Arizona Board of Ed picks AIMS replacement developer

The Arizona State Board of Education announced on Monday that it has adopted a new assessment developed by the American Institute for Research (AIR) to replace the AIMS test. AzMERIT – Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching – will be administered statewide for the first time in Spring 2015.

The timing of the selection raised questions as to why the Board raced to choose the test developer the day before the General Election. The election will alter the educational landscape in Arizona and could have affected the selection process.

When asked for the reason for the timing of the selection, Arizona Board responded, that the time “was selected at the earliest date and time for which nearly all of the Board members were available.”

The sense of urgency was evident in the statement released by Superintendent of public Instruction John Huppenthal. “The Arizona Department of Education will work diligently and expeditiously to implement this new assessment selected by the State Board,” said Huppenthal.

The process employed by the Board and the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has mired in controversy. Much of that controversy was exposed by Tucson teacher Brad McQueen, who was involved in assessing the Pearson/PARCC test for the ADE. Arizona was finally forced to pull out of the PARCC consortium.

Many believed that the Board would choose Pearson to develop the test, but due to the scrutiny, AIR was likely the next best choice to fit the agenda of the Board, which has fought for Common Core against the wishes of the public. AIR is suing the state of New Mexico claiming that “the request for proposals put forward for common-core testing work on behalf of states belonging to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers was skewed in favor of Pearson” according to Education Week. “A central allegation was that the contract improperly bundled testing work that Pearson had already won through a separate award with PARCC with new testing work—which unfairly gave the company the upper hand.”

AIR is a private, not-for-profit organization, doing millions of dollars in assessment development in 15 states, including California, Washington, Hawaii, Utah, Maine, South Carolina, South Dakota, Delaware, Idaho and West Virginia.

Education expert Diane Ravitch noted on September 29, that “AIR has collected over $65 million from the Gates Foundation in the form of 23 grants since 2003.”

As a not-for-profit company AIR leadership does quite well. AIR CEO David Myers earns a reported $566,304 yearly salary, according to Dean Kalahar writing for the American Thinker.

According to Kalahar, “AIR works directly with the Center for American Progress, John Podesta’s overarching progressive think tank.” WFSU reported that AIR was a subcontractor for CBT/McGraw Hill when that company made test items for Smarter Balanced.

The Arizona Board of Education President Thomas Tyree insists that the tests developed by the Washington D.C. based company “will be overseen and controlled by Arizona, and will measure each child’s mastery of Arizona’s standards.” Arizona’s standards are the national Common Core standards known as Arizona’s College and Career Ready standards.

Tyree says that the assessment developed by AIR “will provide reliable and timely information to parents, teachers and policy makers to support our schools as they help prepare Arizona students for success in life, in career, and in college.” It is that data gathering to which so many educators and parents have objected.

That data will be used to track students across their K-12 journey through Arizona’s schools. That data will be used to determine the future career options for students as well provide the ADE and other organizations insights into nearly every aspect of a student’s life.

One long time educator pointed out that all the Common Core assessments are supposed to be designed to be administered online. This leads to two issues:

(1) How well will an online assessment measure student knowledge and skills if the student lacks keyboarding competencies? This ought to be of concern to Arizona decision makers since many districts…particularly small, rural ones…often have inadequate connectivity for their computer systems and students frequently have much more limited experience with computers than urban or suburban students; and

(2) How much personal student data will be available to test makers and/or made available to third parties? The Federal Education Right to Privacy Act (FERPA) does not permit students to be identified to third parties or for the sharing of student specific information outside of the school and/or the school district. Even parent volunteers in schools are not permitted to see student specific data. What safeguards will be in place to prevent data mining by the test publishers?