A Costly Menu for Arizona

A Costly Menu for Arizona

The Arizona College and Career Ready standards require my 5th-grade students to become adept at comparing and contrasting. We compare and contrast two or more characters or events in a story or stories within the same genre (AZ.CCRS.5.RL.3 and 5.RL.9). We compare and contrast the structure of events or information in two or more texts (AZ.CCRS.5.RI.5). But although my students are expected to master this skill, it seems that our state isn’t holding themselves to the same standard. In 2016, Arizona legislators approved a law allowing school districts to offer a “menu of assessments” to choose from at both the elementary and high school level, rather than one statewide standardized test.  The result is the difficult task of comparing test results that use different metrics to measure student success.

This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s statewide standardized test, AZMerit, at the high school level. Because of this, Arizona could lose $340 million in federal funding as the “menu of assessments” law defies the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which   calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test (under most circumstances) to allow for comparable school by school data.

This goes beyond using the same metrics to compare and contrast student achievement. It’s really an equity issue. Under Arizona’s menu of assessments, there’s not a way to clearly measure and compare student success. Under ESSA, states are required to be more transparent about how they identify and support struggling schools and report on the performance of all student groups. It is critical to report the performance of all student groups to ensure that every student is receiving a high-quality education.

In addition to incomparable assessment data, school ratings should meaningfully reflect the performance of all students, especially those who have been historically under-served. In Arizona, subgroup performance does not impact the overall A-F grade that schools receive and has little impact on elementary and middle school ratings at all.  This can mask the performance of specific student groups.  It also puts the state’s accountability plan or requirement that all students, including individual groups of students, are receiving a high-quality education, in jeopardy.

Understanding the difficulty of aligning multiple assessments to measure growth in high school, the State Board of Education recently approved a substitute growth measure to gauge improvement in subgroups on proficiency, graduation rate, and dropout rate, rather than the standard growth measure based on student growth percentiles.

State accountability systems must reflect the performance of all learners and we should be able to easily compare and contrast the results. Arizona can’t afford to lose $340 million dollars and our students, families and teachers deserve easy-to-understand achievement data. Arizona needs a statewide standardized test that includes goals and indicators of school and student performance, clear reporting of all student groups, and a standardized data system.

Beth Maloney is in her nineteenth year of teaching and enjoys every minute of her time in her fifth-grade classroom in Surprise, Arizona. Beth is a National Board Certified Teacher, president and co-founder of the Arizona National Board Certified Teachers Network, and coaches other teachers undergoing rigorous National Board certification. She is a member of the Arizona TeacherSolutions® Team and a blogger for Stories from School Arizona and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree. Beth is honored to be Arizona’s 2014 Teacher of the Year. Beth strongly believes that teacher voice in the public education dialogue is the best way to make change for the better for all students.