More than half of Arizona’s best public schools can be found in the East Valley, according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.
State officials labeled 128 schools, including 67 in the East Valley, as "excelling," based on their students’ graduation and dropout rates, academic progress and performance on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test.
Just two East Valley schools were rated "underperforming," the lowest of four labels. Most East Valley schools were labeled "highly performing" or "performing" under a system revised this year to give more schools positive labels.
Many of the top schools are scattered from Scottsdale to Gilbert, from Mesa to Ahwatukee Foothills.
Five schools in the Gilbert Unified School District were labeled "excelling," and an additional 10 were designated "highly performing."
"The labels just reaffirm what we already knew: When you provide solid curriculum and deliver it to students, things will fall into place," said Helen Hollands, president of the Gilbert district governing board. "I think the success of students speaks for itself."
Barbara Remondini, principal of the "excelling" Brimhall Junior High School in southeast Mesa, said the credit goes to hard-working, well-trained teachers.
"They demand high performance from students — and they get it," she said.
The East Valley’s results under the state accountability system were much better than those under the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law. The federal performance labels, also released Wednesday, showed about 40 East Valley schools failing to make adequate yearly progress.
Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, said the state’s system is more accurate than the federal one, which has 144 ways for schools to fail.
In addition to the excelling schools, state officials labeled 165 schools as "highly performing," 663 as "performing," and 150 as "underperforming." The state labels are required under legislation enacted when voters approved an education sales tax in 2000.
Other East Valley results showed:
• Three charter schools — Chandler’s Bright Beginnings, Gilbert’s Edu-Prize, and Fountain Hills Charter School — earned the "excelling" label. Results for Tempe Preparatory, which received an "excelling" label last year, were not released Wednesday pending an appeal by the school.
• More than half of the high schools and junior high schools in the Mesa Unified School District and three Mesa elementary schools were labeled "excelling."
• Chandler’s Bogle Junior High School was rated "excelling," and six other Chandler schools were labeled "highly performing." But most other labels in the Chandler Unified School District were put on hold because of a technical glitch that should be resolved by mid-November, district officials said.
• Half of Kyrene Elementary School District’s 24 schools and two Tempe high schools — Corona del Sol and Desert Vista — were labeled "excelling."
• Three schools in the Tempe Elementary School District were rated "highly performing," and two — Arredondo and Evans — were found to be "underperforming."
This is the second year that Evans has underperformed. If Evans doesn’t improve next year, it could be declared failing and face state intervention.
Debra Gomez, Tempe Elementary’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said Evans staff have already started working toward improvement. Last summer, teachers received special training in teaching reading.
"We know that will have a good impact," Gomez said.
Statewide, this year’s picture looks much brighter compared to last year’s, but that’s not necessarily because schools have improved, though many have.
Under Horne’s leadership, the state Board of Education changed criteria this year, resulting in many more schools earning top labels. For example, last year, there were just three "excelling" schools; this year, there are 128.
"We have worked hard to make the state system fair and accurate," Horne said.
School officials said parents and the public have to look beyond the labels to actual test results to determine if schools have improved. For instance, two Mesa schools — Webster and Lowell elementary schools — were underperforming last year, but performing this year. AIMS scores improved in each grade level and subject at both schools, by as much as 36 percentage points in one grade tested at Lowell.
"They both had a lot more kids passing AIMS, and fewer falling far below the standards," said Joe O’Reilly, Mesa’s executive director of student achievement support.