AzMERIT Test Results

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Unofficial results are in for the new AzMERIT test, and they are not good. Two-thirds of the students did not meet math or English language arts requirements. Pearl Chang Esau, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, which works toward providing a world-class education for Arizona students, will talk about the test results.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon" -- the state's new AZmerit test shows two-thirds of students come up short in reading and math. Also tonight light rail extension in Mesa will soon be in operation and we'll check out a skateboarder turned photographer. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of 8, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Former president Jimmy Carter who appeared on "Arizona Horizon" just last week announced today that he has cancer. The 90-year-old former president released a short statement indicated only that the cancer has spread and that he will be receiving treatment at Emory health care in Atlanta. Doctors say his age should not be a barrier to any possible treatment. Unofficial results in for the new AZmerit test and they are not good. Two-thirds of the students who took the test did not meet proficiency standards in reading and math. Joining us now is Pearl Chang Esau, president and CEO of expect more Arizona. Good to see you again.

PEARL CHANG ESAU: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: First of all, defining terms here, what are AZmerit tests?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: AZmerit is the new statewide student assessment that kids took this year from grades 3 through high school. The first year they took the test, and really it was a part of a series steps of setting high expectations for all children. An important move in the right direction for Arizona.

TED SIMONS: So this replaced AIMS?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: yes. This test replaced AIMS. It's a different kind of a test. It really has set a higher bar for how we define proficiency for our students.

TED SIMONS: public school students only took the test? No private school kids?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: Public schools, so districts and charters.

TED SIMONS: how come private schools don't take these kinds of tests?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: it's just not required by law.

TED SIMONS: okay. So for the public school kids, tests are not mandatory, are they?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: they are.

TED SIMONS: They are mandatory. Okay.

PEARL CHANG ESAU: Yes.

TED SIMONS: I thought that parents could opt out.

PEARL CHANG ESAU: Not right now, no.

TED SIMONS: okay. Well, we'll move ahead, then. Results as we mentioned for reading and math don't sound that good. 59% men ale and partially proficient in reading. These are third graders now. 67% minimally and partially proficient in math. What's going on out there?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: Well, certainly the preliminary results show there's opportunities for improvement and ensuring all of our children have a chance to be successful but this is a really important moment for Arizona to step out and take a look at the big picture. Because the reality is that we have taken so many steps to move education in the right direction in this state, and there's been a recognition for some time now that we needed to raise our expectations for all of our children. So back in 2010 Arizona adopted a higher set of standards and standards that were more meant to be reflective of the kinds of skills and knowledge that kids need in the world today. The reality is that the world is changing so quickly around us we're preparing kids for jobs that don't exist. We need to be thinking about how to help kids become critical thinkers, problem solvers. To be able to be flexible and adapt to new situations. We have taken so many steps in Arizona to take a look at our standards, raise them to that expectation to make sure that our kids are nationally and globally competitive. This is one more step as part of that bigger picture designed to measure that level of proficiency.

TED SIMONS: so still these are lower scores than AIMS. Should they be lower than AIMS?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: I think you can't even compare the AIMS test to this test. AIMS was really built to measure minimum proficiency. So it was designed around a floor. Are our students meeting basic skills. The results of that test were a little bit misleading at times because when we called students proficient a lot of the students at the proficient level were having to leave high school and retake high school level courses. The AZmerit is designed to address some of that in that the bar is set at a higher level. It's meant to show that kids are on track to be ready for their future for college and for careers, and as a parent and as a taxpayer, I want to know where our students actually stand.

TED SIMONS: so with that in mind are these results really a surprise?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: They are not. This is where I think we have to commend Arizona's many of our policy makers are educators who have been working so hard. We have recognized for some time we needed to raise expectations for Arizona students. We having known for a long time that the results of the AIMS test wasn't anywhere on par to results of the national standard like the NAPE test. The results are pretty similar to national assessment data that we have been receiving from tests like NAPE for years. I think we have to acknowledge that our educators have been working incredibly hard and our students have actually improved. If you look at the trajectory of AIMS data leading up to this year's test, which is just a different test, our students were dramatically improving on the AIMS test, evidence that Arizona teachers have been able to move students in the right direction.

TED SIMONS: As far as now the ramifications of these results, I know that in the past there was talk that third graders would wind up have to be held back if they didn't get to a certain level. There would be letter grades for schools that reflect the result of the tests. Is any of that happening now or is that on hold? What's going on there?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: Last legislative session there's recognition of a lot of change. We want to honor this transition that teachers are making. That we have adopted new standards, we have raised the bar, we have a new assessment and we wanted to honor that time period. As a result there was legislation that was passed that put the letter grades on hold. So that is not happening this year. Student test data will still be released but not assigned to a letter grade or used for those purposes.

TED SIMONS: when does that start?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: It's a two-year transition period. The state board is on Friday taking a look at what we're going to do with move on when reading. That's another question. But I have to say the most important thing we can possibly do is make sure that we are recruiting and retaining the very best teachers we can in Arizona because standards and an assessment without a high quality teacher in place doesn't get us anywhere.

TED SIMONS: How do we do that? How do we attract these teachers, how do we keep them?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: Well I think we need to look at how we can do a better job of creating a culture where teachers feel supported, where they feel respected. Funding is an issue. We have had a resource challenge in the state for the last few years. Salary is a part of it. I think the best we can do is look at what our effective educators are doing, especially in low income communities, and learn from them.

TED SIMONS: So last question, these tests, obviously the initial results not the best, especially when it comes to reading and math and we understand it's a new test, just a change in the test itself isn't going to affect the scores, but when can we start getting these results seeing improvements or not having caveats for nonimprovement?

PEARL CHANG ESAU: Well, the first year is always a transition year. Whenever you have change. I would say even looking at the second and third year, the second year there might continue to be readjusting but as soon as we have more time to look at the trend data I think that will be really helpful for us. but what we would advise for parents and educators if they are seeing this is not to be alarmed. To embrace the information that this test is giving us as an indicator of how our students are doing in their readiness for the next grade, for college and career. We want the most accurate information we can have.

TED SIMONS: Alright, good to have you here.

PEARL CHANG ESAU: Thank you so much.

Pearl Chang Esau:President and CEO of Expect More Arizona

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