KINGMAN - If you've seen teachers around town smiling lately, don't be too surprised - they've got good reason to. The Arizona Department of Education released the 2009 Arizona LEARNS achievement profiles Wednesday morning, with nearly every single school in the city posting some kind of improvement.
Released once each year, Arizona LEARNS is the state's way of measuring each school's year-over-year measure of academic progress, or MAP. The MAP is based primarily on students' performance on the annual Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS test.
Each year, every school in the state is given one of five certifications: underperforming, performing, performing plus, highly performing or excelling. To be a "performing" or "performing plus" school, the school must show a certain year-over-year percentage increase in the number of students meeting the state AIMS standards. To achieve "highly performing" or "excelling" certification, the school must also post an increase in the number of kids exceeding state standards, and that number must also surpass the statewide average.
"The schools that are highly performing and excelling, not only did they perform well on the AIMS, but they had a high enough percentage of students exceeding to outrank their peers at the state," said Gretchen Dorner, director of assessment for the Kingman Unified School District. "You have to have kids exceeding to be excelling."
This year, KUSD received one excelling certification for Manzanita Elementary, which improved two ranks over the performing plus certification it received last year. District Superintendent Roger Jacks said Wednesday that, while he wasn't certain of it, the general belief among district personnel was that it was the first time any KUSD school has managed to earn the state's highest certification.
"That seems to be the gist, that this is our first excelling school," Jacks said.
Hualapai Elementary also improved two ranks from performing to highly performing, while Palo Christi Elementary rose one rank, from performing plus to highly performing. The three other KUSD elementary schools, Black Mountain, Cerbat and La Senita, each improved from performing to performing plus.
What may be the district's biggest accomplishment, however, is the improvement of all three schools that had previously been certified as underperforming: Kingman Middle School, White Cliffs Middle School and Mt. Tipton Elementary.
"The two middle schools, that was a really tough, tough area," Dorner said. "We surpassed our goals, and we went from underperforming to performing plus. That is huge. In one year, that's really exciting."
Assistant District Superintendent Wanda Oden said she and the rest of the administration were extremely thrilled with this year's results. She attributed the across-the-board improvement to a laser-like focus on student achievement, particularly the increased use of data analysis to determine which techniques were most effective and which areas should receive the most attention in the classroom.
"What (KUSD) really focused on all last year was to analyze the data and really drill down," Oden said. "Teachers talk with teachers, saying, 'How can we do a better job on this?'"
Oden also stressed the importance of continuous benchmark tests throughout the year, which gave teachers a better idea of where their students were academically, what was and wasn't working, and whether or not they needed to change their lesson focus.
"I think it was the attention that teachers and principals paid to student achievement on a regular basis all year," she said. "Teachers and principals were regularly proud of the progress on their benchmark assessments, and many of them were really looking forward to the tests this year."
Jacks agreed that the certification results validated the district's plan to focus on student achievement throughout the year. He noted that many schools had improved their certification, even in the face of unprecedented budgetary challenges brought on by the nationwide recession.
"It's very exciting, especially when we had such a difficult year last year with the state financial issues and everything," Jacks said.
Jacks added that he and members of KUSD's school board would be touring all the schools in August to personally congratulate them on their achievements. Now, the challenge will be to figure out what worked in the past year and to replicate it in the coming year, but it's a challenge Dorner said the district is more than willing to meet.
"The principals have all been in contact with me, saying, 'How do we get to excelling?' 'What do we have to do next?'" she said. "They're all really jazzed."
Kingman Academy of Learning also managed a good showing in this year's Arizona LEARNS, with all four schools in the district now at or above highly performing certification.
Only one KAOL school actually improved its certification over last year, with KAOL Middle School rising one rank from performing plus to highly performing. KAOL High School and Intermediate School remained highly performing, while KAOL Primary School earned its fourth excelling certification in a row.
The Miner attempted to contact district director Betty Rowe and district administrator Susan Chan for comment, but neither was available by press time Thursday.