If it’s any comfort to the teachers and students of Frontier Elementary School, they cleaned house on their final round of AIMS tests before the school board shut down the campus.
Frontier students led the district at most grade levels on reading, math and writing tests in the just-released 2011 results and scored well above state averages. Frontier lagged behind the other two elementary schools, however, on the number of students who passed the science tests.
Overall, the district’s students had slightly higher average scores than the state average. But when compared to the seven-year average, the district’s 2011 scores declined in most grades in math and writing, but rose modestly in reading and science.
Another worrisome signal emerged from the data: The longer students spend in Payson schools, the more they lag relative to the state averages — based on grade-level scores.
All three of the Payson Unified School District’s elementary schools did sharply better than the state average in reading, writing, math and science.
Rim Country Middle School still generally scored above the state average, but by a smaller margin than the elementary schools.
However, by high school, the district’s students lag behind the passing rates statewide, especially in science and math.
Meanwhile, the AIMS passing rates in the Pine-Strawberry and the Tonto Basin elementary school districts remained just above the state average in reading and math, but just below the state average in writing and science.
The alternative school operated by Gila County Schools fared much worse, with passing rates of 10 percent in math, 36 percent in reading, 20 percent in writing and 0 in science. A full 83 percent of those students scored in the “falls far behind” category in science.
The state’s decision to make the writing test harder this year resulted in a 15 percentage point drop in writing scores statewide, which also showed up in the local scores. Only 56 percent of students statewide passed the writing test.
Writing scores in Rim Country schools also dropped, but only Julia Randall Elementary School students had a lower passing rate than the state average — at 52 percent. Students at the other Payson campuses did a bit better than the state average on the writing test, with passing rates of 68 percent at Payson High School, 58 percent at RCMS, 59 percent at Payson Elementary — and an impressive 75 percent at Frontier.
State Superintendent of Education John Huppenthal hailed a 3-percent rise in reading scores statewide and a 2-percent rise in math scores. A full 75 percent of the state’s students had a passing score on reading tests for their grade level.
The statewide AIMS test has remained controversial for a decade, as state officials continually revise the questions to bolster initially ruinous failure rates. The required graduation test was supposed to assure every graduating high school student had mastered basic skills in reading, writing and math. But initial failure rates were so high that it triggered a succession of revisions.
Payson officials report that virtually all its students eventually pass the AIMS tests, although some need a final round of summer tutoring after they graduate. However, they also said that repeated failure to pass the test in the early high school years may contribute to the high school’s 17-percent dropout rate.
The tests have become one way to compare one school to another — and to compare the district’s performance to the state average. Because the scores are posted on the state department of education Web site, many people rely on them as a rough measure of school quality.
Overall, the Payson Unified School District scored just barely above the state average in almost every category.
The 2011 scores in math and reading in most grades declined significantly when compared to the district’s own seven-year average.
On the other hand, the 2011 scores rose in most grades in reading and science, when compared to the seven-year average.