Valley school district delivers high AIMS scores in math

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- The latest AIMS test brought out some startling numbers when it comes to math. More than 100,000 students in our state failed the math portion of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards this year. That's more than five times as many than those who failed the reading portion.

This news comes as the State Board of Education announced a brand new test for assessing whether public school students' academic progress satisfies state standards.

It's called AzMerit, short for Arizona's Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching.

But until now, AIMS has been the standard. And despite the discouraging news about how many students failed the math portion of AIMS, one Valley school district is exceeding.

In the Kyrene School District, math scores are actually improving.

Monte Vista Elementary School is just one school in that district that is pretty proud of its growth. It is ranked first in the Kyrene School District, second in the state!

The key factors seem to be how the school is teaching, and who is doing the learning. 

"Students in kindergarten are writing equations," says Shelly Peckins, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Learning Services. "It's great!"

And those equations are adding up to success. A whopping 95 percent of students are meeting or exceeding AIMS math scores.

"We talk about how the tests aren't a test for scores, but a journey for their learning," says second grade teacher Kristy Whigham.

In second grade math they use critical thinking skills, and give those skills a boost from real-life experience.

"We might be dealing with our box tops at our school level, or a lot of times a lunch count from the cafeteria," says Whigham.

And in the Kyrene district, teachers are students as well. The district places an emphasis on professional development, kind of like making sure teachers have a good coach.

"They are going to give me direct, immediate feedback right after I've swung that racket or swung that baseball bat," says Peckins.

And while the AIMS test on which the district did so well on is being replaced, Kyrene is happy to finally do away with the old standards.

"We had so many standards to teach in the school year that it was almost impossible to physically teach all of them," says Peckins. Now, with new standards and new ways of teaching, teachers say the students are very engaged with their learning, and they're learning from each other.

"So I'm really not a teacher anymore; I'm a facilitator in their learning," says Whigham.

Kyrene staffers remain confident they have a formula for success, no matter what test their students are taking.