Expect More Arizona wants public to expect less

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring the uphill battle Arizona lawmakers, parents, and taxpayers had in the fight against Common Core and its high stakes test, AZMerit.

When Joe Dana of 12News filed a mildly critical article regarding Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas’s concerns about the AZMerit test, the Common Core public relations machine sprang into action. Emails reveal a network of government employees, lobbyists, and educators gearing up to promote the test they knew would have “bloopers.”

Almost immediately after the article was published, Expect More Arizona began the campaign to prepare the public to expect less.

In an email with a subject “Re: Supporters of AZ Merit test respond to Douglas concerns,” Christie Silverstein, Expect More Arizona’s Vice President of Public Engagement, Kelly McManus, of Stand for Arizona, Janice Palmer with the Arizona School Board Association, Christine Thompson, Executive Director of the Arizona State Board of Education, and Katie Fischer, a research analyst with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce Foundation discuss a counter-narrative and the need to lower the public’s expectations.

In Dana’s article, he noted that Douglas was concerned about the “unknown variables.” As a result she said that in her opinion, “a test like this should not be rolled out, broad-based, year number one.”

“Douglas has expressed concern over the process used by the Arizona State Board of Education to adopt the new test. She also suggests that school districts are being rushed too quickly to adapt. The board voted on Nov. 3rd to approve the vendor that will administer the test,” reads Dana’s report.

In June 2014, emails revealed that then Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal and then Governor Jan Brewer “hurriedly removed our state from its nearly 4-year involvement with the PARCC/Pearson testing group a couple weeks back in an attempt to remove any appearance of favoritism in anticipation of PARCC/Pearson bidding on our statewide Common Core test,” according to Tucson teacher and author of the Cult of Common Core, Brad McQueen.

As a result, the ADE scrambled to sign-up another testing company. In November 2014, the ADE announced that AIR (American Institutes for Research), would develop the AZMerit test.

According to education expert, Diane Ravitch, “AIR has collected over $65 million from the Gates Foundation in the form of 23 grants since 2003.” Kelly McManus’ Stand for Arizona organization has also received considerable money from Gates.

The rushed nature was bound to wreak havoc in classrooms, and the staff at SBE knew it:

On Feb 11, 2015, at 9:06 AM, Thompson, Christine <Christine.Thompson@azed.gov wrote:

Cometely agree. Going as well as can be expected. Things happen – and we expect bloopers.
Christine M. Thompson
Executive Director
Arizona State Board of Education
1535 W. Jefferson, Bin 11
Phoenix, AZ 85007

——– Original message ——–
From: Becky Hill
Date:02/11/2015 9:04 AM (GMT-07:00)
To: Kelly McManus ,”Thompson, Christine”
Cc: Janice Palmer ,Katie Fischer
Subject: Re: Supporters of AZ Merit test respond to Douglas concerns

I¹m thinking that all new tests have their challenges. So there may be some bloopers here and there.

For that reason I just want to correct the record on whether the implementation is going well or not but I don¹t want to be so over the top that if something does go wrong on test days that it becomes a bigger story than it needs to be. That¹s a long way of saying, I like the sups idea for either of the bad bills in ed committees that would change the standards but I wouldn¹t do it on implementation. Make sense?

That may not be what you¹re thinking but I share that anyway. See you all soon.
Becky Hill

On 2/11/15, 8:52 AM, “Kelly McManus” <kmcmanus@stand.org wrote:

Also FYI – yesterday in TN, 114 sups presented a letter and did a press conference asking the legislature to not mess with anything until their standards review process was done. The pictures/coverage looked pretty good. Rebecca was supposed to call Deb yesterday to see what she had been hearing from her sups, so there might be the opportunity to do something broader as well.

Sent from my iPhone

On Feb 11, 2015, at 7:06 AM, Thompson, Christine <Christine.Thompson@azed.gov wrote:

I was on a call with Move On When Ready schools and Dysart spoke up saying they were excited about the test. I have other ideas of districts who may be willing to talk about implementation. Janice – give me a call and we can brainstorm….then we can share w Becky and Katie to get business leaders familiar with thos Sups to weigh in or do joint letters.
Christine M. Thompson
Executive Director
Arizona State Board of Education

It is the cavalier attitude that has so many parents and teachers up in arms.

Teachers, currently in classrooms, are sending frantic texts out of classrooms, screaming: “OMG! Look at what we have to torture our kids with – AZMerit – need a PhD to just get through the directions,” while SBE staff is pushing positive PR.  They are trotting out – once again – the likes of Amanda McAdams, a former government teacher, to sit for interviews. McAdams is also the voice in the non-stop radio ads which were released right after Governor Ducey brought his iron hand down on Rep. Mark Finchem’s anti-Common Core bill HB2190, last week.

Now, especially for high achieving kids, for whom any test is a high stakes test, the State of Arizona’s adults are unleashing an untested test they know will have “bloopers.” For the State’s third graders, the test is unusually cruel. According to an email from Sabrina Vazquez, with the SBE, dated February 26:

The Move On When Reading law (A.R.S. 15-701) specifies that if data on the third grade statewide reading assessment is available and demonstrates that a student scored “falls far below” (FFB) the student shall not be promoted from the third grade. School districts and charter schools are required by the law to provide additional reading services to 3rd grade students who score FFB on the statewide assessment. This year AzMERIT will be given for the first time in Spring 2015. As with the first administration on any statewide assessment it will take much longer for schools to receive student scores because of the standard setting process. Therefore, 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.

This delay and change in retention decisions will only be in place for one year.

In other words, small children will be forced to take the test and the benefits, if any, will not be available until well after they are needed. While Sabrina writes it off cavalierly, the third grade has been determined to be key to a child’s future academic success. The question becomes whether or not parents, teachers, taxpayers, and lawmakers are as cavalier about the welfare of our kids as those entrusted with the administration of their education.

“The Common Core standards themselves are not the major issue that concerns parents, teachers and community members. There is great concern that the implementation of these standards and the tests that come with them will continue the over-testing of Arizona students to the point that between the tests themselves and all the test preparation required the equivalent of several hours a week of instructional time will be lost during the course of a school year. Additionally, the tests are basically off-the-shelf products of education publishers and are not customized for the needs of Arizona students or the realities of Arizona communities. One of the most egregious parts of the Common Core agenda is the acquisition by test-making publishers of reams of private data that can be used to market any and all products to Arizona students and their families. Since the tests are designed to be taken on computers these publishers will not even have to do any work to acquire that private data. It will be uploaded virtually automatically to their servers. It is no wonder that the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, test publishers and computer vendors like the Gates family have spent hundreds of millions of dollars “renting” legislators across the country to support Common Core,” said long time educator and member of the NEA, Rich Kronberg.

“When government officials put the profit of publishers ahead of the learning needs of students there is bound to be pushback,” concluded Kronberg.

Opposition is bipartisan, Arizona State Rep. Kelly Townsend is one such government official who is not willing to stand by silently while children are put at risk. “As a mother of two high school children, I am more than concerned with this entire debacle,” said Townsend. “Assessments and testing should have remained in Arizona hands, not handed over to the efforts to nationalize education. We have unique learning challenges here in Arizona as compared to other states in the country, like Massachusetts. I still believe in the ability of Arizona to take what we had in our prior testing and standards and go back to the drawing board to revitalize and rewrite them to meet our current needs. Instead we gave them over to the bureaucrats in Washington, and now we are living with the consequences. I must insist that we not revise Common Core, but instead fully repeal it and reinstate standards and testing that are created by Arizona’s own teachers and parents. Washington has its own problems; we certainly do not want to invite them into our classrooms.”

Rep. Mark Finchem agreed, “I ran this bill for the parents, and teachers who were concerned about nearly every aspect of Common Core including the data gathering, and high stakes testing. Now we know, thanks to Tucson school teacher Brad McQueen, that the AZMerit test is essentially a copy of Florida and Utah’s Common Core practice tests and those entrusted with the roll out of the test in our schools are lowering expectations, I believe we must examine the situation closely.”

On April 1, Amphitheater Governing Board member Scott Leska advised parents in his district that he was “opting his children out of the test” and urged others to do so. TUSD Board member Michael Hicks supports Leska’s decision and hopes for some sunlight to be shed on the situation.

We wait with bated breath to see what other adults will make the adult decision and call everyone out of the testing pool for now.

Related articles:

Amphi board member opts out, bill back

Cupcakes, untested AZMerit for Arizona students

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

AZMerit’s “uniquely Arizona” practice tests not so unique after all

Ducey back peddles on Common Core, wants to keep federal standards

AZ Senate Education Committee passes Common Core kill bill

Bottom line on common core: Sunday’s comic

Badass Teachers oppose Common Core