Scottsdale charter school wins international recognition

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Here in Arizona, there is a lot of focus on the AIMS test and more recently the Common Core standards.

But one education model is taking an even broader view, looking at how students score against peers around the globe.

On the day we visited BASIS Schools' Scottsdale campus, students were busy dissecting rats with a teacher watching over.

“Open the cavity, Alex, and hold it back. Let's take a look at some of the organs in there,” the teacher instructed junior Alex Cohen.

But students were also anxious to share some of the secrets of the school’s success.

Cohen said teachers at BASIS bring lessons to life because they truly have a passion for their subjects.

“I think the teachers really help because the teachers here all have degrees in their respective areas as opposed to just degrees in education," he said.

Math teacher TJ Peacher said they also have expertise teaching a curriculum that prepares these kids for college.

“So then my expertise on, I grade AP exams, so I give them advice on don't do this, but do this, so we can hammer away on how to communicate clearly and get down to those critical thinking skills that are necessarily," Peacher said.

Head of the Scottsdale campus, Elizabeth McConaghy said seeking out the right teachers is a major part of the formula for BASIS, but she also told us that it really starts with the students.

“When they come in, typically in fifth or sixth grade, we really teach them good student behavior," McConaghy said.

That includes good note-taking, study skills and taking responsibility for their own assignments.

”Stress is always a big issue ... with such a big curriculum and hard course load,” Cohen said, “but when you learn to manage stress early in middle school and then moving onto high school, when you get into college you won't be swamped by that huge work load."

How important is learning those time management skills?

Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller said, ”I think that's the thing that students most have to get a handle on when they first come to college.”

McConaghy also said the curriculum is built to challenge students in whatever subject they truly love.

"If you love physics, you can go for five years and take a different course every year. Same with biology. We offer organic chemistry. We offer three different maths beyond the calculus curriculum. We offer two different English courses beyond AP English," she said.

It is a model that helped Scottsdale BASIS students beat their peers from schools around the world. They beat peers from around the globe on a test based on the highly respected Program for International Student Assessment.

“We outperformed Shanghai in math, reading and science -- all three categories,” McConaghy said. “In addition, we outperformed Finland, Korea and Singapore.”

And Cohen said it is also a model that is preparing him and his classmates for a lifetime of success.

“I think everybody has the capacity to do great things," he said, "so I think people need to push themselves and discover what they can do that is so great."