Standardized Test

"Arizona lawmakers agreed to be the first in the nation to allow schools choose from a “menu” of standardized tests for high schools."

Arizona risks losing $340 million in federal funds because state lawmakers allow school districts – including Chandler Unified – to offer an alternative to the AzMERIT standardized tests.

In a letter to state education officials, Frank Brogan, an assistant secretary at the US Department of Education, said the federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires that states administer standardized tests that meet certain requirements. That includes an ability to compare results among school districts.

But Brogan said that the decision to permit schools to offer alternatives, like the SAT and the ACT college tests, does not comply. So he rejected the state’s bid for a waiver of the requirements.

Arizona has offered a standardized test for years.

At one point it was AIMS, short for Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards. Of note is that high schoolers were required to get passing grades to get a diploma.

That was replaced in 2015 by AzMERIT, which stands for Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching. One particular difference is that it was not linked to high school graduation.

The following year Arizona lawmakers agreed to be the first in the nation to allow schools choose from a “menu” of standardized tests for high schools.

Based on that, the state Board of Education came up with a list of permitted options. That includes the SAT and ACT.

This is the first year that the substitute tests were allowed, and Chandler Unified School District took full advantage of administering the ACT to the district’s juniors.

“Our biggest thing with going with the ACT and going with the menu of assessments was we were able to eliminate six days of testing at the high school level and put those days back into the classroom because the ACT is one day,” said CUSD Assistant Superintendent Wendy Nance.

Nance added another advantage to ACT is that it is a college-readiness test that helps students gauge if they are prepared to continue their education after high school.

CUSD public information officer Terry Locke also noted that student absenteeism is lower during ACT testing than during the 6-day AzMERIT test period.

“AzMERIT was prone to students unofficially opting out,” Locke said. “There is no process for opting out of AzMERIT testing. Many just didn’t go to school on those days. Absences were much greater under AzMERIT than we experienced with ACT.”

Brogan’s rejection of the state’s bid for a waiver of the requirements won’t immediately affect the school districts that already have opted for an alternative to AzMERIT.

State Education Department spokesman Stefan Swiat said they remain free to use the tests this spring but will have to return to the AzMERIT test next year unless the department and the state Board of Education can convince federal officials to change their minds.

At this point, however, Swiat said the federal law requires that there be a standardized test that meets the federal requirements in at least one year of high school. AzMERIT meets that mandate.

In a joint letter to school officials, state schools chief Kathy Hoffman and state Education Board President Lucas Narducci said the plan at this point is to require all schools to administer the AzMERIT test to students in grades 3-8 and again in ninth grade.

“That will meet federal requirements,” they said. It also will meet one of the original goals of allowing alternatives to AzMERIT by eliminating that test in Grades 10 and 11.

Hoffman and Narducci said that schools remain free to choose assessments from that alternate menu. But they said it has to be in addition to the AzMERIT test. And they said it is “undecided” whether the state will pay to administer any other test.

What makes Brogan’s denial crucial is that he is threatening to place Arizona’s Title I grants into “high risk” status. It is that which endangers the $340 million the state gets in that type of federal aid this year.

Swiat said plans are underway to prevent that from happening and that the state board will meet later this month to decide what to do next.

But Swiat conceded that his agency had not provided to federal officials the information they said they needed to approve an alternative to the AzMERIT test before schools were given the go-ahead to start offering those options.

He said, though, that both the state Department of Education and the Board of Education were instead counting on Arizona getting the waiver from having to provide all that – the waiver that was just denied.

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