Four Peaks Classroom

Students at Four Peaks Elementary School prepare for the AZMerit test

In a memo dated Friday, November 1, 2019, The Apache Junction Unified School District released the following information:

The AZ Merit scores and school letter grades have been announced. Apache Junction Unified School District saw letter grade improvement from four out of five schools:

  • Apache Junction High School: D to a C
  • Cactus Canyon Junior High: C to a D
  • Desert Vista Elementary: D to a C
  • Four Peaks Elementary: D to a B
  • Peralta Trail Elementary: C to a B

Quoting the Arizona Department of Education, the memo continues, “The system measures year-to-year student academic growth, proficiency in English language arts, math and science. It also includes the proficiency and academic growth of English language learners, indicators that an elementary student is ready for success in high school and that high school students are ready to succeed in a career or higher education, and high school graduation rates.”

Historically, Four Peaks Elementary School has turned in the lowest performance grades, so it is notable that the school was able to improve from a D to a B rating – and that the increased performance came on Principal Chad Cantrell’s watch.

Cantrell, as of the current school year, is now leading the team at Cactus Canyon Junior High – the school that dropped by one grade in this year’s performance ratings.

Follow this story at www.ajnews.com, to learn about Cantrell’s plans to turn Cactus Canyon Junior High around. (Comments pending.)

The district statement continued, “While it is encouraging to see upward movement at most of our schools, there is more that needs to be done. We must remain unswayed in our efforts to help students succeed in an academic setting. We can do this by continuing to analyze student and school data, identifying deficiencies and making adjustments where needed, implementing restorative justice practices to improve student behavior, creating stronger relationships and boldly activating a solution-based approach that is focused on student learning.”

“It’s thrilling to see the improvement in our community’s schools,” commented City Manager Bryant Powell. “We see how committed the students, faculty and administration are to elevating all of our schools, which is critical for the success of our city.”

AZMerit scores, discussed at the October 22 AJUSD Governing Board meeting, indicate that proficiency levels in English Language Arts (ELA) and math still lag behind standards; however, there were some bright spots. At the 4th grade level, students showed increases in ELA, and Four Peaks Elementary “skyrocketed” in math. 5th grade showed gains in ELA, but "there were some drops in math."

Unlike the school letter grades, which take into account growth (students’ movement toward achieving proficiency), the AZMerit test is essentially a snapshot showing current proficiency levels within each grade level. “Sometimes the numbers are not as high as we would like, but we are making gains,” stated Heather Wallace, executive director of educational services.

The district has been working with an outside consultant for math. “Last year was the first time the kids in grades 7-12 worked with the consultant and her team,” said Wallace. “We feel like this year, there's been a lot happening; last year was about building relationships - the math teachers learning to trust the coach; the coach understanding where the math teachers were struggling. We've really seen a change in the math teachers… They're collaborating as a team to understand where the kids need to get to and what they need to do to get them to the end goal.”

The principals will be meeting on November 14 to analyze the data provided in the AZMerit report and discuss plans for improvement.

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