Enrolling in a Payson High School AIMS intervention class appears to be the key that unlocks the door to graduation.
Just ask junior Marquel Waterman.
"The class helped me pass the AIMS writing test and better my writing skills for my other classes," she said.
In the Payson High School junior class of 173 students, only three regular education pupils have not yet passed the high stakes reading and writing AIMS test that is a requirement for graduation from an Arizona high school.
That mark is in sharp contrast to two years ago when more than 30 juniors hadn't earned passing or "Meets the Standards" marks on the AIMS exam.
Principal Roy Sandoval attributes the newfound success to the AIMS course being taught by Journee Durant.
"She does a wonderful job and having only three who have not passed is the best we have ever done," he said.
The intervention classes, which are held throughout the year, attract mostly juniors who have not previously passed the AIMS reading and writing tests.
"It's part of the students' regular schedule," Sandoval said.
When Durant began teaching the class for the first time this fall, her approach was to research the reasons some students were failing.
She learned that often students didn't know how to use context clues, answer open-ended questions, write successful responses or think through a test.
Knowing the reasons for failure, she formatted an eclectic plan of remediation that was based on information she acquired from a variety of sources.
"I went to any resource I could find including the AIMS sample test Web site," she said.
Among her approaches was to have the students take practice assessments in the same format as the AIMS exams.
She also worked to remove all barriers from their learning skills and to build test-taking confidence.
The school's curriculum, which is aligned to state or AIMS standards, was also a valuable tool in bringing students up to standards, Sandoval said.
The intervention class and schoolwide approach paid huge dividends when most of the junior students passed the test after coming up short as sophomores.
Durant says she enjoys the challenge of helping raise the students to state standards, but admits testing day was almost as apprehensive for her as it was for the students.
"Yes, I did some worrying," she said. "But it was worth it... they (students) are now really excited to have passed because they can graduate."
Junior Cody York, one of those who passed the test last fall, expressed his appreciation to the teacher, "I love Ms. Durant."
For those students who have not yet passed AIMS, they'll have another chance when the reading and writing tests are administered again, in two parts, Feb. 26 and 27.
Sophomores will also be taking the exam, but for the first time.
In addition to the reading and writing tests, students will be tested on math in April. They'll also take a first-ever AIMS science test, but do not have to pass it to graduate.
Another approach to passing AIMS
Using intervention classes to help students, rather than relying totally on before-and-after school or Saturday tutoring, became a reality over a year ago when most students didn't take advantage of the extra help available to them.
In 2005, Sandoval's first year as PHS principal, he admitted his shock when he learned students had not signed up for free tutoring paid for by the state.
At an AIMS tutoring session during fall break, only a handful of students had picked up their state-provided study guides and were participating.
Baffled by the students' apathy, especially since juniors and seniors must pass reading, writing and math tests before they graduate, Sandoval approached individual students telling them, "it (the tutoring) is not mandatory, but it's in your best interest."
PHS counselor Don Heizer also expressed concern students were not enrolling in tutoring, especially since school research shows those who participate, succeed on the test.
"We know when students take advantage of what's being offered them they pass (AIMS)," he said.
But as much as Sandoval and Heizer encouraged the students, some continued to pass up tutoring help. So, PHS school administrators eventually decided the intervention classes might be the key to student success.
"So far, that has been true," Sandoval said.
Payson High's approach is somewhat unique from larger Valley high schools where tutoring continues to be the remediation of choice.
"Down there, the students live closer to campus and it's easier for them to show up on Saturdays or be there before and after school," Sandoval said. "In Payson, we have students who live 30 miles away and might not have the transportation."
The school administration's decision to rely on the intervention class as remediation rather than tutoring, turned pure genius yesterday, Thursday, when schools around the state were told tutoring funding was being suspended.
"They (the state education department) said there was no money left for the tutoring," Sandoval said. "I'm glad we weren't relying on that."