KUSD shows progress, KAOL almost aces AIMS tests

KINGMAN - Arizona Instrument for Measuring Standards' scores released this week showed that the Kingman Unified School District needs work in some areas and is on a nice pace in others, while the Kingman Academy of Learning met standards in every aspect except 8th-grade math.

Take Kingman High, for instance, 83 percent of the 10th-grade students who took the reading portion of the AIMS test passed, which far exceeds 2011's average yearly progress standard of 62 percent set by the Arizona Department of Education in accordance with the federal government's No Child Left Behind. On the other hand, however, 53 percent of the students who took the math portion of the test passed, which missed the AYP standard of 61 percent. Even with those numbers, there is still more to tell. Compared to 2010's scores, KHS students improved by 8 and 3 percent in reading and math, respectively.

Overall, KUSD elementary and middle school students met AYP standards in 3rd-grade math and reading, 4th-grade reading, 5th-grade math and reading, 6th-grade math and reading and 7th-grade reading. They fell short in 4th-, 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade math as well as 8th-grade reading. Again, these numbers don't tell the whole story.

Consider Black Mountain Elementary. Of the 8th-grade students who took the math portion of the test, 46 percent passed, which missed the AYP mark by 12 percent. However, compared to last year's 33 percent, it's actually a 13-percent improvement.

There is a flipside as well. Even though 4th grade KUSD students met AYP math standards overall, 38 percent of the 4th-grade students at Cerbat Elementary who took the math portion of the test passed, which missed AYP standards by 25 percent and was actually a regression compared to last year's 60-percent score.

Progressions, regression, standards met and missed are peppered throughout a printout of KUSD's AIMS scores.

KUSD Superintendent Roger Jacks said the No Child Left Behind - AYP - bar is raised every year, with a goal of 100 percent in 2014. That means every single student who takes the AIMS test in 2014 must pass it. Though Jacks wants to meet the federal standards, he said it is difficult for many reasons, including the fact that the progression is not linear. Each year, the standard goes up by approximately 10 percent.

What Jacks is most concerned with is progress from year-to-year, and though the grades and schools that showed none or regressed are disappointment, plenty of progress was made throughout KUSD's system.

Of the 70 categories, which are made up of the schools and grades that took the math and reading portions of the test, KUSD showed improvement over last year's scores in all but 17.

KUSD's assessment director Gretchen Dorner said 5-percent growth is huge, but schools are faced with meeting 9-15 percent growth standards every year.

In order to bring numbers up, Dorner said KUSD implements targeted interventions, which include increased instruction, tutoring, teacher development and even bi-weekly assessments throughout the school year. Even so, comparing this year with last is difficult because it's not always the same faces, Dorner said.

"We're always looking for positive growth," Dorner said. The AYP standards are federal, while Arizona Learns' standards are state. The difference is substantial. With AYP it's either a yes or no, with regards to standards met. But with Arizona Learns, a point system that considers various aspects of education, including static scores, growth, graduation rates and attendance, is used to assess students, grade levels, schools and districts.

The Arizona Learns' scores, which are not out yet, present a much clearer picture of educational progress, Dorner said.

KAOL district administrator Susan Chan said that although the Academy's scores were excellent in every area but 8th-grade math, she thinks the AYP system is flawed.

"There is no way every child will pass the AIMS test by 2014," Chan said.

Consider students with learning disabilities. In the classroom, teachers must accommodate for their abilities, so if a 10th grader reads at a 5th-grade level, he or she is taught accordingly. But when it comes to the AIMS test, that same 10th grader with a learning disability must take the 10th-grade reading test, Chan said.

"It's ridiculous," she said. "I'm hopeful for a more realistic representation of what students do, how they grow and where they're making progress."

Chan understands the need for accountability - why NCLB was created in the first place - but not adjusting tests for students who need it creates the wrong type of accountability.

"The most important piece of the puzzle is growth," Chan said.

Change may come soon if Congress passes President Barack Obama's Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The Hill.com reported that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "Current federal law is too punitive and does not do enough to reward improvement and innovation. The federal government now grades schools on a pass-fail metric, and the president would like to do more to credit and reward principals and teachers who show improvement over the medium- and long-term."

Jacks and Dorner look forward to changes as well, which could start as early as next year. The AYP created a data-driven framework that was needed in education, Jacks said, but it is time to grow; the AYP system has run its course.

Look for a more in-depth analysis of the scores in a future edition of the Miner.