Schools step up preparation for AIMS

Students are familiar with the pressure that comes with taking tests. But when Winslow’s elementary students sit down to take the AIMS test in April, the real pressure will be on the teachers and administrators.

The pressure is coming from the state and to some extent the federal government. That’s because a small segment of last year’s fifth graders did not score well on the Arizona’s Instrument for Measuring Standards (AIMS) reading test, which caused the entire school district to be labeled under “District Improvement.”

The reason for this identification is that the Winslow Unified School District did not meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) for two consecutive years under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

Every state uses AYP to determine if schools and districts are meeting the expectations of NCLB. Ultimately 100-percent of students are expected to meet or exceed the Arizona Academic Standards by the 2013-14 school year. In order to meet that goal, schools and districts must reach certain objectives each year.

Arizona requires a minimum percentage of students meet or exceed the state standards on the AIMS test. In addition, schools and districts must meet a percent-tested goal and either an attendance rate or graduation rate goal (for high school only).

The data is calculated for all students as well as subgroups of students (i.e., racial and ethnic groups, English language learners, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students).

If even one of these groups does not meet their objectives, then the school or district will not have made AYP. Winslow was one of 78 districts to receive district improvement status in the fall of 2004.

At the Winslow Unified School District Governing Board meeting on Feb. 16, principals and administrators told the board that the letter from the state Department of Education alerting them to this classification in the fall came as a surprise.

“None of our schools are labeled as needing improvement,” Curriculum Coordinator Julia Ayres said. “But when you aggregate all the elementary schools together, if you have an n-count (of a subgroup) lower than 30, than that grade level is not held accountable to AYP. But at district level, student count exceeded 30. Not all of those students made AYP so the district is in improvement.”

If Winslow’s schools fail to meet AYP this year, they would be forced to use a portion of Title 1 federal funds on outside supplemental services. Ayres said staff cutbacks could be possible too.

That’s not a scenario the district wants. So in the fall, the three elementary school principals and five reading specialists devised a plan and implemented it in a matter of weeks.

“Starting in November, not only did they (reading specialists) have to keep working with their K (kindergarten) through 3 (third grade) kids, but they had to start working with fifth graders too,” she said. “It was a real challenge for them and they really rose to meet that challenge.”

Part of plan involved using the Gifted and Talented Education Program (GATE) teacher to work with gifted students more often to reduce fifth grade class. Ayres said most classes have around 30 students.

A second part dealt with improving the number of minority students in the GATE program. The schools switched standardized tests to one that relies more on non-verbal skills as a means of testing intelligence. The old test was used throughout the country but often criticized for putting minorities that did not speak English well at a disadvantage.

The GATE program will be under additional scrutiny this year because the state is required to audit the service under NCLB. The federal law created a six-year cycle to review state programs on a rotating schedule.

“People think that we’re overreacting but we have some real challenges on our hands because of No Child Left Behind,” Ayres said. “Principals are trying to do everything they can.

“Our students are working really hard and I’m proud of all our teachers because I feel like they are giving their best efforts.”

Arizona schools administer the AIMS test during a two-week window from April 11-22.

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