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Thu, Aug. 05

Grand Canyon School already implementing plan to raise AzMerit scores

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Grand Canyon School's (GCS) long-term goal is to become the number one school district in the state. While school ofiicials know GCS did not do very well on the state's new standardized AzMerit test, they are confident that moving into the future the school can and will improve.

"We didn't make the state average, but we're very close," said Tom Rowland, GCS assistant principal. "We're using that to drive our instruction now. The important thing is that when we were tested last year we had just finished an audit and it was pointed out that our curriculum was not aligned with the state standards. That's when Dr. (Shonny) Bria and others went out and evaluated Beyond Textbooks. We feel like we are getting everything in place to where we can use these AzMerit scores and grow from them."

To become a top performing school, school officials are focusing on implementing a new curriculum. In August, GCS put on a community meeting to introduce parents to Beyond Textbooks, a curriculum that has proven to improve scores in schools across the state. GCS also hired Dr. Charlotte Wing, an educational consultant who works with schools to teach to state standards and reach their fullest potential. With the help of Wing and the Beyond Textbook curriculum, along with a renewed dedication by faculty and staff, GCS administration believes next year's AzMerit scores will improve.

"Our focus and our long term goal over three years is to become number one in the state," said Shonny Bria, superintendent of Grand Canyon School. "We're doing that because we have a curriculum now, Beyond Textbooks, and understand that Beyond Textbooks is developed strictly on every single standard and the standards are what are tested on. In addition we have brought in one of the most well known consultants in the state for helping school districts improve instruction and all of the teachers made (a collaborative decision) that we all committed to do the formative tests - those are test every week to make sure we are teaching the right stuff to the kids."

One reason school administration believes Grand Canyon students and students throughout the state did poorly on AzMerit was because this was the first time the test was administered.

"The test is very hard, it's brand new, has never been used before anywhere and the state is very concerned because students did very poorly," Bria said. "Anytime a new test is brought into a state it is re-calibered because as students take a test one year to the next the test becomes easier and the students score higher."

By next year, Bria is hopeful students will be more prepared for the test.

"This year we have started a complete program where we are working on all facets to improve mathematics, writing, reading and improve science," she said.

Students in third through 11th grade took AzMerit last spring and were tested on math and English. Results from the test were received by the school in mid-November and were sent first to parents before being publicly released Nov. 30.

Before the scores were released, Bria sent a letter to parents explaining that the school and the state anticipated low scores. In her letter, Bria explained GCS was in a transitional year and the scores could look different and be lower than what many parents had seen in the past. She also said the results would set a new baseline for the school to help students succeed and encouraged parents to talk to their student's teachers to discuss how their child could improve.

"The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) highly recommended that all parents go to the teacher first before they go to anyone else to ask about the test," she said.

The AIMS (Arizona's Instument to Measure Standards) test, which was used up until last year, was a much easier test to interpret.

"AzMerit is an absolute flat score, when the parents got their profile of their child it just tells them your child scored this, which put them in one of four categories," Rowland said. "The old AIMS scores would have told you the real strengths and weaknesses, and I think the state has really done an injustice to (students)."

Bria agreed and said the scores have made it more difficult to locate areas where the school needs to focus to help students improve.

"AzMerit is not giving us the great amount of data we always got with the AIMS," Bria said. "We can't find it out for individual kids, so we can really focus in and pinpoint where we need to help them."

However, Bria said school administration, faculty and staff are determined to do everything they can to teach to the standards. Implementing weekly benchmark testing, along with Galileo testing four times each year, will help improve students understanding of the concepts. Weekly formulative tests also help determine if a child understands the concepts and if a student needs extra help and weekly re-teach classes are being provided.

"To do what we want to do this district needs a lot of help and instruction and help for the teachers to learn to teach to the standards," Bria said. "The (teachers) didn't have a curriculum to follow last year. We may do better this year because we have a curriculum. When you have a curriculum and a curriculum is developed around the standards, then we know they're teaching to the standards."

Starting Jan. 4, a new schedule will be available for middle and high school students attending re-teach classes.

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