New Arizona A-F School Accountability Plan Makes AZMerit High Stakes

The Arizona State Board of Education’s A-F School Accountability plan makes the AZMerit test a high stakes tests according to education activists. This week, the Board adopted the new plan effective for the 2016-2017 school year.

In 2014, the state suspended A-F school letter grading for two years to allow for a transition to lower standards and new assessments.

Board members Jared Taylor and Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas voted against the plan.

According to Douglas’ office, she voted against the plan due to her concerns that the “AZMerit test was never designed as a tool to test teachers or schools and grade them, but rather a test to see if children knew specific standards so they could receive proper education. Standardized tests in general yield results that closely tie to the demographics of an area and the challenges they face rather than the quality of instruction or school.”

Taylor had offered an alternative plan that would have included more meaningful metrics for parents, such art and music programs as well as the performance on the AZMerit, but was rejected by the majority on the Governor Doug Ducey-controlled pro-Common Core Board.

Arizonans Against Common Core, Mommy Lobby AZ, and Opt Out AZ released a statement after the vote: “Parents advocating for their children and teachers are dismayed by the A-F Accountability plan adopted by the Arizona State Board of Education. One high stakes test now accounts for 90% of a school’s letter grade. This decision reveals the SBE believes parents are incapable of selecting schools on their own. Few other factors matter to the state; however, parents make thoughtful school choices based on their own values, research, and judgment.”

Mommy Lobby member, one of the founders, and Board member of Choice Academies, Lisa Fink, in an appearance on the James T. Harris radio show explained the Board’s plan. “Basically what they did was make 90 percent of the school’s grade based on how students did on the AZMerit test. In fact, what we’ve done,” said Fink referring to the Board, “is make AZMerit a high stakes test.”


“Basically schools have a one-time shot with AZMerit as the basis of their grade,” said Fink.

Fink explained that only a small percentage of a school’s grade is based on metrics like absenteeism and graduation rates depending on the grade.

“Once again, the 90 percent of the school’s grade is based on the AZMerit test and the AZMerit test is a faulty test,” said Fink. “Much of it is still based on the Common Core standards; so it’s not a true representation of the quality of the school, and once again it’s just a one-time shot.”

Fink also pointed out that the AZMerit test “had never been validated. In fact, the American Institute of Research (AIR) is the entity that created the test, and they are a behavioral organization.” Fink asked, “They usually do more psychological testing and so why is that agency being utilized to provide an academic test? It may be bad and it may be good, but nobody knows because we haven’t gone through the proper (validation) process as it has been done in the past.”

Fink said that the State is currently using too few metrics upon which to base a school’s grade. “We know that history, science, and the arts are all essential to making a whole child; so that is the concern that Jared brought forth. He also brought forth a compromise; to lower the AZMerit portion by just 20 percent and then included those things that make a quality school.”

Fink also said that when she started her first school “we open the doors to 215 students.” She explained that the parents were drawn to the school because parents “liked the curriculum that we offered. They liked the mission and philosophy. A big part of what they liked was parental involvement. We had it in our charter that parents would have an opportunity to have their say; that was very appealing to many parents.”

Fink said she would like to see something that might be found in Consumer Reports. She would to see that Arizona Department of Education offer more information instead of just AZMerit scores. She asked why is it that people have a lot of information available when buying a car or pets (did I say pets? I meant electronics or homes), but not enough important information when choosing schools.”

Fink raised very good questions, and given the secretive nature of the State Board of Education and the chaotic environment in Douglas’ Department of Education, it is unlikely that answers will be forthcoming any time soon.

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  1. Anita,
    You should send the e-mail that you just posted to our state senator, Sylvia Allen. Her last Lighting Bolt newsletter was concerning the education of young people in our schools in AZ. Her letter that she sent out, also appeared in our Payson Roundup, on 4/28/17.

    • The Arizona State Board of Education’s A-F School Accountability plan is a move in the right direction!

      It is so easy to criticize the efficacy of a Standard Assessment Examinations (AZMerit) so as to ensure Teacher/Administrator Academic Accountability by measuring if Students are being taught properly and/or effectively learning the required body of information per Subject Area necessary for them to achieve their career goals without offering alternative strategies. Principal evaluations are subjective, limited, and of no real value. Classroom instructional heterogeneity requires an objective measure.

      Local Control of Public Education, generally, has been a dismal failure!!…hence the move, by Parents, of their Children, to Charter/Private Schools. We need to turn this around via a Arizona State Standard Assessment Examination (AZMerit).

    • Thank you Ms. LaBonte, for mentioning Sen. Allen’s Guest Comment. I am working on an article for Gila Watch relating to this issue and will send it to her. In the meantime, I left this comment at the end of Sen. Allen’s article: I agree with Senator Allen. We do NOT sacrifice our children to the “god” of public education, protecting it at any cost. Rather, we are “concerned about the education of the children in our state, wherever that classroom might be. We want our children to have the best educational opportunity, one designed for them, be it a traditional district school, a public charter, online, private school or home-school. We have to start putting the control of education choices back to our parents, instead of our institutions. Empowerment Scholarship Awards (ESAs) give back that power to our families.”

      Also, why does Arizona rank #48 in pupil spending. Even if Arizona raised personal income taxes by 50%, added a cent to the statewide sales tax and directed all revenues to K-12, it still wouldn’t crack the top 30 of per pupil spenders.

      How could this be, you ask?

      One factor is that Arizona is among the top 10 states in percentage of population under the age of 18. Since 1992, it has ranked #2 in student growth. Those folks don’t pay taxes. Also, Arizona ranks #13 in percentage of residents 64 and older (a group that requires more state resources). Arizona’s tax base falls on the shoulders of the 18-64 age group. Arizona is #49 in percentage of residents in this taxpayer category. This means that Arizona is virtually at the bottom in its ability to support one of the largest student populations in the country. Arizona isn’t necessarily a “wealthy” state, either. It ranks #46 in income per student. In contrast, the states that have the highest ranking in per pupil spending have low percentages of youths and higher percentages of working age adults.

  2. A friend of mine in California said these Common Core tests are to turn children into “Worker bees” not Engineers. Also to bring down their self confidence. Gov Ducey should be ashamed. He lied he just changed Common Core’s name into Az Merit. We need to advise President TRUMP Gov Ducey not keeping his promise to voters to eliminate COMMON CORE

  3. Unbelievable. So, the AZ. State Board of Ed is using the controversial, unvalidated, one-size-fits all, secretive, high stakes AZ Merit to “evaluate” every public school in Arizona. The only people who have seriously donned their thinking caps are SBE board member Jared Taylor, Choice Academies board member Ms. Lisa Fink, and commentators “Listen to a Mom” and Edward Cizek. The letter grade a school receives using AZ Merit scores as the most critical criteria will be useless to parents. Do the board members actually believe otherwise? What a waste of time, effort, and money. Ms. Fink’s Consumer Reports example is priceless. I would add that we use far more criteria evaluating the nutritional value of canned soup and cereal.

  4. The myths about standardized testing continue to fool taxpayers into the idea that one test can measure what a student knows. Further narrowing this faulty narrative is AZMERIT asks questions on Math and English Language Arts and nothing else. Experts reveal that to really measure knowledge on any ed standard, a student would need to answer in the range of 20 question per standard to ascertain competency. Of course this is an unwieldy number of questions. So, let’s be honest, that this test score isn’t really accurately measuring mastery/knowledge. It is interesting to note that census data is a highly precise and accurate indicator of which student populations will score well on a fill in the bubble standardized test like AZMERIT. Education researcher Dr Chris Tieniken has done this in many school districts and his findings nearly align completely with demographics. So what I am saying, the actual scores of a kid’s test align strongly with his socio-economic life. This is why there are pockets of high test scores and lower scores across the state. Look closely and overlay the demographics and there is a high correlation. I would never paint a broad brush to say the test scores in lower socio-economic areas mean the kids are academically less prepared than a higher area. I would say that AZMERIT shouldn’t be used as the most important and weighted factor. It’s not a complete picture. The teacher, principal and parent together are the ones who together know what a student is learning and where help is needed. The teacher, with the child for 180 days knows who is on track, who needs help, and will work to bring that child’s knowledge on a standard up. No teacher needs a bubble in test to inform her instruction!

    Another myth is that AZMERIT “informs instruction”…no it really doesn’t. Teachers and students are sworn to secrecy and cannot discuss anything about AZMERIT. There are 50 pages of instruction just to give the test in a school. Teachers are not allowed to even LOOK at the test let alone how a student answers a question. The test isn’t scored by anyone the teacher can speak with and the schools receive the student’s test scores mid summer…long after the school year is over. How is any of this remotely useful to a student, teacher, parent, or principal?

    The passing rate of the AZMERIT is an arbitrary metric set by the appointed State Board of Ed. You want more kids to pass, set the “cut score” to show that. If you think that doesn’t happen in AZ…you’d be wrong!

    AZ used to have a test called AIMS to measure Math and English. Students needed to pass the AIMS test to graduate…so what happened, the kids who didn’t, took the test multiple times, were tutored excessively, and when it appeared far too many 12th graders would be lingering in AZ without a diploma despite passing all their courses, the AZ State Board of Ed quietly lowered the passing rate.

    As a parent, this was frustrating to learn. It meant my kid’s score of “Exceeding” didn’t mean very much despite all the accolades thrown at my kid. Parents were lulled into thinking getting a good score was meaningful. If you lower the passing rate and more students “exceed” then that is fake accountability.

    900 colleges and universities according to Fair Test. org no longer even rely on the standardized tests of ACT or SAT for college entrance because even those bubble in tests are not as valuable to ascertain which students will succeed in college. Other indicators are better predictors like GPA, involvement in sports, clubs, leadership, working etc.

    It is misguided at best that one test gives an accurate picture of a student’s knowledge, but AZ doesn’t care, because that’s the new “ACCOUNTABILITY” measure.

    The State Board of Education thinks parents pick a school based on test scores. Who picks anything based on one metric? Think about the criteria you have for picking a Doctor or even a dry cleaner. Do you use one metric? Likely there are several things you consider.

    Each kid is unique and has their own talents and gifts. One school might fit a child better than another. If 2 schools each rate and A, you wouldn’t just play eeny meeny miney mo to pick a school.

    Parents picking a school look to see what the school’s vision is, who the leadership is, how long the teachers have been there, what the teacher’s experience is, how big the class size is, the curriculum offered, parents look to see what the school grounds look like, the safety of the school, how discipline is handled, what sports or clubs are offered, does the school have art, music, PE, foreign language course, and dozens of other criteria depending on the grade level of the student. One AZMERIT score counting for 90% of a school’s letter grade calling it a success or failure omits many of the most important things parents look for in a school.

    What is measured on a bubble in multiple choice test isn’t always what is most important. Many of the things that can’t be quantified are more important.

    But, State Board of Ed says only the test score matters by weighting it at 90% of the school’s grading to the public.

    SBE also laughably says the school letter grade is for parents. No, it it were for parents, it would be designed by parents and include the actual items parents use in picking a school.

    Ms. Fink is right, I had more info on paper in Consumer Reports when I bought my new refrigerator.

    It’s time to be honest about what a school letter grade is and is not!

    • Good points; I agree with most of them.

      I would add that all of these standardized tests have very real costs. Not just handouts to Pearson and other testing companies, but also in terms of the time spent preparing for them and administering them as well. How many instructional days that could be spent teaching new material or spent practicing the fundamentals of the three R’s (or any of the other curriculum that makes a well-rounded education, or even some P.E.) is wasted administering standardized tests to elementary school students?

      I’m fine with at least entertaining the idea of standardized testing in middle and high school, but I feel like all of the state-, district-, and school-mandated testing we currently have, especially in elementary school, has given us very little to show and has wasted many weeks of the typical student’s academic life in the process. Plus, I don’t see what we gain when students who either have brains which take a little longer to wire, or who may not have the same opportunities at home, get set up for failure early on, and then learn to hate school and become troublemakers – we end up paying a lot more to deal with them in the legal system than if we had a better system for education.

      I’m not saying that I have all the answers or that the answers, whatever they are, are easy, but I don’t think ‘school accountability’ in this manner is good for students, teachers, or parents.

  5. If we are concerned about the generally dismal state of our System of Public Education, we would not hesitate to supports efforts at improvement. We cannot continue with our “heads in the sand”, and, under the shibboleth, “local control of Education/States Rights” watch passively as our System of Public Education becomes, internationally, at best, Second Rate!! The viability of our Democracy and National Security are in jeopardy.

    Given the wide classroom instructional heterogeneity within Public Schools/Districts/States, it is necessary to have some Objective Measure so as to determine if Students are being taught properly and/or effectively learning the required body of information per Subject Area. This is the sole purpose of Standardized Assessment Examinations.

    AZMerit is such an Assessment Examination and will indicate the effectiveness of the Schools/Districts/States Academic Program, so that, if necessary, remedial action can be taken.

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