Payson schools last week celebrated middle school students who scored as highly proficient on the latest AzMERIT test in English and math.

The top-scoring 6th, 7th and 8th grade students crowded into the JRE gym to get their certificate as proud parents looked on. As their names were called, each student walked along the handshake line, which included Principal Jennifer White, the five school board members and Superintendent Stan Rentz.

The students will all get their names inscribed on plaques along with the top students from years past, to hang in the district offices and at school sites.

Afterwards, the students posed on the steps of the district office building outside the board meeting room so excited parents could snap pictures of students who have excelled on the standardized test critical to the districts state school report card.

More importantly, the high scores mean students are much more likely to graduate near the top of their class and acquire the skills for college or careers.

Many of the students earned top scores in both English and math.

Rim Country Middle School has improved its scores in the past several years, under the leadership of White. Some years ago, the school had a “C” rating, bordering on a “D.” Last year, the school earned a strong “B” rating, with a shot at an “A” in upcoming years, thanks largely to an improvement in student test scores.

(To see the district’s school report card see: //azreportcards.azed.gov/districts/detail/4209)

The district has been celebrating top-scoring students to honor both students and parents and to increase student motivation to do well on the test. The district grade relies on those scores, but the students don’t have any real motivation to do well on the tests – which aren’t linked to their grades. So the celebration of the scores helps students see the benefit of doing their best work on the test, as well as underscore the value of academics.

The 2018 AzMERIT tests demonstrated that while the district’s scores have improved, most students still perform below grade level on the nationally benchmarked test.

In English, only 11 percent of district students ranked as “highly proficient,” which means they scored above grade level. Another 32 percent score as “proficient,” which is close to grade level. A daunting 39 percent scored as “minimally proficient,” which means well below grade level.

In math, 10 percent scored as highly proficient and 26 percent as proficient.

In science, 30 percent scored as highly proficient and 32 percent as proficient.

Perhaps more alarming, only 75 percent of students in the district graduate with a diploma within four years of starting high school, according to the district’s school report card posted on the state department of education’s website.

So that makes the celebration of the district’s top students all the more critical.

The following students scored as “highly proficient” on the 2019 AzMERIT standardized test:

Sixth grade

Cody Ambrosini (ELA)

Taryn Ashby (ELA + MATH)

Austin Axlund (ELA + MATH)

Lauren Crutcher (ELA + MATH)

Benjamin Ewald (MATH)

Teagan Friestad (ELA + MATH)

Sydney Gilbert (ELA)

Caitlyn Hall (MATH)

Ian Harvey (MATH)

Jesson Haught (MATH)

William Hawley (ELA)

Grace Hopson (MATH)

Jeyten Johnson (ELA + MATH)

Leila Lanni (ELA)

Abigail Ortega (MATH)

Isabella Pangallo (ELA)

Zachary Pearson (ELA)

Camilla Porter (MATH)

Lizbeth Reyes Dominguez (ELA+MATH)

Pretoria Rose (ELA)

Seventh grade

Chasity Burdette (ELA)

Darrell Claiborne (ELA)

Haden Davis (ELA)

Aidan Dillon (MATH)

Chloe Hancock (MATH)

Anderson Hatch (Math + ALG)

Micah Hazelo (ELA + MATH + ALG)

Jagger Horne (MATH)

Angelina Jakubek (ELA + MATH)

Thomas Jakubek (ELA+MATH+ALG)

Brooklyn Klein (ELA + MATH)

Ximena Lopez Calderon (ELA)

Angelica MacFarlane (ELA + MATH)

Matthew Martinez (ELA)

Megan McEntire (MATH)

Emmalea McMinimy (ELA + MATH)

Benjamin Menghini (MATH)

Aidan Meredith (ELA + MATH)

Shelbelynn Morris (ELA)

Austin Pelkey (MATH)

Kiara Reed (MATH)

Layla Salerno (ELA)

Raul Sias Peralta (ELA)

Christopher Snyder (ELA)

William Spalding (MATH)

Christine Stone (ELA + MATH+ ALG)

Jazmin Thellmann (ELA + ALG)

Elizabeth White (ELA + MATH)

Eighth grade

Jason Andersen (Math + GEO)

Megan Anderson (ELA+MATH+ ALG)

Madelyn Ashby (ELA + MATH)

Brianna Bramble (ELA)

Jaelynn Bunting (ELA)

Liberty Eavenson (ELA+MATH+ALG)

Anastacia Engler (ELA+MATH+ALG)

Levi Garrels (MATH)

John Goldman (ELA + MATH)

Candy Gonzalez-Felix (ELA)

Padmae Greaney (ELA)

Shaylee Heron (ELA + ALG)

Teagan Hiatt (ELA + MATH +ALG)

William Hubbard (ELA + MATH)

Makena Idoine (MATH)

Rand Jenkins (MATH)

Joseph Lamorie (MATH)

Samantha Lehman (ELA)

Abigail Long (ELA + MATH)

Darren Miller (ELA)

Niles Oberg (ELA + MATH)

Nash Rensch (ELA + MATH+ GEO)

Carlos Rodriguez (ELA)

Rayn Romero (ELA)

McKenzie Sarnowski (ELA)

Kevin Schuler (MATH)

Izabel Sias (ELA)

Braden Soos (MATH)

Braden Tenney (ELA + MATH+ GEO)

Tyler Toone (ELA)

Joel VanZile (ELA)

Javier Antonio Villanueva Magana

(MATH)

Dexter Waterman (Math + ALG)

Magdalene Whaley (Math+GEO)

Christopher Wheeler

(ELA+MATH+GEO)

Robyn Wilson (ELA)

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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