The Payson School board honored high school students who scored as "highly proficient" on the AzMERIT tests. These are just some of top-scoring students, whose names will end on on a plaque in the district offices.

The Payson School District recently celebrated its latest batch of AzMERIT champions, although confusion persists in the community about the tests used to track student academic progress in English and math.

The district concluded its series of ceremonies to recognize students who ranks as “highly proficient” on the statewide tests, which represent Arizona’s customizing of national achievement and skills tests.

The most recent batch of awards to students whose names will be engraved on a series of plaques in the district office included the 9th, 10th and 11th graders who took the test last spring. Seniors don’t take the test. The ‘highly proficient” students scored above grade level on rigorous tests stressing critical thinking skills, based on national standards developed by educators.

Arizona students score below the national average on the nationally-normed tests, perhaps reflecting low teacher salaries, some of the largest average class sizes in the nation and among the lowest per-student spending levels. Arizona cut its public schools during the recession perhaps more deeply than any other state and has yet to all the money cut on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis.

Ironically, a recent appearance by advocates for the 10 percent school district budget override revealed the deep confusion remaining in the community about the AzMERIT test process – and its relationship to the still controversial “Common Core” national academic standards.

Superintendent Stan Rentz and Chief Financial Officer speaking before the Payson Tea Party found themselves coping with questions about whether the district had “dumbed down” its standards by adopting the nationally developed Common Core standards.

Actually, a national education reform movement convinced the federal government to provide grants to help develop national academic standards and then to reward states willing to work those standards into their curriculum. The standards stressed critical thinking skills over rote learning, but posed various challenges. States that either adopted those standards or changed them as Arizona did, initially found student scores dropping because of both the novelty and rigor of the tests.

Payson’s scores have steadily improved as educators worked the standards into the curriculum. As teachers and students got used to the tracking tests administered at each grade level, scores have improved. Payson students in English in the most recent round of tests scored above the state average in seven out of nine grades.

The drumbeat of criticism of Common Core and the heavy reliance on standardized testing to give teachers bonuses, rate school systems and even allocate state funding prompted a political backlash. Last year the legislature passed a law that allows school districts to pick a standardized test from a list of options, including the SAT tests, normally used in the college admissions process.

Payson has so far opted to stick with AzMERIT, mostly because it comes with tracking tests intended to highlight students struggling with core skills. The annual testing allows teachers to identify students in the early grades who are falling behind because they didn’t master key math, English and science skills.

The key to the tests remains whether students try their best, since the tests don’t figure into their own grades. That’s one reason the district celebrates the high-achieving students every year.

The most recent ceremonies highlighted the top scores by many high school students – especially the students who scored “highly proficient” in both English and math.

The highly performing high school students include:



Michelle McGee

Marquessa Owens

Angel Wentz


Cameron Bigelow

Adam Tassell



Mike Dominguez-Ramirez (ELA)

Cole Goldman (ELA + MATH)

Claire Hancock (ELA)

Caitlin Harold (ELA + MATH)

Connor Hatch (ELA)

Esteban Jimenez (ELA)

Kaydence Johnson (ELA + MATH)

Kylan Kirschbaum (ELA + MATH)

Shaylie LeBlanc (ELA + MATH)

Joshua Michels (ELA + MATH)

Rohan Smith (ELA)

Emmy White (ELA)

Isaac Axlund (ELA)

Stone Best (ELA + MATH)

Gwendalyn Bowman (ELA)

Cynthia Campbell (ELA)

Emily Cueto (ELA)

Emilio Diego (ELA)

Nicholas Dimbat (ELA)

Esteban Jimenez (ELA)

Krystal Nash (ELA)

Sebastian Quintero (ELA + MATH)

Jacob Roberts (ELA + MATH)

Carmen Spear (ELA)

Levi Wallis (ELA)

Bucky Wilcox (ELA)


Missy Chiccino (ELA)

Slade Conway (ELA)

Kody Egbert (ELA)

Derek Griffith (ELA)

Easton Redford (ELA)


Makenzie Abney (ELA)

Arianne Baer (ELA)

Enzo Binney (ELA)

Alyssa Boerst (ELA)

Tara Boyd (ELA)

Hayze Chilson (ELA)

Matthew Choate (ELA + MATH)

Zachary Choate (ELA + MATH)

Autumn Gonzales (ELA)

Jordan Houser (ELA + MATH)

William Howell (ELA)

Ellison Hubbard (ELA)

Justin Keegan (ELA)

Barbara MacFarlane (ELA)

Sage Mathews (ELA)

Brandon McEntire (ELA + MATH)

Ethan Meredith (ELA + MATH)

Dylan Michels (ELA)

Cameron Middaugh (ELA)

Luz Andrea Fabiola Salazar Valenzuela (ELA)

Lydia Schouten (ELA + MATH)

Grace Waters (ELA)

ALG l-

Lilianna Isit

Noah Kolasinski


Blake Hathcock

Ivan Wade (fall)

Emeline Whaley

ALG ll-

Lance Beckner

Shelby Dixon

Elliot Driscoll-Lowe

Porter Flake

Arena Haught

Ethan Helding

Kayla Herbel

Matthew McMinimy

Alyssa Miller

Emma Paine

Jack Windle

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