School Achievement Rankings Spell Good News For Payson Students

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Students, teachers and administrators in the Payson School district are celebrating the topnotch achievement profiles recently awarded by the Arizona Department of Education.

Julia Randall and Payson elementary schools earned "Highly Performing" rankings, Frontier Elementary and Payson Center for Success received "Performing Plus" grades.

Rim Country Middle School and Payson High School were rated "Performing."

Payson Unified School District Superintendent Sue Myers said the rankings are proof that local educators are providing quality education for local children.

"It's obvious the teachers are doing a great job by what we see (in the rankings)," she said. "You know there are 144 different ways (a school) can miss out on earning a ‘highly performing' rank."

Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Programs Bill Lawson calls the local schools' showings in the annual state evaluation system a real plus for the district.

"It's excellent. Earning those good ratings is very difficult," he said. "(The rankings) are complex. There are so many ways students are evaluated -- gender, content, grade, ethnicity and programs they are enrolled in."

Payson High School first-year principal Roy Sandoval, formerly principal of PES when it was evaluated the last three years, led a determined attempt to lift the elementary school's ranking. "Getting it (highly performing) was a calculated attempt. We looked at our kids back to third grade and found out where they were strong and weak (academically)."

After Sandoval and his staff evaluated the PES students, an after-school program was designed to meet their needs.

"Our program was prescriptive. Give the credit to Mary Ann Runzo, Pat Heizer and the other teachers for their work after school with the kids," Sandoval said. "It all comes down to the staff."

For PES third-grade teacher Lori Pfarr, a 16-year veteran, the school's success can be attributed to the attitude teachers bring to the classroom.

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JRE principal Peggy Miles says she is elated that her school has been named "highly performing."

"I love teaching. It's new and different every day," she said. "It's exciting to learn new things."

Rim Country Middle School's "Performing" ranking represents a drop from the "Highly Performing" ranking it held for the past two years.

Movement to more accountability

Public school rankings have been doled out annually since former Governor Jane Hull signed the AZ LEARNS (Leading Education through the Accountability and Results Notification System) law in 2002.

AZ LEARNS' purpose is to tell administrators, parents and the public how a school has performed against recent statewide trends, precisely where a school needs help, and by how much it should progress in order to meet or exceed new growth benchmarks.

Arizona's system also measures school performance by student achievement on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test.

The evaluation of state schools is based on average percentage of students in the "exceeds the standard" category on AIMS over a three-year average as well as total points earned on adequate yearly progress reports mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

In ranking schools, the AZ LEARNS formula takes into consideration the percentage of students in the school passing AIMS, change in the percentage of students in the lowest AIMS performance category and Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) or the academic performance of individual students from year to year.

In high school, graduation and drop-out rates are also included in the evaluations.

Following annual evaluations, all schools -- public and charter -- are ranked on a grade scale.

The possible grades are:

  • Under performing
  • Performing
  • Performing Plus
  • Highly performing
  • Excelling

Any school designated as "under performing" must notify residents they are under performing within 30 days. Schools then have 90 days to develop an improvement plan and must implement it with the help of residents in the school's attendance area and the Arizona Department of Education. Solution teams are then sent to help the school improve student performance.

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