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Thu, Nov. 21

Editorial: AZMerit unearths chasm of perception

Students in Amanda Fagin's Algebra 1 class at Prescott Mile High Middle School look at a problem on the white board Friday, Aug. 10, 2018.  (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Students in Amanda Fagin's Algebra 1 class at Prescott Mile High Middle School look at a problem on the white board Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Yes, the AZMerit scores are in. And, yes, local schools showed a little improvement, year over year.

However, that improvement was still what could be considered as “failing,” and the schools have a perception problem.

Arizona’s standardized test is scored based on a four-tier system of minimally proficient, partially proficient, proficient and highly proficient — with only students who score in the top two categories passing the test.

Except for a few standouts — such as Abia Judd Elementary in Prescott having 71 and 73 percent of students passing English and Math, respectively; and BASIS-Prescott, Tri-City Prep, and Skyview at the top of local charters with their results — a host of local schools came in with students in the lower categories.

The state average was 44 and 41 percent, respectively (English and Math).

We hear a lot about new curriculum working, yet, see improvement only in single digits, if at all; one charter dropped from 51 to 40 percent passing English. What does it all mean? Are Prescott-area, or even Arizona, schools delivering results? The general public would say “no,” and educators say “yes.”

AZMerit “replaced AIMS, but raised the bar to the ceiling. Kids who were passing before, are now failing,” said Joe Howard, superintendent for Prescott Unified School District. “I don’t think anybody can say any test is the best. We knew four years ago, it will make us look like we’re failing.

“We like data, what we don’t like is to bank it on one (test). Multiple is best, and we want tests to inform us on our instruction.”

Years ago when the test was AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards), we heard a lot about a child having a bad day shouldn’t be held against them; some students taking the test are lower learners, and their results bring the average down; and the testing pool — the number of students — matters,

when comparing districts to charters.

Still, when Arizona ranks at the bottom nationally for funding, it is hard to believe we’re somewhere in the middle based on performance or grades when we hear of AZMerit scores.

“They keep changing the way AZMerit is presented,” Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter said frankly. “Proficiency and growth are counted nearly equal. It is a complicated process.”

The perception out there is: this is bad, Carter said, questioning “How many of those kids had a full-time, certificated teacher in class all year?” The schools lose an average of 24 percent of first-year teachers, and 20 percent of second-year teachers — each year, he said. “What industry loses 44 percent of its workers each year?”

What happens in those classrooms? Carter asked. “They cancel class, put the kids elsewhere, student-teacher ratio goes up, or we put a sub in that class — is that person fully qualified?

“This is a much bigger issue than a number.”

Carter, who has been a member and president of the state Board of Education, said as long as tests and letter grades are in transition, “we’re going to have this. (But) the rules keep changing. Can every kid get better, absolutely. Should we get better, absolutely.”

Unfortunately, perception is reality for the public. The perception can be reality that districts need to improve — better than 2 points on a test, year over year — and prove that they deliver quality. The belief also is that charters have an edge.

When scrutiny is on you, when you’re under the microscope of public opinion, you need to be doing it better.

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