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Sun, Sept. 19

Scores up slightly on Williams AIMS tests
More students pass in individual subject areas than last year, high school drops to 'C' grade from a 'B' last year while middle school stays at 'C' ranking

Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) scores are out, and in most subject areas, more Williams students passed this year compared to last year.

Elementary School

For the math portion of the test, 59 percent of Williams third, fourth and fifth graders passed, which was a 17 percent increase from last year. Statewide 65 percent of students in those grades passed the math portion this year.

Williams Elementary-Middle School Principal Brian Lords said "the rigor of the new textbooks we're using, the rigor that the teachers have gone through," helped raise the math score this year, adding that the district fully implemented national Common Core standards in math and language arts this past year.

Seventy-one percent of Williams third, fourth and fifth graders passed the reading portion of the test, which was a five percent decrease from last year. This year 77 percent of students in those grades passed the reading portion statewide.

Because the test has increasingly become more challenging, Lords said the reading test was more difficult for students "because there are a majority of our kids that come from a Spanish only speaking home."

For the writing portion of the test, 59 percent of Williams third, fourth and fifth graders passed, which was a four percent increase from last year. Statewide 64 percent of students in those grades passed the writing portion this year.

Lords said staff focused more on the quality of the students' writing this past year.

"Rather than just personal narratives or anything like that, the teachers are asking them to do persuasive essays," Lords said.

Middle School

For the math portion of the test, 50 percent of Williams sixth, seventh and eighth graders passed, which was a four percent increase from last year. Statewide 62 percent of students in those grades passed the math portion this year.

Lords credited this increase to hiring a middle school math intervention teacher last year.

"She was able to take some of those lower level kids and work more one on one and give them more help," he said.

Seventy-seven percent of Williams sixth, seventh and eighth graders passed the reading portion of the test, which was a three percent increase from last year. This year 79 percent of students in those grades passed the reading portion statewide.

"They increased the rigor and everything coming with Common Core the kids are going to have to read harder subjects," Lords said.

For the writing portion of the test, 59 percent of Williams sixth, seventh and eighth graders passed, which was a 22 percent increase from last year. Statewide 42 percent of students in those grades passed the writing portion this year.

Lords attributed this increase to a change in the standard of writing teachers require.

"So we're asking more of them, and they need to go into detail" in their writing, he said.

High School

For the math portion of the test, 48 percent of Williams sophomores passed, which was a four percent drop from last year. Statewide 62 percent of sophomores passed the math portion this year.

"The state increased the rigor on the test and we had some turnover in the math department, and we knew those two things combined were going to have an adverse effect on our score," Williams High School (WHS) Principal Tristan Heisley said.

Seventy-nine percent of Williams sophomores passed the reading portion of the test, which was an increase of three percent from last year. This year 83 percent of sophomores passed the reading portion statewide.

"We have a fantastic English/Language Arts department and teacher that teaches them freshman and sophomore year, Mrs. Gutshall, and all her hard work has led to an increase in reading and writing, which we're very pleased about," Heisley said.

For the writing portion of the test, 68 percent of Williams students passed, which was an increase of four percent. Statewide, 70 percent of students passed the writing portion this year.

"I just think that has to do with us putting the focus on (writing) and having a great teacher in the classroom, and you give it a couple of years and it has a positive influence on the course," Heisley said, adding that this year's percentage of Williams students passing the writing test is up 13 percent in the last two years.

District results

Williams Unified School District Superintendent Rachel Savage said the schools are moving in the right direction with their test results.

"While the test data is significant, it really is just one snapshot of all the great things that are happening here in Williams," she said.

Heisley said because of changes in the AIMS test, even staying at the same percentage of students passing from year to year is positive, and increasing that percentage is amazing.

"One of the things that I think a lot of people don't know is because we're moving to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the state of Arizona has begun transitioning, and in that transition, they've made the AIMS test harder each year," he said.

This is the last year students will take the AIMS test. Students will likely begin taking the PARCC test starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

"It is a web-based assessment, which is good, we'll be able to get immediate results or near immediate results so that we can actually modify instruction while we still have the students," Savage said.

Lords said along with the new Common Core teaching standards, the PARCC test will be considerably more difficult than the AIMS test. For example, currently some of the AIMS test is multiple choice. For multiple choice questions on the PARCC test, students will have to explain why they chose the answer they did.

"So they can't just guess and they hopefully get it right, they actually have to provide a rationale as to why they selected that one," Lords said.

The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) also awards a letter grade to schools each year.

According to information from the ADE, "each school is equally evaluated both on AIMS performance and how much students grow academically from one year to the next. Other factors such as AIMS improvement, dropout rate, graduation rate and English language learner proficiency rates are taken into consideration, when applicable."

The high school earned a letter grade of a C this year, down from a B last year. Heisley attributed the drop to a lower percentage of students passing the math portion of the test and poor performance from upperclassmen on the AIMS test.

The elementary-middle school earned a letter grade of a C this year, the same as last year. Lords said he hoped next year's letter grade will reflect a positive change from the new principals at both schools and a new superintendent last year.

"With change it takes time for things to kick in and get into place where they need to be," he said. "So we're hoping when the scores come out next year that we'll have improved to a B."

Savage agreed, saying eventually the district hopes to earn an A grade.

"I could not be more proud of the students, I could not be more proud of the teachers," she said. "I think miracles are happening every day in our classrooms."

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