Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/mesa/articles/1018RankingsZ11.html

12 excelling schools in Mesa
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 18, 2003
Mel MelÚndez

More than half of the state's "excelling" schools are in the East Valley, and Mesa residents can boast that a dozen of those schools fall within their city lines.

The state released its school rankings Wednesday showing that 128 schools, half of them in the East Valley, earned the top "excelling" label. Schools are ranked as underperforming, performing, highly performing or excelling under Arizona LEARNS, the state's accountability system.

Thirteen Mesa public schools, including Hendrix Junior High in Chandler, earned the excelling label, 18 ranked as highly performing and 43 earned the performing tag. All of Mesa's schools skirted the onerous underperforming label, including last year's "underperformers" Lowell and Webster elementaries, which were upgraded to performing.

"This was such a weight lifted off our shoulders," said Mindy Lake, a third-grade teacher at Lowell, "because that label is so demoralizing and hard to swallow when you and your kids work so hard."

Mesa school officials credited much of the schools' gains to intensive remediation efforts, including tutoring, skills building over school breaks, and partnering youngsters with advanced students and mentors.

But changes in the labeling formulas to accurately reflect schools' progress also helped, said Joe O'Reilly, the 75,000-student district's executive director for student achievement and support. This year, state officials revised the labeling system hoping to avoid a controversy similar to the furor over last year's abysmal rankings.

About 300 schools earned the underperforming label last year, and three made the excelling cut. This time around, 150 schools, including Aguilar and Evans elementaries in Tempe, earned the weakest ranking. The formula uses AIMS math and reading scores, Stanford 9 results and high school graduation and dropout rates to arrive at the rankings.

"This is a fairer system," O'Reilly said. "Nobody bought that Arizona only had three excelling schools."

Ironically, two of Mesa's excelling schools, Taylor and Stapley junior highs, and one of its highly performing schools, Franklin Northeast, failed to make "Adequate Yearly Progress" under No Child Left Behind, the federal accountability system. More than 440 Arizona schools failed to make AYP under the stricter federal guidelines.

A requirement that 95 percent of the students in eight subgroups be tested, including those learning English, special-ed kids and students living in poverty, explains why schools demonstrating gains could fail to make AYP, O'Reilly said.

"When you consider that a school could have five kids in one category and it's easy for a student to be out due to illness, that's only 80 percent tested," O'Reilly said. "So there's just no way around this."

Schools have until Monday to appeal their rankings.