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.”

[LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE]

“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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