The latest state grades for schools statewide brought tears and cheers to Payson, where Payson High School’s ranking jumped to an “A” and Rim Country Middle School got another “D.”
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) held off releasing the grades for schools statewide for months, before this week releasing the ratings based almost entirely on student test scores in core academic subjects.
Payson High School (PHS) jumped from a “C” to an “A,” giving former principal Kathe Ketchem a chance to announce the news to teachers at a Thursday staff meeting.
“Your work last year blew the socks off of everyone,” said Ketchem.
However, across the football field, Rim Country Middle School (RCMS) reeled from the news that it received a “D” the second year in a row. The only good news for the middle school lay in word that the state had dropped the threat of taking over schools that fail three years running.
“What I see from students is that some take it seriously and others do not take it seriously,” said RCMS Principal Will Dunman. “And some students are not great test takers.”
Julia Randall Elementary’s (JRE) grade dropped from a “B” last year to a “C”, while Payson Elementary School (PES) received a “B” again this year. However, the district last year shut down Frontier and put grades 3-5 at JRE and grades K-2 at JRE, making it hard to compare scores at either school to previous years.
Meanwhile, Tonto Basin received a “C”, down from last year’s “B”.
The Pine-Strawberry district again was graded with a “B.”
But what do these grades mean?
The ADE bases the letter grades for schools mostly on standardized test scores, including the AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) tests. The state’s formulas attempt to measure student progress from one grade to the next.
Arizona students take their first AIMS test in third grade and their last in 10th grade. However, freshmen in high school do not take AIMS. Therefore, all of the high school scores are based on the results of 10th-grade students, said Nick Bishop, the Interim Director of Accountability in the ADE research department.
The Department of Education staff explained that schools can receive up to 200 points. That score includes the “composite” average passing scores in math and reading. It also awards points based on improvements in student scores in a given year. ADE uses an algorithm to compare the increase in student scores at a particular school with others in a testing peer group statewide.
“The calculation takes up to 24 hours to complete,” said Bishop.
Half of the points awarded for that improvement in scores centers on the performance of the bottom 25 percent of students.
PHS students showed the most improvement in this lowest 25 percent group — going from 46 points last year, to 72 points this year. That works out to a 26-percent increase.
In comparison, RCMS had a growth score of 34, JRE had 41 and PES did not have a growth score because students do not take an AIMS test until third grade. PES only serves kindergartners through second-graders.
The Department of Education bases the grades of elementary schools mostly on student performance on the Stanford 10 test second-graders take.
In a press release, the ADE said out of 1,733 schools analyzed for this year’s school grades, 23 percent received an “A”, while 34 percent received a “B”. Twenty-five percent increased their letter grades, while 62 percent maintained them.
“We are able to identify educational weaknesses and strengths that can help drive schools to improve. I am committed to working with our educational leaders, teachers, parents and students as we identify areas needing improvement, and develop strategies to continue to improve results,” wrote State Superintendent John Huppenthal in a press release.