Kingman middle school results a drag on AIMS score

KUSD rates an overall 'C' despite top grades at Palo Christi, Manzanita

KINGMAN - Kingman Unified's state A-F grades, which are tied to the 2011-2012 Arizona Instrument for Measuring Standards results, showed district schools moving in both directions: Some improved, but others - particularly the middle schools - regressed.

Though two schools earned A's, the D's received by the middle schools applied downward pressure on the district's overall grade, which ultimately ended up being a C.

Manzanita and Palo Christi elementary schools pulled in A's. Cerbat Elementary, Hualapai Elementary and Mount Tipton School received B's. Kingman High, Black Mountain and La Senita Elementary checked in with C's. White Cliffs Middle School and Kingman Middle School brought in D grades.

"Math was a real big problem this year, especially at Kingman Middle School," said Gretchen Dorner, the district's assessment director. "But that's something we're seeing across the state."

In Kingman Middle School's math department, there were problems with classroom management and instruction techniques. The school and district attempted to rectify the issue mid-year with strategy focused on implementing different ways to teach concepts in order to reach more students, Jacks said.

Some of the teacherswere receptive. Others weren't - in fact, some math department staff walked out in the middle of the year, Jacks said.

The school's state grade reflected the problems it went through during the year.

For instance, 43 percent of sixth-graders passed the math portion of the AIMS test while 42 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders passed it. As far as improvement - called growth by the state - goes, the school ranked in the 36th percentile, meaning that 64 percent of the middle schools in the state showed more improvement than Kingman Middle School.

White Cliffs Middle School didn't do any better, with 41 percent of its sixth-graders, 58 percent of its seventh-graders and 43 percent of its eighth-graders passing the math portion of AIMS. The school checked in at the 37th percentile for overall improvement.

At both schools, the percentage of students who passed the reading portions of the test was better than the math percentages, but it still wasn't enough to push them into the C range.

One thing to note about White Cliffs is that its scores did not fall compared to last year. Even though the improvement the school did show wasn't enough for a better grade, it's good to know that the school maintained or improved all its scores, Jacks said.

Through district curriculum director Jeri Wolsey, KUSD plans to implement several changes at the middle schools in hopes of improving the academic atmosphere and AIMS scores.

Sixth-graders will now be taught their core subjects - math, reading, science and social studies - in one classroom by one teacher, she said. It's important to use the elementary school model while allowing students to experience the junior high atmosphere by taking physical education and electives from different teachers, she said.

"It's kind of a baby step," Wolsey said. "But it will help to not overwhelm the students."

There is a plan to teach to common core standards, which are international standards the state hopes to fully implement in the next few years in order to get away from AIMS.

"Common core standards don't allow teachers to surface teach," Wolsey said.

The idea is that concepts - no matter what the subject - are interrelated. Instead of teaching a lesson and moving on,

See AIMS, 5

students will focus on concepts in their entirety. This allows students to take what they learned in math class and see how it applies in science class while writing about it in during language arts, Wolsey said.

Jacks said it's a way to reduce the scope of what needs to be taught in order to go deeper into the concepts, allowing the students to learn more and see how subjects fit together.

"In a way, it makes it easier for students to learn," Wolsey said.

Another change is the Cambridge Academy, the academic program students must apply for that prepares them for college and a career by increasing rigor and focusing on in-depth learning. The program starts at both the middle schools and at Lee Williams this year.

Lastly, the district was awarded a $278,000 a year Gear Up grant for Kingman Middle School, White Cliffs Middle School and Black Mountain School. Gear Up is a program that follows students from seventh-grade to the year after they graduate. During that time, students within the cohort are inundated with the idea that college is an attainable goal.

"It creates an atmosphere where students can say, 'College is for me,'" Wolsey said.

Gear Up keeps students on a college-bound track while also giving them a taste of what to expect, with visits to various colleges and visits from higher-education professionals.

"The programs we are using this year are designed to change the climate at the middle schools, which will eventually help our high schools," Jacks said.

Outside of the middle school issues, the district's report card is full of promise.

Mount Tipton came in with a B, despite all the drama associated with whether or not the school would remain open.

"They stayed the course during all the chaos," Jacks said. "They're out to prove that the restructuring of the school, (which started a couple years ago), will be a success."

Cerbat Elementary, which had a D for 2010-2011, vastly improved in 2011-2012 by bringing its grade to a B.

The school committed to techniques brought about by district intervention. Teachers and administrators tightened deficiencies by paying close attention to individual students and what they struggled with on a weekly basis.

When a student struggled with a particular concept, he or she was given prescriptive tutoring to help get him or her back on track, Wolsey said.

The school conducted 11 Saturday schools dedicated to tutoring and paid close attention to all the students. A full-fledged commitment to fixing the problem was evident throughout the year, Dorner said.

"We're not surprised they did well," Dorner said.

Hualapai Elementary received a B, which is similar to what it received last year.

"Hualapai is a very consistent school," Dorner said. "But now their goal is to move into the A category."

La Senita slipped from an A to a C, which surprised the district. La Senita used the same methods Cerbat used last year in 2010-2011, but after getting its A last year, administration relaxed, Jacks said.

"It's important to stay on top of strategy," Jacks said. "Individual student monitoring is critical."

Palo Christi and Manzanita brought in the only A's for the district.

The district expects A's from Manzanita because, in many ways, the school's commitment to individual student monitoring is a template the district would like to see used at all schools.

Palo Christi's improvement can best be seen in the amount of improvement experienced by students in the bottom 25 percent of performers the year before. The school ranked in the 73rd percentile when it comes to growth of its lowest performing students. That means less than 30 percent of the elementary schools in the state saw their bottom 25 percent grow as much as Palo Christi's bottom 25 percent.

Kingman High missed a B by two points, which is an improvement over the prior year. One of the best stories out of Kingman High this year is the fact that it lowered its dropout rate by 1.1 percent (25 fewer dropouts than the year before) and raised its graduation rate by 2 percent (23 more graduates than the year before).

Black Mountain received a C, but it ranked in the 51st percentile for student growth with the bottom 25 percent of students. It also had 68 percent of its students pass the math and reading portions of the test.

Overall, Jacks and Dorner said they're disappointed with the grades but are committed to bringing them up across the board.

"The largest challenge will be the two middle schools," Jacks said.