How do our students compare?

It’s difficult to believe registration for next school year is already on the table. With this time of year often comes many questions. We hear questions like,

Is this really the best environment for my child?
Is my child being prepared for high school and beyond?
How do AZ students compare to students in the traditional setting?

As new as the ARCTIC Zone still is, having nearly three years under our belts has finally started to provide us with some solid evidence on which to stand. Just last week we received some visible data to which I would like to speak. Though we pride ourselves in the ARCTIC Zone on not using traditional testing methods to assess the learning of our students, we still participate in district and state-mandated tests each year, and we recognize the value in using these results for “comparison” purposes. We also understand the results of one standardized test taken on one day in a student’s life does not offer proper insight into a student’s knowledge, abilities, or growth over time – especially the essential life skills we are attempting to develop in the ARCTIC Zone. So let’s talk data.

Each year our students take the state Forward Exam in the areas of math and English-Language Arts (ELA). Three times each year, our students also take the STAR Exam in math and reading. Because math is no longer a content area that exists in the ARCTIC Zone, we’re looking at reading/ELA measurements. We just received a spreadsheet from our school psychologist last week with a side-by-side comparison of AZ students and students in the traditional setting, broken down by grade level, for each test taken. Due to the sensitivity in sharing testing data, I do not plan to publicly share the actual graphic. The spreadsheet includes the results from last year’s Forward exam and this year’s STAR test from both the fall and winter sessions. In every single comparison, ARCTIC Zone students outperformed students from the traditional setting in the areas of reading and ELA.

We are very proud of these results. It validates the learning environment we are developing, and I think it helps to answer many of the questions we regularly receive. This type of learning looks and feels very different for all members involved: students, teachers, families. It’s exciting, but it can also be a little frightening. It is reasonable to ask ourselves, is it actually working? I think this data proves – yes – it absolutely is.

I want to take it further than that, though. If we break down the results of our very first group of AZ students, our current eighth graders, we notice something I believe to speak volumes to the credibility of our learning environment and its impact over time. Upon looking at this group’s test results in Reading and ELA last year, as 7th graders, their average scores were higher than those in the traditional setting. As we look at that same group of students, now in eighth grade, compared to the same group of students in the traditional setting, their average scores are not only higher but A LOT higher.

For nearly three years, time and time again, we have been asked about how our students compare to others. As difficult as that question is to answer, I feel like we finally have some teeth to our answer. There is no denying that our programming is developing quality readers, writers, and speakers. Nearly every task our students complete requires them to exercise these skills, oftentimes without their realization. Aside from language skills, they practice critical thinking, problem solving, collaborating, reflecting, organizing, questioning, and communicating on a daily basis.

The next question is, are our students going to be prepared for high school? To be frank, we don’t know. We can’t possibly deliver on that question because we’re simply not there, yet. We know the scrutiny that will follow our current eighth graders as they transition to high school next year. We also know we have developed mature, resilient, thoughtful, eager learners. To quote a woman who attended our PBL & Pizza event last week, “We shouldn’t be asking if our students are ready for high school. Instead we should be asking – Is high school ready for our students??”

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