This spring, students took the state’s assessment test for the first time since 2019, and 70% of Continental Elementary School District’s students did not meet standards.

The Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching (AzM2) assessment tested CESD’s students (third through eighth grade) in math and English Language Arts. The majority of students tested as minimally proficient, the lowest level, in most grades and subjects.

There was only one area where 50% or more of students passed — fourth grade math.

Despite the low scores, CESD is still above the state average in six areas, and even in another.

Schools will not be graded with the AzM2 scores this year, but CESD is using the data to find where their largest gaps in achievement are and how to address them.

She was prepared

Superintendent Roxana Rico said the scores are a concern to her, though she was prepared to see low test results.

“I knew the scores would not be as good as last year but it’s always shocking to look at the data,” she said. “When you have 70% of kids not meeting standards it’s concerning. I knew it would not be where it needed to be but I didn’t anticipate it would be this low.”

Rico said pinpointing the specific reasons assessment scores are low is difficult, but the pandemic played a big role and reduced the amount of time students were in school.

“It was a rough year and we’re trying to tell kids to just focus on school and study, but it’s not that easy,” she said. “In our climate survey, I asked kids how much COVID affected them emotionally and academically, and it was pretty low. So, we can’t even really say it’s all due to stress about COVID. Our surveys didn’t reflect that.”

Rico said one of the reasons their scores were low is that special education students, English as a Second Language students and students who stayed digital are lumped in together.

“We know kids who stayed online definitely did not meet standards,” she said. “Special education students have increased but are not reaching the level of proficiency, and their scores are significantly lower. The results are telling us kids who were home struggled more and the special education population also has a lot of room to grow.”

The lowest marks came in sixth grade math, where 14% of students passed.

Rico said if digital and special education student scores were not included, the passing rate in sixth grade math would go up 10 percentage points.

The format of the test was also a little different, Rico said. Where the 2019 test had about 24 questions per grade level, this year’s had 11 or 12. There was far less room for error.

In 2019, there were four categories where 50% or more of Continental students passed — third-, fourth- and fifth-grade math and fifth-grade ELA. The category with the lowest percentage of passing students was seventh-grade math at 30%.

Reteach and Enrich

CESD will start a Reteach and Enrich program for each grade level in the new school year to focus on specific standards.

They also ensured some of the digital students participated in summer school to transition them back to in-person classes come the start of the school year.

They will have students take an assessment the first week of school as well.

They are looking to address some specific areas of struggle, which Rico thinks will be helped with their new math coach and a new special education director coming on board.

“I think we need to stay the course with our new math curriculum adoption, the new awareness of parents for state standards and focusing on after school tutorials,” she said. “We’re even looking at Saturday school for kids who are not closing the achievement gap in the second quarter. We need kids to understand the sense of urgency.”

CESD is also trying to bring on more community tutors to work with children a few times a week on math and reading.

One indicator

Rico said AzM2 is just one indicator of student achievement, and there’s a difference between their own benchmark testing scores and the performances of students on the state assessment.

“We celebrate honor roll and completion of projects and when we look at the benchmark data we can see growth and know the achievement gap is closing,” she said. “We know that on a regular basis, kids are mastering skills and getting better. We had more kids showing growth on our formative assessment, so we see a discrepancy there.”

She said at some point, she hopes the state takes a look at low AzM2 scores and asks themselves, “Are 60% of our kids really floundering and not mastering standards?”

“If we look at it statewide, to celebrate that we came above the state average, it’s sad,” she said. “Kids in Arizona are not doing well and it makes me think about the assessment. I’d love to get a student from New Mexico to take the Arizona test or a student back east. I don’t think it’s a true reflection of what kids know.”

Overall, the state average for fifth grade ELA was the highest at 45% passing, compared to CESD’s 44% in that category.

The state fared the worst in eighth grade math where 26% passed. CESD had 35% of its eighth-graders pass math.

So far, Rico has not received much feedback from parents on the scores, which were presented in the school board’s June 15 meeting. The results have not been posted on the district’s site yet.

“My advice to parents is to focus on your own child’s progress, that’s the best indicator,” she said. “We also need to have parents understand the sense of urgency and they may need to help get their kids to stay after school for some of this tutoring.”

Moving forward, Rico said they are still looking to analyze sub groups like special education students and those students who were completely digital to make individual plans for each student.

“Again, it’s been such a trying year and I really do feel with everybody working together it takes a village,” she said. “We have the support, the right teachers, the right curriculum, it’s just a matter of being deliberate.”

Those interested in volunteering as a community tutor can visit for more details.

Jamie Verwys | 520-547-9728