By Brad McQueen
The Arizona Department of Education announced to great fanfare that it has now created unique practice tests for our “uniquely Arizona” Common Core statewide test, the AZMerit, which is being administered by the testing company A.I.R.
Teachers, students, and parents alike have been complaining that no practice tests existed as an aid to prepare for AZMerit since it was hastily adopted just two months ago. As a result, the Department of Education instructed Arizona teachers to use Utah’s Common Core practice tests until they could develop uniquely Arizona AZMerit Common Core practice tests.
Sounds like the AZMerit people and the AZ Department of Education staff spent many sleepless nights working on these “uniquely Arizona” practice tests to help Arizona’s kids and educators prepare for our “uniquely Arizona” Common Core test, huh?
Not so fast. Our AZMerit practice tests for 5th grade is identical to Utah’s Common Core practice test. Utah’s Common Core test is called the SAGE test, which stands for the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence, and is also being created by A.I.R.,the same testing company that administers our Common Core test AZMerit.
Oh, and by the way, our AZMerit practice tests for 5th grade is also identical to Florida’s Common Core practice test. Floridians will take the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) also created and administered by the testing company A.I.R.
The testing company A.I.R. (American Institutes for Research) was belatedly awarded the contract for our statewide test which not only replaces the AIMS test but also assesses Arizona’s newly implemented federal Common Core standards.
The new state test is called the AZMerit test and will assess kids in grades 3-8 in reading, writing, and math as well as serve as an end of year test for several language arts and math courses in high school. The testing company A.I.R. and the AZ Department of Education promised that AZMerit would be a “uniquely Arizona test”.
A.I.R. also administers the Smarter Balanced Test (SBAC). One requirement for getting federal stimulus money in 2009 was that Arizona and 46 other states had to join at least one of two Common Core testing consortiums which would create the test to assess the new Common Core learning standards.
The Smarter Balanced testing consortium and the PARCC testing consortium were created using close to $380 million from the federal government. Arizona chose to join the PARCC group.
Due to the lack of time to create a “uniquely Arizona” test many in the education community assume that A.I.R will merely pull items from its test item data bank that it uses to create the Smarter Balanced test, its Utah SAGE test, and its Florida FSA test and just rebrand it with an Arizona name, thus the AZMerit test.
Releasing a practice test for the “uniquely Arizona” AZMerit test that is identical to Florida and Utah’s Common Core practice tests only adds to the certainty that this is what is happening.
Arizona’s State Board of Education, the Department of Education, and Governor Jan Brewer were moving towards adopting the Common Core’s PARCC test for the last 4 years since they adopted the Common Core standards in 2010.
Not only was our previous Superintendent John Huppenthal a member of the PARCC Board of Governors, but there were “PARCC leads” installed at the Department of Education at taxpayer expense working for both the ADE and the PARCC group.
We even had a complete “PARCC-like” practice test created by Arizona educators over the summer of 2013 at significant cost to the Department of Education in anticipation that PARCC would be our Common Core test. I know this because I was one of the teachers that worked on that PARCC practice test.
Arizona also participated in the PARCC field test last year in anticipation of adopting the Common Core PARCC test using our kids without parental permission.
But a small thing called the truth interceded and the ugly truth about our education officials and PARCC were laid bare. Internal emails obtained through a FOIA request suggested that there was much collusion between our state officials and the PARCC group violating our state’s procurement laws.
After our state officials were exposed for their PARCC collusion/deception, Governor Brewer hastily exited the PARCC group in May 2014. The State Board of Education had to scramble through a last minute test adoption process and only awarded our state test contract to A.I.R. a couple of months ago in November 2014.
Four months is not enough time to create “uniquely Arizona” tests for each grade level from 3rd through 8th grade for math, reading, and writing as well as end of year tests for multiple high school courses. Test items must be created through a very deliberative process, field tested for validity, analyzed, aligned, and checked for bias among other things before being considered for inclusion on a test.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas seems to agree in her state of education speech when she said, “A mere 21 weeks from adoption to implementation―let me repeat, 21 weeks, less than half a year, to prepare a test for students at almost every grade level. Once again, our precious children are being used as guinea pigs to advance some education agenda.”
The AIMS tests were always created a year in advance in order to field test and fine tune any new test items that were being added to the test. The PARCC practice test alone took over 6 months to create.
We are all so sick of the Common Core double talk coming from testing companies, the Department of Education, and their education industrial complex enablers. Arizona deserves more transparency and honesty from the Department of Education at long last.
Brad McQueen is a former Common Core insider and current public school teacher in Tucson, Arizona and is the author of the anti-Common Core book “The Cult of Common Core”. Connect with Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org