A few months ago, students received their grades. Now, Arizona schools get theirs.
Students in the East Valley and across the rest of the state took the AIMS test last spring. This week, their collective scores were tabulated to give their schools grades of their own.
There are several bright spots among the East Valley schools. Chandler’s Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary School jumped from its D grade last year to an A this year.
Three Mesa high schools — Westwood, Mesa and Skyline — took last year’s Cs and turned them into Bs. Another, Red Mountain High, jumped from a B to an A.
Gilbert Unified School District more than doubled the number of A schools it has — from 7 in 2011 to 17 in 2012.
Overall, of the 1,733 Arizona public schools, 23 percent received As, while 34 percent received Bs. In comparing 2011 and 2012, of the 1,473 schools who received letter grades in both 2011 and 2012, there was an overall increase in both As and B from 2011 to 2012, and a decrease in Cs and Ds.
There are more schools with grades this year because the state added a way to evaluate small schools, with populations under 100 students, alternative schools and kindergarten through second-grade schools. They did not receive grades last year.
In looking at schools that received grades both years, 25 percent increased their grades in the state, while 62 percent maintained them.
“Through our A-F letter grading accountability system we are able to identify educational weaknesses and strengths that can help drive schools to improve,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal said in a news release. “I am committed to working with our educational leaders, teachers, parents and students as we identify areas needing improvement, and develop strategies to continue to improve results for our students.
This year, for the first time ever, Arizona schools are receiving their grades without the previously used “legacy” labels.
Prior to 2011, Arizona had in place a set of labels — excelling, highly performing, performing plus, performing, underperforming and failing — that were given to schools each year based primarily on their students’ scores on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards.
Then lawmakers — led by then-Sen. Huppenthal, R-Chandler — approved letter grades to measure schools. For one year, both “legacy” labels and grades were issued, with lawmakers voting to make the transition complete this year.
While there are no F schools listed among the data released from the Arizona Department of Education, there were more than 150 schools with Ds. Three were in Mesa Unified School District, including Lehi and Lowell elementary schools. Both schools received Ds last year as well.
Mesa’s Distance Learning Program was the third to receive a D. But Joe O’Reilly, the district’s executive director of student achievement support, said most students only take a class here and there through MDLP. And it would have been only those full-time students who would have taken AIMS.
Of Apache Junction Unified School District’s six campuses with grades, four received Cs and two received Bs. Last year, five of its schools had Bs, and one had a C.
But looking through the grades of other East Valley districts, it appears there were changes — mostly to the positive — from last year.
For instance, none of Mesa’s high schools earned a C this year. Last year, there were three.
Thirteen of the 25 Kyrene Elementary School District campuses receiving grades got As.
Gilbert saw two of its junior high schools — Mesquite and Highland — move up from Cs to Bs.
“(Gilbert school district) teachers and administrators worked diligently to improve student achievement, and their efforts have paid off. I am absolutely thrilled with the substantial increase in student growth scores in reading and math as well as the overall increase in proficiency,” Barbara VeNard, assistant superintendent of educational services, said in an email.
All of Chandler’s high schools — plus Arizona College Prep — again received As.
“To me, that is the capstone,” Superintendent Camille Casteel said. “Those high schools are the culmination of the efforts of K-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade). This doesn’t happen when they get to the high schools. It’s the culmination of a lot of outstanding teaching. The fact that a lot of our graduates, our high schools, were As again, it’s just thrilling. It’s awesome.”
The grades are awarded based on how students performed overall on AIMS, as well as how many students performed better than the prior year. There are 200 points possible, with half given for test results and half given for growth. Schools must have received at least 140 to receive an A.
Tempe Preparatory Academy and BASIS Scottsdale, both independently-run public charter schools, received the fourth highest points in the state, behind schools in Laveen and Tolleson and Tucson’s BASIS, a charter school. In fact, three BASIS schools, including one in Chandler, were in the top 10 point receivers in the state.
Now that the schools have their grades and test scores, school districts can look to see where improvements can be made.
In Mesa Unified School District, staff members share the data with teachers, even giving them the individual results of students who will be in their classes when school begins Aug. 8.
“What you look for is where we did well and why we did well and what we need to improve,” said O’Reilly. “You drill down to the concepts. What’s important is not just the score, but what do we do now based upon this information.”
The teachers and staff look at the curriculum and what students are grasping and what they are not.
“This is a very big and important piece of information, but it’s not the only information the teachers have as they start to make plans for the coming year
It’s telling us about student achievement. The teachers study it and try to use it to try to help them in the coming year,” O’Reilly said.
On Thursday, the state also released AIMS scores. According to the department of education, there were slight improvements to science, reading, writing and math scores from 2011 to 2012. Overall, 6 percent more students passed science, 4 percent more passed reading, and 1 percent more passed writing and math.
AIMS math and reading tests are taken in grades three through eight, plus 10th grade. Writing is taken in grades 5, 6, 7 and 10, and science in grades four, eight and 10.
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