AZ Senate kills opt-out bill

Bill HB2246, which would have permitted parents to opt-out of the statewide AZMerit student assessments; was killed today by a handful of Republicans senators. In a bipartisan vote of 14 – 15, the bill, sponsored by Rep. Chis Ackerley, failed on the Third Read in the Senate.

Democrat and Republican senators joined in opposition to the untested AZMerit test. Ackerley, a physics teacher when not serving in the Legislature was joined by cosponsors Rep. Mark Finchem and Rep. Vince Lech in drumming up the bipartisan votes.

Normally conservative Republican senators Debbie Lesko, John Kavanaugh, Nancy Barto, and Judy Burges, shocked constituents in joining progressive Republicans Jeff Dial, Bob Worsley, Adam Driggs, and in defeating the bill that codified parental rights.

On March 17, 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.

According to Douglas, the test has 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.”

The Arizona State Board of Education (SBE) is required to adopt and implement a statewide assessment, and local school district governing boards are charged with administering the assessment.

Ackerly’s bill would have granted parent’s the right to opt-out of the statewide student assessment system and require educators to inform parents of that right.

The bill would have exempted students from the third grade reading retention requirement if that student’s parent
has opted-out of the statewide student assessment system. Many believe that all third graders should have been opted out by Douglas.

On February 26, 2015, SBE staff responded to a reporter’s inquiry about the test. Sabrina Vazquez, Deputy Director of the SBE wrote, ““schools will not have student scores on AzMERIT back in time in 2015 to determine if a student should be held back. This means the MOWR law will not be used to make retention decisions for the 2015-2016 school year. Once scores on AzMERIT are received, and if it is determined that a student scored FFB, they will be entitled to the additional reading services they would have received had they been retained.” Vasquez concluded, “This delay and change in retention decisions will only be in place for one year.”

In other words, the children in the third grade population, who are not prepared to move on to the next grade, would not receive the critical services needed to prepare them. They would be moved on when not ready.

The very reason that Common Core proponents push the federal standards is that there is a knowledge gap between high school and college. They argue that students are not prepared for college when they graduate from college, yet we know that that gap exists in the third grade and without interventions, a student will likely fail to thrive.

Ackerly;’s bill would have solved for this glitch. It would have required a school district or charter school to use an alternative method to determine whether a third grade student’s reading ability is sufficient to promote that student from the third grade if the parent has opted-out from the statewide student assessment system.

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