Student test scores haven’t bounced back much this semester with the resumption of in-person classes after months of pandemic disruptions, the Payson school board learned recently.

Somewhere between half and two-thirds of Payson students have either tested at grade level — or made progress toward “proficiency.”

However, at every school and virtually every grade level, most students so far aren’t scoring in the “higher proficiency” category in either math or English.

Overall, in English, only about 56% of all students either ranked as proficient or made gains likely to get them there. In math, 57% either ranked as proficient or made big gains in the semester’s course, said Katrina Sacco, the district’s student achievement director. In each case, “lower proficiency” students making gains account for the majority of students in those categories.

The report focused on the detailed, grade-level tests of basic skills in math and English — with a separate report for each of the four campuses. This report feeds into how the district’s doing on the AzMERIT test and charts individual student progress on key skills in each grade level. As a result, it offers a much more useful measure of whether students are gaining ground or falling behind in time to do something about it. The state suspended testing and ranking schools based on student test scores for a year, due to the disruptions of the pandemic.

Sacco and the student achievement teachers based at each campus broke the latest scores down into four groups. The scores stemmed from tests taken in late September, compared to scores at the start of the semester in August, based on the Galileo tests of basic skills.

Quadrant 1 consisted of high proficiency students making steady gains — the gold standard for student achievement.

Quadrant 2 consisted of higher proficiency students who aren’t getting much better. That’s good — but those students don’t appear to be gaining much from class.

Quadrant 3 consisted of students testing well below grade level — who aren’t making up much ground. That’s the really worrisome category.

Finally, the students in Quadrant 4 test poorly — but they’re making steady progress. In some ways, this group provides the most impressive measure of how the schools are doing, since it’s a measure of how many students are making up hard-to-cover lost ground.

So Sacco’s presentation focused mostly on how each campus was doing in the categories showing student growth — either the already higher proficiency students or the struggling students making gains.

At Payson Elementary School, 60% of the K-2 students ended up in the two, high-growth groups. The bulk of those were not “proficient,” but were making gains. Unfortunately, a large share of the students languished in the “low proficient, low-growth” category.

At Julia Randall Elementary School, student scores were all over the place — but the big majority were “low proficiency.” Fortunately, the two groups showing strong growth accounted for 66% of all students in grades 2-5.

Rim Country Middle School’s chart looked similar. In English, most students ranked as “low proficiency,” but many were making gains. Overall, in English, some 63% were making good gains. However, the low-proficiency, low-growth category included the most students overall.

The middle school students were doing pretty well in math as well — with 61% making good gains. The students showing good growth were, for the most part, not proficient — but gaining ground. Far fewer students ended up in the “higher proficiency” group — whether or not they were making gains.

The situation in the high school grew increasingly grim, with only 49% making gains in English and only 53% making gains in math. In both subjects, most students ranked as “lower proficiency. Worse yet, most of the students making gains were in the ninth grade. The 11th and 12th graders seemed to increasingly fall into the low-proficiency, low-growth category. The same thing happened in math, although less markedly. Only a relative handful of algebra students ranked as “higher proficiency,” although most of those were making good progress.

The report also noted problems for the special education and English-language learner students across all campuses.

Among special education students, only 48% to 52% were making adequate progress, and most of those were in the “lower proficiency” category.

Among students who don’t speak English at home, only 39% to 55% were making adequate gains, with the overwhelming majority of those still in the “low-proficiency” category.

The detailed test scores help teachers focus on students who are faltering — and failing to make gains toward the core skills they’ll need to build on.

The district has a lot of federal money in reserve this semester, given to districts to help make up for the learning losses during the improvised shift to distance learning during the pandemic. The money can help districts come up with extra programs to help students catch up.

The district has already built “reteaching” time into the longer, daily schedule adopted this year along with the four-day school week. The district has also developed a limited number of extra programs on Friday, with extra pay for teachers who offer enrichment or catch-up sessions for students.

However, the test results suggest that the catch up and enrichment programs cobbled together for the return of in-person class and the four-day week have done little to affect the decline in scores that took place during the months of distance learning.

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(1) comment

Phil Mason

I will make this short. Why is it difficult to include easily understandable data that would allow parents and taxpayers make conclusions as to the success or failure of the PUSD?

Let's try two suggestions:

How many students are in each quadrant of the report by school? PS: Don't combine multiple entities and multiple quadrants in the numbers. We can still add them together if we want.

Define "making progress. Does that mean the student is progressing at a level more or less than the rated time frame. PS: Is a student progressing if they improved one month of knowledge over the two months between testing even though their rate of improvement is less than the intervening time frame?

To say it differently, is the progress more or less than the time frame being evaluated? Can parents be comforted that there is a realistic probability the 80-90% of the students that are not in Quadrant 1 can achieve that level this year? - or next year? - or when?

A premier journalistic interrogation of PUSD staff should be able to present that critical information to the funding taxpayers - business owners, property owners and families.

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