Payson students mostly outperformed others statewide in spring’s standardized AIMS tests, although many scores fell within the district as they rose elsewhere, according to recently released results.
All three elementary schools turned in strong performances in the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test, surpassing state scores in the number of students meeting or exceeding state standards in grades three, four and five in reading, writing and math.
Rim Country Middle School scores generally improved over last year, though they fell short of others statewide in writing and math. However, reading scores at RCMS returned better than those elsewhere in the state.
Payson High School students turned in strong performances in reading and writing, but fell off in math. However, sophomores bested both last year’s district scores and this year’s state scores in math.
This year also marked the second for the science AIMS test. Payson students out-tested those elsewhere in the state, although all scores returned low. Just 66 percent of Payson fourth- and eighth-graders met or exceeded the standards, but that percentage was higher than the state average.
“Overall I think we did well,” said Payson schools Director of Curriculum Kathy Kay.
The scores from one year to the next compare different sets of students, and so aren’t scientific, Kay said. “You also don’t have the same teachers.”
That mobility coupled with annual changes in the AIMS test itself make comparisons difficult.
Kay also said that writing is difficult to judge because judges hand-score the test. The Arizona Republic reported that wild fluctuations” in AIMS writing scores have convinced the state to make students answer 18 multiple-choice questions plus write an essay beginning in 2011.
Because of budget issues, only fifth, sixth, eighth and high schoolers will take the writing test beginning next year, according to Kay.
With the science test, Kay said that the multiple-choice format potentially compromises its significance.
“The teachers at Payson High School teach science the way it should be taught — hands-on, interactive with student involvement,” Kay wrote in an e-mail.
That knowledge may not translate well to a paper test.
She adds that the National Science Teachers Association does not support multiple choice testing for science.
This year, second and ninth graders took the standardized TerraNova test, while students in grades three through eight, along with sophomores in high school, took AIMS.
High school students continue to take AIMS until they pass to graduate. Kay said no students failed to graduate because of the test.
Although the meaningfulness of AIMS has been debated, a task force designed by the Legislature to examine the test recommended keeping it.
Kay said the district will examine this year’s data through August. Teachers, administrators and specialists will mine it, examine corresponding curricular strengths and weaknesses and make changes as necessary. Students’ individual scores help determine which kids need extra help, although Kay said educators consider other factors besides test scores.
The test’s difficulty has not changed since 2005, said Arizona Schools Chief Tom Horne in a news release.