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1:29 PM Wed, Nov. 14th

Local districts see student improvement on AIMS test

CHINO VALLEY

After analyzing her district's scores, Chino Valley Unified School District Superintendent Linda Nelson sees room for improvement. But she said most of her schools are in line with the state average, except for math.

"I'm very pleased with Del Rio Elementary School," Nelson said. "The middle school is holding its own. We'll do better. We already have plans to improve."

Del Rio third-graders were six percentage points higher in math (66 percent mastery), nearly eight points higher in reading (75.8 percent mastery), and 14 points higher in writing (85.3 percent mastery) than the state.

Del Rio's fifth-graders were nearly 23 points higher in math (69.4 percent mastery), almost 30 points higher in reading (82.7 percent mastery), and more than 28 points higher in writing (79.6 percent mastery).

Territorial Elementary School's third- and fifth-graders' marks were a little lower than Del Rio. To raise math scores, Territorial has installed a new accelerated math program this year.

Nelson said three variables in the classroom are necessary to raise AIMS scores. First, textbooks must be in sync with the state's frameworks. Second, students' time on task has to be long enough. And, third, instructional practices have to be appropriate for meeting the standards.

"You have to look at concepts to align the curriculum," she said.

MAYER

The Mayer Unified School District struggled on the math portion of AIMS, but excelled in writing and hovered around the state average in reading.

Fifty-two percent of Mayer's high school students met or exceeded the state standard in reading, while 82 percent met the writing standard.

The high school's math students mirrored a poor state trend, with just 21 percent either meeting or exceeding the state standard. That was 7 percentage points below the Arizona average.

Mayer Unified Superintendent Jim Nelson had mixed emotions about the results. He said he was impressed with his sophomores, 90 percent of whom met or exceeded the state standard in writing.

Nelson reflected on those same students' writing scores as eighth-graders in 2001, noticing a 64 percent gain in improvement. That year, only 26 percent of those students met or exceeded the standard. In reading, 55 percent of eighth-graders in the 2003 test either met or exceeded the standard.

Mayer's writing scores jumped, Nelson said, because the district devoted $15,000 to staff development last year. The money went to show English teachers and other instructors the right way to teach the Six Traits of Writing across the curriculum. They learned how to develop a writing rubric for grading purposes, and the students clearly benefited from that.

"We concentrated on the practice of writing in every course," Nelson said. "Only 10 percent are not meeting the standard now."

But Nelson was disappointed with Mayer's math scores. The governing board expects to discuss the AIMS results at its Sept. 11 board meeting.

"In some areas we're very happy, and others we're taking a look at," Nelson said. "We are going to challenge the administrators to look at this. In math we need to look at what we're not doing."

AIMS' FUTURE

Arizona Schools Superintendent Tom Horne said Tuesday that by the 2004-05 school year he plans to rewrite the entire AIMS test.

Whether a majority of the administrators from the state's school districts will agree to such a plan is another story.

Mayer's Nelson said he believes AIMS is more like a college entrance exam than a high school proficiency test and is focused in the wrong area. He added that more state educators have to be involved in writing the test and they need to get results sooner so that teachers know where to make improvements in their instruction.

"We need to measure proficiency in Arizona, but focus on the high schools," he said. "The goal of the students is to reach proficiency, but the state has changed the rules so many times, teachers are not taking much stock in it."

Linda Nelson of Chino Valley had a different take, and believes that Horne is on the right track by pushing for an increase in student test scores. She said that last spring notices went out to form content-area committees to help revise the AIMS test.

"It is a state rather than a local issue," she said. "The goal is to move everyone from approaching the standard to 'meets' and 'exceeds.' We want to keep moving upwards."

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com