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Tue, June 25

Humboldt schools hit high marks with new system

Four of the six elementary schools in the Humboldt Unified School District earned an A, the top score of the new label system from the Arizona Department of Education.

This year, all Arizona schools receive two grades - one based on the old legacy system, and one based on the new A-F scores. Next year, ADE will issue only A-F scores.

Granville Elementary School is one of the four A schools, and it also earned an Excelling label, its first, following three solid years of earning the Highly Performing label. Three other schools earning an A are Humboldt and Mountain View Elementary, and Liberty Traditional School (K-8), all three of which also earned the Highly Performing label.

Cole Young, principal of Humboldt Elementary School said the A grade validates the efforts of the school's staff and students.

"Every teacher and staff member takes a personal interest in each student we serve. This collective effort reaps the reward of student growth and personal achievement. The 'A' received recognizes and celebrates the hard work and tireless effort of a 'village' not afraid to take on the challenge of high expectations and then surpass them," Young said.

ADE will phase out the legacy designations of Excelling, Highly Performing, Performing Plus, Performing, and Failing after this year and use the A-F grades to hold schools and districts accountable for student achievement.

"In the new system, the percentage of students passing the AIMS plays a different role in total points earned," said Mariela Bean, HUSD public relations director. "The legacy system compares growth to an average; the new system considers each student's achievement grouping (high, medium and low) and establishes a special student growth percentile calculation."

The two middle schools maintained their Performing Plus labels, with Bradshaw Mountain Middle School earning a B and Glassford Hill a C grade. Nine points on a scale of 200 points separate the two middle schools.

"The administration and staff at Glassford Hill Middle School are completely committed to moving student achievement forward quickly and expediently," said Dr. Theresa Matteson, GHMS principal.

She listed strategies already in place at the school: analyze student achievement data; focus on evaluating and coaching instructors; encourage teachers to take ownership for their students' achievement, and encourage students to take ownership of their learning; increase collaboration among teachers, students and parents; extend reading, writing, inquiry across all subjects and classes; and expand the AVID program strategies to all classes. BMMS also has employed these strategies.

Bradshaw Mountain High School again earned a Highly Performing label and a B grade. Coyote Springs and Lake Valley Elementary schools maintained their Performing Plus status and earned a B grade.

Liberty Traditional, with 768 K-8 students, earned an A with a Highly Performing label.

"The teachers are doing their job consistently, and improving their job as educators," said Principal Michael DeRois, adding that the high mark also has to do with the children's and parents' efforts. All the pieces were put in place 15 years ago when the district founded the school to make it successful, and it has "a pretty good record." DeRois said LTS just missed an excelling label again this year.

Schools earned the old legacy labels through a complicated formula that takes into account students' AIMS scores, with one portion being the number of students scoring an "exceeds" on the AIMS. Many districts worked to raise the level of their mid- to top-range students to bump up the number of exceeds in what's called the "Z" score in order to qualify for an Excelling label.

Under the new letter grade system, a high score is more about the percentage of students passing the AIMS and student academic growth at all levels. In fact, the new profile bases 25 percent (50 out of 200 points) of its score on the growth of the lowest performing students. These students are counted again within the total student population for another 25 percent of the score (50 points).

The other 50 percent takes into account the percent of students passing the reading and math portions of the AIMS (100 points). In 2012, the State will add in students' writing scores. Because of the different methods of computing test scores and academic progress, some Excelling, Highly Performing and even Performing Plus schools earned an A grade and some earned a B.

At the high school level, schools may earn a possible nine bonus points in three areas: reaching a target number of English Language Learners graduating into regular classes, their graduation rate, and dropout rate. Elementary and middle schools can earn three bonus points for making their ELL targets.

BMHS earned all nine bonus points. Principal Dan Streeter said the high school's three-year average graduation rate is 81 percent, above the state average of 76. The school cannot control some factors that affect the graduation rate - mobility of the students and their home life, for example.

"Things we can control for are what are we doing for our struggling students? Our focus on this campus has been, in the last couple years, to try to solidify learning targets - what are they learning - and how to measure success," he said.

This past spring, Streeter requested that all failing Algebra I students attend seventh period class twice a week to work with math teachers on acquiring the skills they lacked so they could pass the class. This year, he added Geometry and Freshman and Sophomore English.

"I don't want students falling off the graduation track their first semester of high school," he said.

While the Highly Performing label and B score indicates the tremendous efforts of students and teachers, Streeter said his obvious goal is to be an A school. This year ADE did not take into consideration the AIMS writing scores, for which Streeter said teachers and students worked extremely hard. BMHS students had the highest scores in the county, he said.

The district as a whole missed the A grade by three points, scoring 137, with 140 needed for an A.

"The district has never done better. Our kids are really getting a good education," DeRois said.

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