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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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8/2/2013 12:21:00 PM
Annual school report cards released

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services


PHOENIX -- The top performing school district in the state got there by borrowing liberally from the ideas and concepts of its neighbor.

David Woodall, superintendent of the Benson Unified School District, said his schools share more than a common boundary with Vail Unified School District. It has been one of the top-rated districts in the state for years.

"They've opened their doors, all their practices, curriculum and curriculum guides they've shared with us,' Woodall said at a Thursday press conference to announce the latest letter grades for school districts around the state. "This kept us from reinventing the wheel, allowed us to work on refining practices for a smaller school district rather than creating those.'

In taking the top honors, Benson managed to edge out Vail, which took the No. 2 slot.

Overall statewide, the number of schools managing to get an A rating increased from fewer than 400 to more than 450. Scores are based largely on results of the AIMS tests, short for Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, not only in absolute terms but also in year-over-year improvement.

On that front, state School Superintendent John Huppenthal said there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of high school sophomores who passed the math, reading and writing parts of the test.

Still, 38 percent those sophomores failed at least one part of the test. That is important because Arizona law requires a passing grade on all three sections to get a diploma.

Students will have several more opportunities to pass before their graduation date.

Huppenthal also reported a steady increase in the number of students in lower grades passing math and reading tests. But there was no improvement at all in performance in the writing test.

One group under particular scrutiny is third graders. This year, for the first time, they cannot advance on to fourth grade unless they can show they are reading at grade level.

Two years ago, that number was 4,356. While it has declined this year to 3,059, that still represents about 3.6 percent of third graders in the state.

On school grading, Huppenthal said there was little change in the number of schools which got a B, with a slight reduction in C-rated schools and a significant drop in those who got a D.

There also were 21 schools rated F based on several years of underperformance. But Huppenthal said they have an opportunity to appeal that rating.

Huppenthal also pointed out that 16 percent of schools in the state actually dropped in their letter grade.

"So that if you're not staying on your toes, you're not keeping a constant effort, that you have significant additional challenges that you face, your letter grade can be significantly at risk,' he said.

Conversely, Huppenthal said 21 percent of Arizona's more than 2,000 schools actually managed to increase their grades. And he said the experience with the Benson schools proves that is possible, even in a district which lacks the affluence of some others.

Huppenthal, like Woodall, said some of the reason for that is the inter-district cooperation with Vail, on Tucson's southeast side. That, he said, includes the decision by Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker to start a network called Beyond Textbooks to revamp how students are taught.

"Across that network they make lesson plans available, the curriculum is available and a variety of consulting services actually go out from Vail,' Huppenthal said. He called the relationship between Benson and Vail "a combination of cooperation and competition.'

Woodall said it took four years to get his district to the top of the chart.

"There was no overnight fix, no magic pill, no single program that led to these results.

Next year's ratings are going to be watched particularly closely because the whole system is undergoing a revolution of sorts. Most significantly, the AIMS tests -- the basis for the letter-grading system -- are going away, to be replaced with some new nationally norm-referenced tests.

That is part of the switch to the Common Core curriculum developed by officials and educators across the country. It lays out particular skills students are supposed to acquire at set points during thier education.

The idea is to assess students through tests, administered online, that are aligned with the new curriculum. And Huppenthal said these "college and career ready standards' will be "a little bit higher' than those demanded by AIMS.

Most immediately, Huppenthal predicted that 62 percent passing rate now for sophomores on AIMS "is going to fall significantly.' What it also will mean, he said, is having to re-do the letter-grading system entirely.

And that, he said, will lead to fewer schools getting an A rating.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

@ Kayo Parsons-Korn
The difference certainly isn't in amount of funding received per student. Charters receive less than traditional public schools. And it can't be teachers' salaries per se. Oak Creek Elementary was rated A in 2007, 8, and 9. B in 2010 and 11.

I think you were on firmer ground with smaller schools, smaller classes, involved parents who match the teachers' commitment, and an overall sense of community. Smaller schools also allow principals to tailor programs to the student body and insulate teachers from outside interference.


Posted: Monday, August 5, 2013
Article comment by: Kayo Parsons-Korn

Well, statistic vary, but Arizona is looking to be either 45th or 46th in the nation for K-12 education. So all Arizona schools do not compare favorably to other states, charter or public. So lets look at the facts in this article that just grade local schools. It looks like Charter schools do better than public at least at the elementary levels. So what's the difference? I'm not attacking public school teachers, I'm just pointing out some differences and maybe the model for public education is broken. Too much emphasis on infrastructure instead of higher teacher's salaries. Arizona also ranks very low for teacher salaries and retention and is near the bottom for spending per student.

Posted: Sunday, August 4, 2013
Article comment by: Right on, Kayo!

The Arizona Department of Education seems to be suffering from a bad case of misplaced priorities.

Posted: Sunday, August 4, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

@ Average Joe In Cottonwood
Maybe the VI will print a special article on VVM's achievement the way they did last year when MVP was inadvertently omitted.

But over the years, I've seen a number of nice write-ups on Verde Valley Montessori's events and achievements. I don't think the VI is ignoring the school. It just doesn't get into enough trouble to generate constant headlines.


Posted: Sunday, August 4, 2013
Article comment by: Pix and Chooses

School is like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. If a student refuses to get involved or take challenging courses like AP, there is very little the school can do. Teachers are not really allowed to hold up a high standard because they come under attack if they hand out a large number of failing grades. From parents you sometimes hear things like, “My child learns differently” or “My kid isn't much into book learning – he is more of a “hand-on” learner.” Hmm. I wonder how a math teacher is expected to convert Algebra 2 into a “hands-on” course. Thankfully, those are the minority – a large majority of parents are terrific and supportive of local teachers.

Posted: Sunday, August 4, 2013
Article comment by: RE: Casey Westling

In response to Casey Westling's comments on Mingus, here is something to think about. According to schoolfundingfairness.org, Maine's state funding for education ranks at 14th in the nation. Conversely, Arizona is ranked 46th. Is there any wonder that some fees may be required (in Arizona schools) to keep some programs in place? I am also a parent and am very satisfied with Mingus. Since I AM employed, I wish more of my hard-earned tax dollar went to funding education. It seems to me that Mingus is doing everything it can for our kids with what little it gets from the state.

Posted: Sunday, August 4, 2013
Article comment by: No Public Schools for Our Daughter

I would never send our daughter to a public school. There is not enough emphasis on academics. Sadly I'm in the minority because I believe homework after school serves a purpose. It's not busy work. It's to help children retain what they learned better.

It cracks me up that I'm seeing schools shorten vacation times because kids aren't performing well. You might want to look at the lack of homework the kids have too.


Posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013
Article comment by: To Casey

Apples and oranges Casey. Look at the funding for a school in the Northeast. They get more money, the teachers are paid better and they have higher standards.

As a child I moved from a Northern state to a Southern one and was years ahead.

Arizona is last or second to last in school funding expenditures, depending on what list you look at.

You want change? Stop voting in the same old facists, who care nothing about education and everything about 'tax breaks for corporations."


Posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013
Article comment by: Casey Westling

This Mom is NOT impressed with Mingus HS overall. Back in my day, I usually had at least an hour's worth of homework each night. My child at Mingus rarely ever has any. He isn't into sports but it appears that is Mingus' top priority. Seems to me the focus should be on academics. That goes for funding, too. Maybe then us folk who are unemployed wouldn't have to choose between paying on the electric bill or the $75 fee for books, science lab, locker, etc.Is that the norm for Arizona's high schools?? Exorbitant fees before the school year even begins?? My older children (who went to HS in Maine) never had to pay a dime to attend school.

Posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013
Article comment by: Average Joe In Cottonwood

I wish to point out that Verde Valley Montessori (VVM) school received an A (just like the other commenter has mentioned). I wish to also know why the Verde Independent newspaper chose not to publish this information amongst the other schools which were listed? Why the bias? I’ve noticed the Verde Independent covers activities of other schools and not Verde Valley Montessori. VVM is on the same main street as your newspaper. Approximately 500 feet away, so it’s not like the school’s existence is a secret to you. The teaching staff there are very dedicated, professional, and community oriented. They do a great job with the children and parents. You are doing your readers and the public a disservice by not supporting this school in the same way you’ve supported the others. Keep purposely omitting VVM in reporting test results and participating in community events and I will boycott all Western News & Info, Inc publications.

Posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013
Article comment by: Hey Kayo Parsons -Korn

You think Charter schools are the solution? Arizona actually brought down the national average scores for Charter Schools. Yes, brought DOWN.

http://www.thinkingarizona.com/2013/07/arizona-charters-fall-short/


Posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013
Article comment by: Bill Stevenson

You did not include Verde Valley Montessori on your list. It received an A from the state.

Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013
Article comment by: Kayo Parsons-Korn

Interesting. Who got the A's, charter schools. Who gets the C's, local elementary schools. And of course, Sedona schools do well too. I've thought about this a lot. As a matter of fact I vocally opposed our local elementary school's (Beaver Creek) huge recent bond measure for a larger school, auditorium, more office space, etc. Would it really improve the school? Well I guess not. What is the problem? When children go to small charter schools, parents are very involved. And class sizes are smaller. Even if they don't have the biggest and best facilities, (look at Desert Star for example) they do much better. Maybe its time to rethink how we do public education. Put more money into the teachers and curriculum and less into the infrastructure. Its the size too. Small schools give a sense of community to the families that send their kids to that school. And involved parents make all the difference.



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