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10:46 PM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Educational leaders explain AZMerit scores

District and charter schools implore public to see big picture behind test scores

BASIS Prescott in Prescott. (Robert Van Doren/Courtesy)

BASIS Prescott in Prescott. (Robert Van Doren/Courtesy)

With time to analyze the AZMerit data since the state’s release of the standardized language arts and math scores earlier this month, area district educators, parents and school advocates say they are proud to see students performing competitively against the area’s top scoring charter schools.

Charter school leaders are equally pleased with their students’ performance, noting that the latest test scores prove that public school choice and competition are benefitting all children.

What both district and charter leaders eschew is the game of one-upmanship — a public perception that one is better than the other based on aggregate percentages.

“It’s green apples to red apples,” declared BASIS.ed Chief Executive Officer Peter Bezanson.

He is firm that district-to-charter comparisons make no sense. He said he refuses to do so.

What Bezanson prefers to do is assess BASIS students against themselves, each other, and then with international assessments that compare them to top performing students around the globe.

And the good news: BASIS students are competitive, he said.

In this latest round of AZMerit tests, a state baseline test, Bezanson said it appears the greater Prescott area saw improvement in both district and charter schools. He suggests that proves competition is pushing everyone to “ramp up their game.”

“That’s a testament to all of us working together to make education better in Prescott,” Bezanson said.

Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard agrees that comparisons between charters and district schools simply do not compute.

“We’re every child, every day, so we’re looking at all our kids,” said Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard. “When comparing our test scores, you have to look at our numbers, and that is hard to explain to the public. If you have 15 in an eighth grade class (at a charter school) you have to then take our top 15 and see what that looks like.”

Each year, the results of these standardized tests, be it AZMerit or its predecessors, prompts comparisons between district and charter schools. Both are public schools paid for through taxpayer dollars. In many cases, the comparison suggests charter schools are outperforming the larger, district schools.

The hope of all these leaders is that rather than the public obsess over a particular score, either positive or negative, they instead look at overall student performance for growth and added proficiency. They, too, need to take into account other factors such as school culture, parent involvement and specialty services for those with learning

“When it comes to state assessment scores, we should be comparing apples to apples,” said Prescott Unified Assistant Superintendent Mardi Read, who is involved with analyzing test data and reviewing curriculum every year. “If we compared PUSD’s college prep students to the college prep students of local charter schools, we would find that not only are the PUSD students as high-achieving, but we graduate a larger number of students of which many continue on to military academies, honors college, and Ivy League schools.

Statewide, AZMerit scores remain lower than state lawmakers and educators would prefer. Only 44 percent of all students taking the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the test passed and 41 percent passed the math tests.

Breaking down the scores in this region, both district and charter leaders are looking carefully at where there are gaps and opportunities to move students forward with added support or new curriculum approaches.

To use these scores to skewer either a district or charter school is inherently unfair, leaders said.

The notion that charters “pick and choose students” is not accurate and absolutely flies in the face of reality at hundreds of charter schools across the state, said Ashley Berg, executive director for the Arizona State Board of Charter Schools.

“The state’s charter system serves students at every academic level, students with all manner of special needs, and students across the full spectrum of diversity — every ethnicity, every religion and every socioeconomic subgroup,” Berg said.

“Beyond just serving those students, charters are serving them well in terms of academic achievement: Charter students in every ethnic group typically score higher than their peers statewide on standardized tests.”

AZMerit scores are a “snapshot in time,” Howard said.

PUSD’s focus this year is to employ test data so it can motivate students to chart their own academic future.

“We’re not there yet,” Howard said. “But that’s where we want to go.”

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.