Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Kapp has evaluated the validity of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) since its inception.
In fact, Kapp's district involved some of its representatives in the original writing of the AIMS — a criteria-referenced test that measures each student against a set of state standards in mathematics, reading, and writing.
So was he surprised when PUSD students scored above Yavapai County and state scoring levels in all three sections of AIMS for 2003? Well, not exactly.
"That's the pattern. It's happened in the past," Kapp said of PUSD's third-, fifth-, eighth-, and 10th-grade students' performances on AIMS the last several years. "Out of 12 areas of testing this year, we increased in six and decreased in six from last year."
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.
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."
PRESCOTT UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
PUSD raised its scores in third-grade math (from 75 percent meeting or exceeding the standard in 2002 to 81 percent in 2003); fifth-grade math (65 percent to 67 percent) and reading (76 to 79); eighth-grade math (36 to 37) and writing (59 to 63); and 10th-grade writing (73 to 75).
PUSD saw drops in third-grade reading (90 to 85 percent) and writing (94 to 88); fifth-grade writing (82 to 74); eighth-grade reading (76 to 72); and 10th-grade math (56 to 50) and reading (87 to 70, the district's largest decline).
Kapp is most concerned about the district's math scores, although the county is only at a 39 percent passing rate. Half of last year's PUSD sophomores still need to meet or exceed the standard on the AIMS math portion.
Kapp said the math test must focus more on practical and computational skills, as well as problem solving, rather than higher-level subjects such as algebra and geometry.
"The math sections of AIMS need to be revised, at least at the eighth- and 10th-grade levels," said Kapp, a former math teacher. "Fifty percent of our sophomores passed math, but that number has to come up."
The class of 2006 is the first one that must pass AIMS in order to graduate, under an Arizona State Board of Education mandate. Therefore, this year sophomore AIMS scores will receive more scrutiny.
"Two years ago we didn't have graduation to hold over their heads," Kapp said. "For five or six years we've been working to align the curriculum with academic standards. We're not afraid to teach to the standards. We're ahead of the curve a little bit."
Last year, 94 percent of PUSD third-graders met or exceeded the state standard, though that number dropped to 88 percent in 2003. The latter figure remains 10 points above the county average, but if a decline occurs again next year, PUSD may want to keep a closer eye on the situation.
When analyzing AIMS scores, Kapp not only looks at the students who are performing at and above the standard, but those pupils who either fall far below or approach the standard.
In math alone, PUSD is ahead of the state's curve, but the district still has work to do. Of 316 district third graders who took the test, 15 percent were at the standard, while just 4 percent fell far below. Of 352 district fifth-graders, 29 percent were at the standard and 4 percent fell far below. Of 382 PUSD eighth-graders, 44 percent were at the standard, but 19 percent fell far below, 20 points more than the state average. And of 349 10th-graders, 35 percent fell far below while 16 percent were at the standard.
"We need to make sure we have the energy and funds committed to remediation needs," Kapp said.