KINGMAN - Four schools in the Kingman Unified School District improved one letter grade this year while only one school decreased, according to the state's newly released letter grading system.
Cerbat Elementary and Mt. Tipton School, as well as Kingman and White Cliffs middle schools, bettered their grades, while Black Mountain Elementary School fell behind. The other five graded schools in the district remained the same, and the two new schools, Desert Willow Elementary and Lee Williams High School, weren't tested in 2012 for comparison.
"We're excited because we've made quite a few changes in curriculum recently and it seems like we're heading in the right direction," said Roger Jacks, superintendent of KUSD. "We have to give credit to our teachers, because that's where the rubber meets the road and I'm proud that they've embraced those changes."
The district, which came in one point short of a B in 2013, scored a B in this year's annual rating, which is tied to the 2013-2014 Arizona Instrument for Measuring Standards results. The letter grades have been handed out to charter and public schools each year since 2011 by the Arizona Department of Education and are determined by students' academic growth and performance on AIMS tests.
Additional points are awarded for significant reductions in dropout rates and high-achieving English language learners.
This year, 302 schools throughout the state improved one letter grade and 38 schools improved two letter grades, while the remainder of the almost 2,000 schools in the state maintained the same letter grades or decreased.
KUSD doesn't want to be known as a C letter grade district, said Jacks, and one of its strategic goals has been improving all the schools to A and B letter-grade status and pushing the district grade to an A letter grade.
Jacks said that when he saw the district's change from a C to a B letter grade this year and the improvement in individual schools, it gave him encouragement that those goals can be met.
The four schools in the Kingman Academy of Learning district also saw some changes in their letter grades, with the high school increasing one letter grade and the intermediate school decreasing by the same amount. The district itself went from an A letter grade last year to a B letter grade this year, missing the higher mark by one point.
"There's no way to say how pleased I am at our performance this year," said Susan Chan, district administrator for KAOL. "The A letter grade for the high school has been a long time coming, and the challenge is how do we keep it, especially not knowing what test the state will be using next year."
The state's education department adopted Common Core, a controversial national educational system, in 2010 and it took effect last fall. In May, Gov. Jan Brewer canceled the state's membership in a student testing organization that supplies some of the system's tests and now the state is scrambling to come up with a new assessment to test students' mastery of what the state has renamed the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.
KAOL beat the state average in every subject and combination of subjects, said Chan, which shows it is doing well in academics. But the other side of the coin is student growth, in which KAOL schools didn't do as well. The charter district's growth average in its schools was below 50 percent, which is problematic, said Chan.
"I have looked at the data until my head hurts to try to figure out what we're missing in that area," said Chan. "Kids' needs are more broad and varied these days. All we can do right now is study the data, teach to Common Core standards and provide our teachers with whatever they need to be successful."