The ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy in Mesa tied for the top spot in Arizona school ratings for 2017, based on the final letter grades and scores recently released by the state Department of Education.
The K-4 charter school, located on ASU’s Polytechnic campus, and Ocotillo Ridge Elementary School in Pinal County tied for the highest percentage in scoring based on a formula that weighs proficiency in the AzMERIT standardized tests, as well as improvement in scores of some subgroups of students, and other factors, such as absenteeism.
ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy earned a score of 92 out of a total of 90 eligible points.
“We are thrilled, and it’s great because it shows that what we’re doing is working,” said Principal Claudia Mendoza. “Our teachers work hard every single day, but now we can celebrate.”
She said the school received extra points because so many of the students are working above grade level.
“Our students continue to push and are excited to learn. We let them lead the way and they surprise us,” she said.
The scores were based on testing that happened in the spring of 2017, and Mendoza and the staff are already focused on next year.
“We’re going to continue business as usual because that’s what we do,” she said.
(From left) Chloe Thomas, 10, Nathan Townsend, 9, and Devin Davis, 9, talk about things that change the Earth's surface in their Earth Science class at the ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy,Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now
K-4 STEM teacher Danielle Houseman goes over instructions with kindergarteners at the ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy as she teaches a coding lesson, as well as counting, cooperation and following instructions.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now
Third-grader Layla Nielsen, 9, shows Principal Claudia Mendoza her cast during a recess break at the ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now
Fourth-grade teacher Alexandra Gergen works with Makenna Cagely, 10, during their Earth Science class at ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy. Gergen is an ASU alumna and did her student teaching at the school.Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now
Across Arizona, 317 schools received an A ranking for 2017, 602 were graded B, 478 earned a C, 158 schools were given a D, 38 received an F and 128 were under review or not graded.
The scores became final last month after the preliminary scores were released last fall, before an appeal period. Mendoza said that when the initial scores came out, she expected her school would be in the top 10 but that she was surprised at getting the highest score.
“I was here late when I heard and we were just so happy,” she said.
The ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy campus includes both an elementary and middle school. The K-4 elementary school earned the top percentage and an A grade, while the sixth- through eighth-grade middle school earned a B.
The ASU Prep Poly STEM High School, also on the ASU Polytechnic campus, also earned an A. The schools are part of the ASU Prep network, which was launched in 2008 and educates 2,000 K-12 students at four locations: Mesa, downtown Phoenix, Tempe and Casa Grande. The network recently merged with an existing charter school and in fall 2018 will open ASU Prep South Phoenix - PCA. In 2017, ASU Prep Digital was launched to provide online education.
Mendoza attributed her students’ proficiency to the Cambridge curriculum, an internationally benchmarked set of lessons that focuses on developing critical thinking skills and applying knowledge to real life through collaboration. All of the ASU Prep schools use it.
“A big part of Cambridge is that they’re asking students for more than being able to answer the question. We’re not worried about memorizing the algorithm in math or the rules in reading just to memorize them. We ask them to apply them,” she said.
“With the Cambridge curriculum in kindergarten, first and second grade, it’s teaching them to think and not just settle for even the way the teacher is telling them to solve it.”
This year, more than 50 eighth-graders are taking accelerated math and earning high school credit, she said.
The school was recently certified as a STEM academy by AdvancED, undergoing a rigorous process showing how it incorporates science, technology, engineering and math into everyday instruction. For example, the school showed how kindergarteners created a supply chain to set up a lemonade stand.
Mendoza, who received a master’s degree from ASU, came to the school six years ago, when it only went to fourth grade and had 13 teachers and 230 students. Now, there are 730 students in K-8 with 37 teachers, plus eight student teachers from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.
“Hopefully we can have some celebrations soon,” she said.
Top photo: Kindergarteners Ryan Parsons (right) and Jaxyn Geyer (left) place blocks on graph paper, as teammate Leila Wilhelmi watches at the ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy. Their project involved basic coding, as they set up a maze and then ran a bot motor through it. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now