Originally Published: August 11, 2018 8:30 p.m.
Area educators are clear children aren’t numbers, and numbers don’t tell a students’ academic story.
Still, this past week’s state posting of the 2017-18 AZMerit standardized test scores have families across the state pondering the results, particularly as, in the aggregate, more students failed the English language arts and math portions than passed, a troubling reality.
In the tri-city area, district leaders and teachers are analyzing the data and so far their assessments are that despite total scores, individual students and schools showed progress. They said that reflects on efforts made with programs and curriculum aimed at enriching academics for all students.
Across the districts, a number of schools showed improvement, even if it was marginal in both subjects. There were a few standouts, as well as some schools that saw drops in scores that will require further analysis on how best to address those gaps.
Prescott Unified School District’s Abia Judd Elementary proved the area’s shining star — 71 percent of testing students passed language arts and 73 percent passed the math; far exceeding the state average of 44 percent passing the language arts and 41 percent passing the math.
The AZMerit test has four scores — minimally proficient, partially proficient, proficient and highly proficient; the latter two categories are counted for passing scores.
In Humboldt Unified, Bradshaw Mountain Middle School saw spikes in the language arts and math scores, and the high school spiked in reading with a slight dip in math. One elementary school saw improvement in both language arts and math, one stayed the same, one was a mix and three showed some dips in their aggregate scores.
For the most part, the Chino Valley school district saw its scores in both subjects spike a bit from last year, with the high school math scores rising from 17 percent passing to 25 percent.
Of the 17,127 Yavapai County students who took the language arts test, 42 percent passed, 2 percent fewer than the state average. The 16,984 who took the math tests scored at 38 percent, or 3 percent points below the state average.
In the scoring categories — as the state did for all counties, districts/charters and individual schools — 8,665 students taking the language arts test and 8,624 taking the math test were deemed economically disadvantaged; 598 taking the language arts and 591 taking math were listed as limited in English proficiency; and 2,057 taking the language arts and 1,983 taking the math tests were cited as students with disabilities.
Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Tim Carter said he believes the hope of educators across the state is that no one looks at these scores in a vacuum. Standardized tests are a tool, but they should not stand alone or eliminate the focus on individual children’s progress and achievement in a classroom.
“I think a lot of people believe the focus should be more on learning, and far less on achievement tests,” Carter said.
To look at only the AZMerit proficiency scores is a “pretty limited view of what’s happening,” declared Humboldt Unified Schools Superintendent Dan Streeter.
“What we’re pleased with, and what we’re focused on, is student growth … and that is where we saw a lot of success for our students,” Streeter said Friday. “We are aware that we live in a state that likes to rank student potential, but we are much more focused on developing our student potential.”
Prescott Unified Assistant Superintendent Mardi Read said the “bright spot” out of the assessments for her district was the impact they witnessed of a new K-6 math curriculum that this year will incorporate the middle school grades.
In addition, she said, the district is pleased to see how a focus on middle school achievement — math scores jumped 8 percentage points this year — made a difference. That trend will continue this year, she assured.
Like Streeter, Read said district leaders are looking at overall growth, with teachers digging deep into the data to see how best to help their students excel.
“That is the most important part of this data. How do we use it to inform our instruction?”
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.
Editor’s Note — Watch the Courier for scores and an analysis for charter schools.