Payson students are "normal," according to the Arizona Department of Education, and school officials are celebrating.
Statistics from the spring Stanford 9 achievement test show that students in the Payson Unified School District scored well within the normal expected range, according to Bill Lawson, PUSD's curriculum director. The district received a letter from the State Department of Education announcing the scores on Jan. 15.
Eighty-eight percent of Payson's fourth-grade students scored higher than grade average on the state's Stanford 9 test.
The Stanford 9 test, Lawson said, surveys a total composite of tests -- such as reading, writing, mathematics, and study skills -- then divides them into three categories: basic, proficient and advance.
School officials are excited about the district's score in the "basic" category, which measures all the tests combined, but they're even more impressed with the students' reading improvements.
Along with the overall assessment of the district's curriculum, students' reading skills have also improved over the years.
"Through our strategic plan, our No. 1 thing was to be sure we teach the basics," Lawson said. "Then, we said, 'Let's take one of the three 'Rs'-- reading, writing and arithmetic' -- we decided to really stress reading. We've been funneling a lot of our efforts toward that in the last five years. We feel that has given us an indication that we're on the right track."
Lawson said Payson students were reading at slightly below average five yeas ago, scoring in the mid- to high-40s.
"That's the reason we zeroed in on that," he said. "Basically, in five years, now the average is in the high 50s. To raise a district's scores by over 10 percent on a norm test is almost unheard of."
Lawson attributes the higher scores to the district's "intervention" programs.
"We have after-school programs, we have the RAD program, which is the Reading Achievement Development, and we've also put in the accelerated reader program at the middle school," he said. "And, they now teach reading as a subject at the high school."
In addition, the district has devoted more attention to one-on-one teaching of students at the elementary schools.
Now that reading skills have improved, Lawson said the district will focus attention on mathematics.
"We never quit working on curriculum," Lawson said. "If you're not always assessing and seeing where you are, you just become stagnant."