Nearly across the board, Payson students turned in significantly higher Stanford 9 test scores this year than they did last year, ranking among the highest in Gila County and consistently outmatching state averages.
Payson students were among 593,000 second- through 11th-grade students across the state who took the multiple-choice test that compares how well students have mastered reading, language and math skills compared to students in national sample groups.
According to the test results, which were released by the Arizona Department of Education Monday, Payson students made the biggest gains in language and mathematics, especially in the middle school and elementary grades.
"Overall, Payson has done very well," Payson School Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said. "When you've got whole classes coming out above average, that's a job well-done, and that's attributable to the teachers.
"But there are things that we can do better. There always are. I'd say that we could improve even if we were in the 70th percentile."
In the 10 grades tested, Payson students turned in percentile scores ranging from 47 in 10th grade to 64 in fourth grade for reading, 48 in 11th grade to 57 in seventh grade for language and 49 in third grade to 64 in sixth grade for mathematics.
Scores are calculated by "percentile rank," which compares students' performance to a nationwide group of students in the same grade. A percentile rank of 55, for example, means that grade level scored better than 55 percent of all students who took the test.
Payson scores dropped slightly in third, ninth and 11th grade in mathematics and 10th and 11th in reading. It's important to note, however, that students are tested at different grade levels each year, so grade-level results represent the efforts of different class communities from year to year.
Payson's greatest gains, which were recorded in math and language at the elementary school level, mirrored state improvements.
"When we first published the math standards in 1996, we heard complaints they were too rigorous," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan said in a press release this week. "Clearly our students can master this material and are benefiting from a more challenging curriculum.
"I have to believe these scores are the result of our single-minded focus on improving student achievement."
This is the third year Arizona students have been required to take the Stanford 9 normalized test, which provides parents and educators with a yearly snapshot of how well students have mastered fundamental skills in comparison to other students across the country.
Next school year, Arizona students also will be required to take the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards in grades three, five, eight and high school. Beginning next year, high school students will be required to pass the state's high school AIMS test to graduate.
AIMS is an achievement test designed to test what students know. A norm-referenced test such as Stanford 9 measures how students perform in comparison with their peers. State educators hope to use both tests to help gauge overall student achievement.
"As far as norm-referenced tests go, we have to be very careful about how we interpret them," Weissenfels said. "They don't show us what students know. They just show us what students know in comparison to another group. They give us hints about the strengths and weaknesses we have in our curriculum and the strengths and weaknesses individual students might have.
"But we have to be very careful about how we use the test results," he said. "We could make some bad judgments if we interpret them the wrong way, but they can be helpful if correctly applied.
"AIMS testing will tell us what our students know," he said. "It has the opportunity to tell us more detailed information about a child's education and what the school is doing about that child's education."
The district began a comprehensive plan to improve student learning in 1996, and district teachers and administrators have been upgrading the district's curriculum ever since. Last year, the Payson School Board approved a new K-3 curriculum designed to bring local teaching practices in line with state standards, and earlier this month the board approved a new curriculum program with the same objectives for grades K-8.
Parents who have questions about their child's individual Stanford 9 test scores, which were mailed out earlier this month, can call their child's principal or the district office and set up an appointment, Weissenfels said.
"The best way to find out what the results mean is to make an appointment with your principal to interpret the results," he said. "We try to send out brochures that explain how to read the test results, but the whole process is still very confusing."
Administrators plan to use the district's overall test results to help teachers shore up weaknesses in curriculum and build on strengths. The scores also will be used to help tailor curriculum for individual classes.
"The scores indicate that the students (who were) in grades 10 and 11 could benefit from a little extra attention in math," Weissenfels said, "so we'll try to provide that. In that sense, the test helps us tailor the curriculum to specific student needs."
Mixed bag for P-S School
Pine-Strawberry Elementary School's Stanford 9 test results, which were released by the Arizona Department of Education Monday, showed a mixed bag of strong improvements and significant shortfalls from last year.
Students in third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades, for example, posted scores that were as much as 26 percentile points higher than last year's scores, while fourth- and eighth-grade students posted scores that were as much as 15 percentile points lower than last year's scores.
Math scores for fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades were below state averages, while scores for third and fifth grades were above state averages.
P-S Principal Kathe Ketchem could not be reached for comment.
The Stanford 9 test is a norm-referenced test that provides parents and educators with a yearly snapshot of how well students have mastered reading, language and math skills compared with a national sample group. Arizona students have taken the test for three years.
In reading, P-S students posted higher scores than last year in grades three, six and seven, and lower scores in fourth, fifth and eighth. All scores for reading were above the averages for Gila County and all but the score posted for fourth-grade reading were at or above state averages.
In language, students posted higher scores than last year in third, fifth, sixth and seventh and lower scores in fourth and eighth grades. All language-skill scores were above the averages for Gila County and all but the score posted for second-grade language skills were at or above state averages.
Tonto Basin Elementary School and Young Elementary School, which both have small class sizes, posted scores that were mostly at or above state averages.
In Tonto Basin, scores that fell below state averages were registered in third-grade reading, language and math, and in eighth-grade language skills. In Young, scores that fell below state averages were filed in third-grade reading, language and math skills.