State Issues School Grades

Middle school rises, but high school falls

Making the grade

Making the grade |

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Making the grade

This year, every school in Payson received a B letter grade based on student test scores, boosting the district’s overall rating from a C last year to a B this year.

Beleaguered Rim Country Middle School registered the biggest gain, rising from a D to a B based on student scores on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test (AIMS). The district presented the state-issued scores at a public meeting on Monday.

Last year, Rim Country Middle School suffered its second D in two years. Principal Will Dunman said he planned to put all the students that did not pass their AIMS test in a Response to Intervention (RTI) math class, a new approach. He said the district had already initiated an RTI reading program in years past that helped improve test scores.

The two elementary schools in town, Julia Randall Elementary and Payson Elementary School also received a B grade. JRE improved by a letter grade, since last year it earned a C.

Other Rim Country schools struggled with the state’s rating system, including Tonto Basin and Pine, which both received Cs. The Shelby School, a small, charter, arts school in Tonto Village, got a D.

The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) bases its school grades program on a 200-point system that relies mostly on AIMS test scores in core academic subjects. The system gives extra weight to schools whose students improve their scores from one year to the next.

Half of the possible points stem from the academic growth of all students. However, progress made by students in the bottom 25 percent essentially counts double in assigning a school a grade.

The composite score stems from the percentage of students that passed the AIMS test. In elementary school, the composite score also takes into account the percentage of English Language Learners. The scores also reflect graduation and drop-out rates.

RCMS received a total of 129 points out of 200.

The high school was the only school in the district to drop a grade, going from from an A to a B.

The high school’s growth numbers showed the steepest decline, from 72 points last year to 53 points this year.

Critics of the state’s new rating system say it relies too heavily on a single set of tests in a few, core academic subjects. Districts get little credit for the performance of the top students, the amount of extra training among the faculty, the number of advanced courses, on-campus discipline, parental involvement or other things that go into making a great school.

In a letter to parents on the Arizona Department of Education Web site, State Superintendent of Education John Huppenthal explained the reasoning behind the letter grades, “To hold schools accountable in a fair and systematic fashion, each school is equally evaluated both on AIMS performance and how much students grow academically from one year to the next. Other factors such as AIMS improvement, drop-out rate, graduation rate and English Language Learner proficiency rates are taken into consideration, when applicable.”

The Web site explains that the growth score accounts for half the letter grade, while the composite score encompasses the other half.

The ADE Web site then clarifies what goes into determining academic growth, “Academic growth is determined by comparing the change in AIMS test scores from one year to the next for similarly achieving students across the state. This is done to evaluate how well a school is growing its students, academically, as they advance from one grade to the next.”

These calculations allow the ADE to analyze how students grow academically from one grade to the next, says the Web site.

The solid B for every school guaranteed the district an overall grade of B and a score of 130.

The other elementary schools in Rim Country, Pine-Strawberry, Tonto Basin and The Shelby School received a C, a C and a D respectively.

The Payson Center for Success as an alternative school received a B.

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