State Finally Catching Up To Payson

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The state of Arizona made progress -- and finally, they caught up with Payson. I say that in the context of setting goals for education.

For years, the primary goal of Payson Unified School District has been the continuous improvement of student achievement.

When the 2013-14 school year starts in July, the measurement and improvement of student achievement will now be the top priority of every school district in Arizona. The Governor, the State Superintendent and legislators have all demonstrated their resolve to make student achievement the primary focus of their education reform agenda.

The greatest accomplishment of the Payson Unified School District this year has been to get all of the pieces in place to accomplish and sustain the continuous improvement of student achievement.

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Ron Hitchcock

There are many facets, and pieces of the student achievement puzzle that have to be in place. Each of those pieces must be aligned with each other and be synchronized across our schools and district. Thanks to numerous internal needs assessments, recommendations from external experts, audits and performance reviews by the Arizona Department of Education, we have a clear vision and expectations.

That vision and those expectations will be aligned with the central goal of the PUSD Governing Board – Continuous Improvement of Student Achievement. Curriculum, instruction, assessment and interventions will be the foundational elements of the PUSD culture.

The Governing Board has amended and created all necessary policies to clearly define the expectations. During the end of the current year, and at the very beginning of the 2013-2014 school year there will be focused, aligned professional development and training for all staff to provide the proper tools and support they need to implement and achieve the Board’s expectations.

Finally, to ensure accountability, all districts in Arizona will be implementing a new model for the evaluation of teachers and principals. The evaluation model will focus less on teaching and more on student learning. Student learning will be measured by students’ ability to demonstrate attainment of mastery of state standards. Getting all of these components in place, over a relatively short time is a huge accomplishment.

Payson High School (PHS) students made progress, and accomplished great things. They exceeded the state average for student achievement in a variety of measures. PHS earned an “A” grade for their achievement on AIMS, the state mandated test for academic success.

On the ACT, a national test to measure readiness for college, PHS students scored well above the state average in every subject. PHS graduates, completing their first year at the University of Arizona, received the Governor’s Award for having the highest grade point average of any group from any high school in Arizona.

In education terminology, progress and accomplishments mean student growth. Growth is measured by testing students against a standard of performance.

Next year, every Arizona school will have new standards of performance, called the Common Core Standards. Those standards are common across 48 states, hence the name “common” core standards.

Students must demonstrate growth by improving their performance toward mastery of those standards, over various intervals of time, daily, weekly, quarterly or yearly.

In Arizona, that measurement has been the AIMS test, Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards. Next year that measurement is supposed to be the PARCC test, developed by the Partnership for Assessment of College and Careers. Arizona is one of 27 states in the PARCC partnership. Whatever test instrument is mandated, it will be a measurement of students’ mastery or growth toward mastery of standards of performance.

In summary, the elemental components that are in place for next year are:

1) A reset and repurposing of the PUSD culture and climate to focus on student achievement;

2) A reset of district policies, procedures, staff training, and organization with the same focus;

3) Implementation of new Common Core Standards, a new state assessment model and a new teacher/principal evaluation model, with the same focus.

All of these activities and initiatives constitute a big change, a huge accomplishment, and major progress for the students, parents, and staff of Payson Unified School District.

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