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Tue, Sept. 17

MUSD earns mixed labels under achievement profiling<BR>

Mayer Unified School District has one of the 14 percent of Arizona schools that earned an "Underperforming" label from the state Department of Education. According to results posted on the Arizona Department of Education website, Mayer elementary school is "Improving," the junior high level is "Underperforming" and students at the high school level are "Maintaining performance" under state academic standards.

The labeling is a grading system; schools that fail to show improvement over two years will lose control of academic instruction to the state. They may also lose Prop 301 funding from the state.

MUSD officials will learn more details of the district's scoring when they attend a meeting with Humboldt Unified School District's Northern Arizona Representative of the Arizona LEARNS School Labeling Committee, Dean Slaga, on Oct. 23.

"It's a very complicated math process to get a rating," MUSD AIMS Coordinator Mark Romens said. "It's much more complicated than any of us imagines."

The labeling is a grading system intended to satisfy state and federal requirements to demonstrate an improvement in education quality. The labeling is actually the result of using existing Arizona education measurement programs to satisfy a new federal measurement program. Originally intended as a high school exit test, the state has recycled AIMS as a measurement standard to meet requirements of "Arizona LEARNS." Passed by the state legislature earlier this year, Arizona LEARNS was completely unrelated to the new federal measurement standard, No Child Left Behind. But Arizona LEARNS is now the state's measurement standard to gauge compliance with the Bush Administration's new No Child Left Behind program to improve education.

In the simplest terms, comparing 2001 and 2002 AIMS test scores with a baseline test score in 2000 yields a rating of "Falls Far Below," "Meets" or "Exceeds" standards, which is then applied to labeling under Arizona LEARNS, which is then converted into a rating for No Child Left Behind.

In reality the scoring is very complex and includes other factors, such as Stanford 9 test scores, the high school graduation rate and the dropout rate, compared with those same factors in the years 2000 and 2001.

During the lengthy discussion of the state's labeling of MUSD schools at the Oct. 10 school board meeting, Superintendent Jim Nelson, Romens and elementary school principal Dr. Don Cook had different understandings of how to correlate scores to derive a school rating from AIMS test scores in reading, writing and mathematics.

"Statisticians will drive you nuts," Cook said.

MUSD earned every label under the scoring system except "Excelling," which is extremely difficult to achieve (see sidebar). Only two Arizona schools earned the "Excelling" rating, a charter high school in Tempe and a district high school in Tucson; 228 Arizona schools rated "Underperforming."

At Mayer's junior high level, low math scores on the AIMS test contributed to earning the "Underperforming" label. But, according to test data released by the state, Mayer junior high students performed marginally better than some of their counterparts throughout the state. At Mayer, 37 percent of junior high math scores fell far below test standards, compared to a state average of 39 percent. In this category the state ranked Mayer junior high at 137 among 397 schools tested.

Testing at the high school level, which resulted in Mayer earning a "Maintaining performance" label, could easily have been better - or worse.

"A couple of areas are right on the cusp," Nelson said. Because the high school classes are so small, the scores of only one or two students could have made a difference, he said.

"High school testing is very different (this year) because AIMS was going to be a graduation requirement at one time," Romens told the board. Because there is no longer a requirement to pass the test, there is little incentive for students to perform at their best.

High school principal Jim Dean agreed and told the board that "AIMS is here to stay," even without the graduation requirement. Dean told the board he wanted school board approval to start a mandatory after-school tutoring period for students to improve their academic performance. Teachers would conduct the tutoring on Wednesdays, in place of present in-service work, he said, and those students could ride the "activity bus" home.

Mayer school district has already implemented some changes in an attempt to improve test scores next year, Romens said. Those include requiring three years of high school mathematics, instead of only two years; starting freshmen at Algebra I or II; starting up a dedicated math study hall; and providing tutoring for seventh graders.

*******************SIDEBAR SIDEBAR SIDEBAR ****************

Public school achievement ratings, as defined by Arizona Revised Statute 15-241 are:

*Excelling - More than 90 percent of the school's students consistently meet or exceed state standards on AIMS testing from 2000 through 2002; 90 percent demonstrate One Year's Growth; and, if a high school, 90 percent graduate in five years, and less than 6 percent drop out each year.

*Improving - exceeds state performance and state progress goals.

*Maintaining Performance - meets state performance goals, and needs to meet state progress goals.

*Underperforming - needs to meet state performance and state progress goals.

"Underperforming" schools have 30 days to notify residents of the label, and have 90 days to develop an improvement plan with the help of residents in the school's attendance area.

Resources for "underperforming" schools include $144 million in federal grant moneyand $4.5 million in 21st Century Community Learning Center grant money earmarked only for "underperforming" school. The state also offers a Reading Specialist program for teacher development, and a Rural and Low-income program to promote teacher recruitment and retention, professional development, technology and parental involvement.

Governing Board Academies (workshops) are available for school board members to learn how to write and implement school improvement plans.

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