By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor

Nearly half of the students in Gilbert’s two public school systems aren’t adept at reading, writing and math, according to the latest AzMERIT test scores.

While Higley Unified School District saw more students passing English Language Arts and math in 2018, Gilbert Public School District saw no improvement in students tested in English and fewer students passing math from the prior year, according to data from the Arizona Department of Education.

The final scores include fall 2017 and spring 2018 performance results.

In Higley, 60 percent of its 8,512 students who took the English arts test passed – an increase from the 58 percent in 2017. And in math, 62 percent of the 8,206 students tested passed, up from 60 percent in 2017.

The percentage of passing for 24,097 GPS students who were tested was 52 percent, the same as in 2017. In math, fewer students passed at 53 percent, compared with 55 percent the prior year.

“Gilbert Public Schools is very proud of our students and staff,” said Brandie Harris, district director of assessment and accountability in a released statement.

“While this system is a good measurement of our academic progress, it does not measure and value culture and climate and the countless hours our dedicated staff invest in the education of our students. We are proud of all of our accomplishments.”

Harris said the district uses the test scores as a temperature check on students’ progression in their mastery of grade-level or content-area standards.

“This is one part of a balanced system of assessment the district utilizes to inform teachers, as well students and their families, about student learning,” she said.

Harris added the test results are intended to help schools and districts improve student performances, let parents have a better understanding how their student is doing and help identify students who may need help.

Gilbert school board is expected to discuss the AzMERIT results at a future meeting.

Higley School District did not respond to questions about the results despite repeated requests from the Gilbert Sun News.

All public school students in grades 3 to high school take the assessment test, which replaced AIMS as the state’s standardized test in 2015.

The state education department uses AzMERIT scores to determine 90 percent of a school’s A-F letter grade, which gives parents an idea of how well a school is preparing students. Passing it is not a requirement for graduation.

Overall, the statewide annual checkup of student performance ticked up a couple of notches from the prior year, according to AzMERIT. Charter school students also are tested.

Still, just 41 percent of Arizona students tested in Arizona passed English language arts and 41 percent passed math.

Diane Douglas, state public education superintendent, released a statement that said students improved in 26 of the 30 grade-level and test categories but noted AzMERIT still had a long way to go to become the most effective tool in measuring student performance in the state.

How well students tested also is reported as one of four performance levels – Level 1, or minimally proficient; Level 2, or partially proficient; Level 3 for proficient and Level 4 for highly proficient.

Students who scored at Level 1 or Level 2 are likely to need help to be ready for the next grade or course, according to the AzMERIT reporting guide.

For English, 28 percent of Gilbert district’s students were minimally proficient, 19 percent partially proficient, 36 percent proficient and 17 percent highly proficient.

In math, 25 percent of the students were minimally proficient, 22 percent partially proficient, 33 percent proficient and 20 percent highly proficient.

In English arts, 21 percent of Higley district students were minimally proficient; 19 percent partially proficient; 39 percent were proficient; and 20 percent, highly proficient.

Higley’s districtwide math scores showed 18 percent of its students perform at a minimally proficient level, 20 percent at partial proficiency, 34 percent at a proficient level and 28 percent at a highly proficient level.

Based largely off the test scores, all Higley district schools earned either an “A” or “B,” according to finalized 2017 letter grades released in April by Arizona State Board of Education. The board intends to release the 2018 grades this fall.

GPS campuses also earned and “A” or “B” with four schools earning a “C” – Gilbert Junior High, Houston Elementary, Harris Elementary and Desert Ridge Junior High School.

An “A” grade is considered excellent, “B” is highly performing and “C” is considered performing, according to the state Education Department.

Statewide, 20 percent of K-8 schools and 19 percent of high schools earned A’s, according to the latest letter grades.

SchoolDigger.com calculated the latest AzMERIT results and ranked schools in the state based on their scores.

Gilbert Classical Academy High School, an honors campus in GPS, was No. 1 among 412 Arizona high schools ranked, up from second place in 2017, according to the online company.

Students at that high school passed AzMERIT with flying colors with 93 percent of 242 students tested passing English and 86 percent of 171 students tested passing in math.

Both Higley high schools and three other GPS high schools made the top 100 list for AzMERIT scores, according to SchoolDigger.com: Higley High was No. 43, Campo Verde was 48th; Williams Field No. 74, Gilbert Global Academy High No. 86 and Highland No. 88.

Among middle schools, Gilbert Classical Academy was No. 37 and Sossaman Middle School was No. 84.

Neely Traditional Academy ranked No. 23 among elementary schools and Greenfield Elementary was No. 81, followed by Cortina Elementary at No. 82.