Last year's Payson High School graduates exceeded many of their counterparts in ACT tests.
Using ACT figures, 2007 graduates at Payson High School exceeded national averages for benchmark scores by 14 percentage points.
A higher percentage of students at Payson High School met or exceeded minimum ACT test requirements, than in the state or nation.
ACT tests the level of college preparedness a student has achieved.
"Originally, ‘ACT' stood for American College Testing. In 1996, however, the official name of the organization was shortened to simply "ACT." This change in the official company name was made to better reflect the broad array of programs and services we now offer beyond college entrance testing," said the www.act.org Web site.
ACT scores, among Payson graduating seniors who plan to go on to college, show students at the high school have achieved a high level of college preparedness, State Superintendent Tom Horne said.
Students at Payson High School placed highest in the state in all subjects.
Payson seniors also exceeded their national counterparts in both raw scores and the percentages of students who met or exceeded benchmarks in all subjects.
"ACT scores are based on benchmark scores for each subject," Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval said.
ACT set the benchmark, or minimum acceptable passing score, in English Composition at 18.
83 percent of PHS 2007 grads exceed ACT benchmarks
"What that means is that 83 percent of Payson High School students met or exceeded the benchmark for English composition," Sandoval said.
In the Arizona, an average of 73 percent of graduating seniors who took the ACT test scored 18 or over in English composition.
Using these figures, Payson High School had 10 percent more graduating seniors who placed above the benchmark than the rest of the state.
Nationally, only 69 percent of graduating seniors who took the ACT achieved the minimum benchmark of 18.
In Payson, 76 percent of seniors either met or exceeded the minimum requirements for college algebra.
The benchmark score is set at 22 for college algebra.
Nationally, 43 percent of graduating high school seniors met or exceeded requirements, and 52 percent met or exceeded minimums statewide.
In science, 66 percent of Payson High School seniors met or exceeded minimums.
Test scores for biology are just as impressive, with 36 percent of Payson High School students meeting or exceeding minimums, as compared to 25 percent statewide, and 23 percent nationally.
Additionally, students from Payson High School who took the ACT test achieved higher raw scores on their tests in all subjects.
Payson students earn 22.8 score compared to the 21.1 state average
For example, out of 36 possible points on the English test, Payson students had an average score of 22.8, compared to a state average of 21.1 and 20.7 for a national average.
The composite score (the average score in all subjects combined) for Payson High School was 23.4, compared to a state composite average of 21.8 and 21.2 on the national level.
"A lot of the credit needs to go to the staff here at the high school," Sandoval said.
"We have a wonderful group of teachers and educators who really work hard to give the kids what they need to succeed."
District Superintendent Casey O'Brien also said the teachers deserve a lot of the credit.
"I attribute a lot of it to the quality of instructors we have here in Payson, based on the level of professionalism of our educators," O'Brien said.
Horne said, "This is hard data that once again demonstrates that Arizona's public schoolchildren are performing above the national average. In addition to the ACT, the TerraNova -- which is taken by all students in grades 2 through 9 -- and the Scholastic Aptitude Test, show Arizona students above the national average. I have long advocated for academic rigor in the classroom, and we are seeing the benefits of demanding excellence from students. All students, whether they are college-bound or not, benefit from a classroom atmosphere that expects students to reach their academic potential," Horne said in a press release.
In an interview with the Roundup, Horne said more rigorous curriculums are likely to be at least partly responsible for the levels achieved by Payson High School students.
"It has been my policy to create curriculums that will help high school students become ready to enter college," Horne said.
"I definitely think the more rigorous curriculums in our schools account for much of the high levels of achievement we have seen across the state and in Payson."
O'Brien said credit also needs to be given to the Arizona Academic Scholars Program (AASP) piloted in January 2005 by the Arizona Business and Education Coalition (ABEC) with a grant from the federal government.
Payson Unified School District was one of five initial districts chosen in Arizona to participate in the program.
O'Brien said the rigorous academic standards and curriculum requirements of the program account for a lot of the reason Payson students did so well on their ACT tests.
"Credit also needs to go to the Academic Scholars Program for helping get these students prepared to pass their ACT tests," O'Brien said.