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Students test their knowledge

This is the first in a three-day series on local students' results on the AIMS and Terra Nova tests.

In general, local elementary and middle school students fared well on a test measuring their knowledge of state standards.

Officials based the AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) test – a statewide test that Arizona students will now have to pass to graduate high school – on Arizona Department of Education standards for math, reading and writing components.

Third- through eighth-grade students taking the state and national standardized tests during spring 2005 for the first time took just one test, which featured questions from both the AIMS and the Terra Nova, a separate test comparing the level of knowledge among all students across the nation.

Second- and ninth-graders took just the Terra Nova, and 10th-through 12th-graders took just the AIMS.

AIMS scores represent the number of students who fell far below, approached, met or exceeded state standards for their grade level.

Chino Valley Schools

Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD)

"We've never had better results," Linda Nelson, CVUSD's superintendent, said this week. "We are thrilled with our scores."

The district, she said, has "become a data-driven decision-maker."

Students who have experienced the 70-percent passing requirement over the past few years (it began at Heritage Middle School two years ago) have shown substantial increases in their AIMS scores, Nelson said.

During the next school year, she added, CVUSD will house its alternative programs in Chino Valley rather than in Prescott or Prescott Valley and the district also will provide inter-session AIMS help for students who need it.

While Territorial Elementary's students' reading scores fell on the 2005 tests, the writing and math scores either remained stable or increased from the 2004 tests.

Territorial's principal, Grant Turley, said he's concerned about the reading scores and plans to have teachers concentrate during the next school year on helping students with reading.

"Our strong point is math," he said, pointing out that the language barriers English Language Learners encounter on the reading and writing portions may not play as big a role on the math portion.

Kent Evans, principal at Del Rio Elementary, said his fifth graders in 2004-05 (now sixth graders) "were superstars."

"I like to assume they're the end product of Del Rio's excellent education," he said, adding that the school has begun to require exiting students to meet certain standards before leaving fifth grade.

This past year, Evans said, educators at Del Rio put into use "a fairly extensive test-preparation program" that begins at the beginning of the year, rather than "cramming kids just before the test."

This coming school year, he said, Del Rio will employ an assessment and intervention tool to help find students' "actual academic deficiencies."

Scott Muir, assistant principal at Heritage Middle School, said teachers there worked hard during the past year to help prepare students for the AIMS and Terra Nova.

Two years ago, Muir said, Heritage Middle School began requiring its students to attain 70 percent or better to pass their classes (that's the same score the AIMS requires for test-takers to meet standards). The school this past year featured inter-session AIMS tutorials.

Beginning during the 2005-06 school year, Heritage students will get AIMS-related one-on-one instruction during their typical advisory periods (during which students normally work on assignments and homework).

Teachers will focus on raising the testing scores of all students, not just the ones who are falling behind.

Humboldt Schools

Humboldt Unified School District (HUSD)

Supt. Henry Schmitt said he is very pleased with the district's AIMS and Terra Nova scores this year.

"This is black-and-white data," he said, "and, compared to the state, we did quite well."

On average, more than 70 percent of all third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in HUSD met or exceeded the AIMS standards in math and reading.

Mountain View Elementary School fifth-graders, who had 91 percent of its students meet or exceed the standards in math, 81 percent in reading and 73 percent in writing, greatly surpassed other fifth-graders in the district.

Also, Liberty Traditional School sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders stood out in math and reading. Both grades scored noticeably higher in these areas and, on average, 93 percent of the seventh-graders either met or exceeded the math standards.

Michael DeRois, principal at Liberty Traditional School, said his school did "very well, especially considering we had 40 percent growth from last year and a large percentage of new teaching staff."

He gives credit to the staff for the students' achievements because "everyone worked together really well for this success and achievement."

He said his school's philosophy is "direct instruction," adding that "the staff really works at making school enjoyable, but also focuses on the students' time in the classroom."

While students in most grades at every elementary and middle school in HUSD did well, there is always room for improvement, Schmitt said. For example, a total of 18 percent of eighth graders in HUSD fell far below the state standards in math.

Also, "With the K-5 students, we've got some work to do," Schmitt said, adding that the board-approved Consistent Points of Curriculum will help.

He said this approach took more than a year to develop, and involves "every student at every level being assessed on a nine-week basis. At any point in time, we know exactly where each student is in the core learning areas."

He said this will help to identify struggling students and help catch them up with tutoring and one-on-one teacher attention.

"If a child is not at the right reading, writing and math level at the end of third grade, they normally will not catch up," he pointed out.

Brian Buckhholtz, principal at Bradshaw Mountain Middle School, said the writing scores of his students "jumped out. We have Mrs. Cook, a very strong eighth-grade language arts teacher."

He also attributes the school's success in writing to its focus on the Six Traits of Writing, including ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency and convention.

"That's what made these scores stand out," he added.

Though the students performed well in writing,

Buckhholtz said the school needs to improve the number of students in math and reading who fell below the standards.

To correct the problem, he said that for the first time this year, he and the staff will focus on data analysis to identify students who are struggling because of language barriers or other reasons and put them in a special AIMS math class.

"Some of our students will get a double dose of math," he said.

They also will focus on improving both reading and math scores by encouraging students to practice both during their Homebase period at school.

Though these processes, "we'll look at our strengths and weaknesses and focus on those. I can find kids who are falling far below, find out why and go from there."

Mayer Schools

Mayer Unified School District (MUSD)

On average, more than half of the third- through sixth-grade students at Mayer Elementary School either met or exceeded the state standards on their AIMS scores in math, reading and writing.

However, MUSD Interim Supt. Jim Dean said that the "AIMS results were a little below the state average and that doesn't make us real happy. We have some work to do."

The Weekly Professional Development program has been in operation in MUSD since last year, which Dean said involves staff and teachers meeting "to develop strategies to increase those scores."

He said they plan to continue this effort and also "implement in the elementary school what we've had at the junior/senior high," which is data analysis.

He said AIMS scores at Mayer Junior/Senior High have increased over the past couple of years because they have analyzed pre and post tests and helped students improve in weak areas.

"We'll look at the weak areas from the AIMS test and work on those on a daily basis (in the elementary school) to improve those areas and continue to focus on our strengths," he said.

The sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Mayer Junior/Senior High did well in certain areas. For example, 65 percent of the sixth grade students met or exceeded state standards in math, 95 percent did the same in writing and 78 percent of eighth graders met or exceeded the standards in writing.

Prescott Schools

Prescott Unified School District (PUSD)

At the elementary level, Kapp said, PUSD will implement the AIMS Web, a computer program that teachers will use to regularly assess children's standards-based performance.

Professional development at PUSD will focus on standards-based teaching (among other things), Kapp said.

Charter Schools:

On average, several charter schools in the area met or exceeded state standards on the AIMS test, but a few stood out far above the others.

For example, 100 percent of fifth-grade students at Mountain Oak Charter School met or exceeded standards in reading, and 94 percent did the same in writing.

Also, 100 percent of sixth-graders at Mountain Oak met or exceeded standards in math, 92 percent in reading and 93 percent in writing, and 92 percent of third-grade students did the same in writing.

Scores at Franklin Phonetic Primary School also were impressive, with 100 percent of third-, sixth- and seventh-graders meeting or exceeding the standards in writing.

Also, on average, 90 percent of students in most grade levels scored 90 or above in at least one subject.

Students at Skyview School also scored well. Ninety-four percent of its third-graders met or exceeded standards in math and reading, and 100 percent of fourth-graders did the same in math and writing.

One-hundred percent of Skyview seventh-graders met or exceeded standards in math and reading, and 94 percent of eighth-grade students did the same in all three subjects.

While other charter schools did not score nearly as high, at least 60 percent of most students met or exceeded state standards at most schools.

Complete scores for all regular public and public charter schools are available on the Arizona Department of Education Web site at www.ade.az.gov under the "Hot Topics" heading.

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