AzMERIT scores show some progress amid big gaps among schools

The second year of AzMERIT results shows a persistent and yawning gap between the top and bottom scores at schools in the Flagstaff Unified School District and local charter schools.

Students in third grade through high school took the test in April and May of the 2015-2016 school year.

Elementary school

In the elementary grades, four of the five charter schools that include elementary grades consistently passed the test at a higher rate than most FUSD schools, and four FUSD schools scored lowest of all area schools.

Of FUSD schools in the lower grades, Killip, Kinsey, Leupp and Thomas had lower passing rates on both English and math tests. The only exception was fourth-grade math, where Leupp had a higher passing percentage than Puente de Hozho.

FUSD Director of Research and Assessment Robert Hagstrom said the achievement gap between those schools and others has existed for years, long before the adoption of AzMERIT.

“Those schools tend to be of lower socioeconomic status, and based on all the research, students in schools with lower socioeconomic status tend to have fewer opportunities outside of school,” Hagstrom said.

Each FUSD elementary school took six AzMERIT tests total, two for each grade third through fifth.

While those four schools remained with a lower passing percentage than other FUSD schools, Thomas showed an increase in the passing rate in four of the six tests taken by students, with the third and fifth grade scores for both English and math higher than those last year.

Hagstrom said the increase can be attributable to efforts at Thomas that are focused on student success, and better preparedness from the district and individual schools about the test and what would be expected from the students.

Knoles and Cromer also saw mostly increases in their scores this year. Cromer’s scores in each grade either stayed the same or saw an increase, while Knoles’ results show increases in the percentage of students who scored either proficient or highly proficient in all tests except for third-grade English, which saw a decrease.

The overall passing rate in FUSD increased more with fourth and fifth graders, suggesting a learning curve for the third grade students who took the standardized test for the first time this year.

The average statewide passing rate for both math and English was 38 percent.

Both third- and fourth-grade test results at the charter schools showed more decreases and stagnation in the percentage of students passing than for fifth grade. Mountain School was the exception, though, with the rate rising from 59 percent to 61 percent for third-grade math.

Fifth-grade passing rates mostly stayed the same, but passing students at BASIS increased by 16 percentage points for both math and English, and Flagstaff Junior Academy also had an increase of 15 points for their English scores.

Middle school

At Mount Elden and Sinagua, sixth and seventh graders improved on both tests. Eighth-grade scores decreased from last year’s except for Sinagua’s English test scores, which had a one percent increase.

Similar trends occurred with the eighth-grade passing scores at Pine Forest, Flagstaff Junior Academy and Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy going down from last year. However, Northland Preparatory Academy’s English scores saw an increase.

Hagstrom said results from both the state and local level for the eighth-grade tests indicated some problems with the tests, because statewide and at almost every school examined, passing rates decreased drastically from last year.

That problem, Hagstrom said, might be because in 2015, students who were taking Algebra as an eighth-grader took both the eighth grade test and the Algebra test. This year, students were only required to take the test for the class they were in, removing the highest performers from the eighth-grade testing pool.

“You’ve now shaved off the top level of performers,” Hagstrom said. “That could be one of the significant contributing factors.”

Hagstrom said standardized test scores from eighth-grade math have been historically low, even before AzMERIT. He said eighth-grade has a large shift in focus, including using more algebraic concepts.

“That makes it hard to build a test and hard for students to make that adjustment,” Hagstrom said.

The sixth grade passing rate of all charter schools either stayed the same or increased.

High school

Most of the Flagstaff charters increased their scores for the AzMERIT English test in all grades. The passing rate of ninth and 11th graders at Basis decreased, as well as FALA’s 11th-grade English scores.

NPA’s passing rate for high school students increased more compared to the other charters. Scores for both the 11th and 10th-grade tests, as well as ninth-grade English were higher than last year. On the other end of the scale, Basis scores fell for ninth and 11th-grade English, and 10th-grade geometry.

Overall, FUSD high schools saw higher passing rates this year as well. Coconino High School’s ninth grade algebra and English scores went up by seven and 17 percentage points, respectively. Flagstaff High School’s scores also increased for their ninth-grade students by two percent in algebra and 19 percent in English.

For the 10th and 11th grades, the passing rates at CHS increased with both tests while FHS math scores decreased.

Hagstrom said experts still expect the test will take a few more years of administration before scores are truly indicative of a student’s learning.

“The more times you give an assessment, the more reliable it becomes,” he said. “Any time you have implementation of a new assessment, it needs time to stabilize.”

Hagstrom said the district values the information it receives from AzMERIT and other tests, but said the data is not the only way schools or parents should measure success.

“We also recognize that in teaching the whole child, there are other significant factors we value as well, like early childhood education or access to technology, or that every student has access to libraries with a variety of media,” Hagstrom said. “FUSD is pleased to see so many areas of growth in a single year, and we hope to sustain that growth.”

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