Douglas favors governing board choice to test, or not to test AZMerit

Rather than take responsibility to protect Arizona students from the untested AzMerit exam, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas issued a statement saying that she supports allowing each school system’s governing board to vote on whether or not to test this month and April.

“Our assessment team did an amazing job putting together a test in 21 weeks,” she said. “However, we have the following problems:

1) The test was meant to be taken online, and yet only 40 percent will be taking the test online, and of those, many are having problems in testing and had to spend money on additional equipment.

2) The test is a departure from the former bubble system, but many districts have not had time to train teachers or students on the new test methodology. As a result, it is likely scores will be much lower due to learning a new test system, and exacerbate the division between districts with more technology and training funding and those with tighter operating budgets;

3) In the second year, testing will show great improvement, not because kids have learned more, but because districts and children have learned how to implement the test itself;

4) The written test, taken by 60 percent, does not fully match up with the online test, so scores will not be wholly comparable; and

5) Both students and teachers will feel the strain of “failing” a test simply because it is new and different.

“I have directed my assessment staff to work with districts that will have the most problems with AzMERIT testing to help ensure that children and staff are not subjected to undue stress,” she said. “When AIMS was first implemented, we had to spend a year going around the state putting out fires. The difference between AIMS and AzMERIT is even greater. Regardless of the quality of the test, rushing into it is bound to create additional problems.”

According to the statement, Superintendent Douglas “is committed to working with education officials at all levels of government to mitigate any potential impacts that could result from this change in policy. She will meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan later this month to discuss this and other issues. As with establishing a continuous standards improvement process, she will discuss with officials the testing concerns so that Arizona can avoid being penalized for taking reasonable steps to ensure a quality testing system has ample time to be properly implemented.”

Douglas’s version of local control will certainly guarantee chaos across the state, as each district develops their own policies on matters that used to be under the purview of the state.

In the statement, Douglas offered support for House Bill 2180, sponsored by House Education Chairman Paul Boyer, which would establish a set of statewide achievement tests that would be available to schools beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. Douglas claimed that each test would be nationally recognized, but refused to answer whether – or how – she could make that assertion.

According to sources, Douglas made no effort to stop a move by Governor Ducey to turn the State Board of Education (SBE) into a department under his administration. The new budget provides over a millions dollars to the State Board of Education for 11 full time employees. Prior to the move earlier this month, the SBE operated within the Department of Education.

Earlier this month, Douglas agreed to legislation that placed the employees of the SBE under the Governor’s control. As a result, few legislators questioned providing a separate budget for the SBE. However, education experts questioned the shift away from the previous arrangement which had provided a sort of checks and balance. Under the new scheme, Douglas has a minor role in policy development, and instead will simply oversee the implementation of SBE created policies.

Under Article 3, 15-251 Superintendent of Public Instruction, Powers and duties

The superintendent of public instruction shall:

1. Superintend the schools of this state.

2. Request the auditor general to investigate when necessary the accounts of school monies kept by any state, county or district officer.

3. Subject to supervision by the state board of education, apportion to the several counties the monies to which each county is entitled for the year. Apportionment shall be made as provided in chapter 9 of this title.

4. Direct the work of all employees of the board who shall be employees of the department of education.*

5. Execute, under the direction of the state board of education, the policies which have been decided upon by the state board.

6. Direct the performance of executive, administrative or ministerial functions by the department of education or divisions or employees thereof.

*Changed this year.

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Douglas favors governing board choice to test, or not to test AZMerit