Council meetings which are open to all. The next one will be October 25, 2017.  I hope you will attend and see the progress our students are making.

Standards alignment is fully resolved.

Annual Test Scores are not the only indicator of school quality.  In the midst of the challenges we experienced in the 2016/17 school year, we did experience positive celebrations.  Student attendance remained at over 95%, which is our norm at Thunderbolt; serious discipline offenses remained low as well, resulting in a low number of long term suspensions.  I am happy to share specifics in person if you are interested.

Being a principal at a school that is labeled an “F” is certainly not where any principal wants to be, and I know you share this sentiment as family members of our students.  I have full confidence in Thunderbolt staff, and we will not be in this situation next year.  We have faced challenges before, and we do so together – always with our students as our top priority.  I am proud and humbled to stand beside my staff as we face this challenge with courage and determination.

I don’t have to say we will fix this. We already are.

If you have further questions, I am happy to meet with you in person.   Please attend our first quarter Site Council meeting on October 25th at 6:00 in the Thunderbolt library.  The topic for our agenda is Response to Intervention, which includes first quarter data we have gathered.

If you plan to attend, please RSVP to

Thank you for your continued support of our school.  I look forward to meeting with you, both to share our success and to hear your suggestions.

Mari Jo Mulligan, Principal
Thunderbolt Middle School