By Emily Anne Gullickson, Executive Director, A for Arizona
Arizona is stepping out once again as a pioneer in the education sphere, and it’s making status quo-ers nervous. The Arizona Legislature recently passed legislation allowing individual schools to choose which test they will use to measure student outcomes. The State Board of Education is responsible for approving a “menu of assessments” that schools can opt-in to use in lieu of the state’s current AzMERIT exam.
This approach moves us past one-size-fits-all state testing policies that result in over-testing students.
Innovative ideas aren’t always welcomed with open arms, but they often lead to exceptional outcomes. Here’s why we should embrace Arizona’s first-in-the-nation assessment-choice law.
First, the concept for the menu of assessments came to fruition because of demand in the education marketplace. Teachers and leaders called for these more-rigorous assessment options, and state lawmakers listened!
School principals and teachers wanted the opportunity to choose the test that best aligns with the material taught in their classrooms and that has relevance for students. Many of these leaders were already using other reputable testing vehicles such as ACT and Advanced Placement. Now, high schools can measure student improvement without having to give a second test for college entrance or accelerated graduation.
Of course, the common fear is: “Won’t mayhem ensue if every school can use whatever exam they want?” For those concerned, fear not.
The law specifies a high bar for the State Board of Education to add a new exam to the list of approved assessments and to do so in public meetings. To date, there are only a handful of eligible exams that have met this high bar. Indeed, the exams on the menu are used by colleges to assess readiness for training and education after high school or to award college credit.
What about the ability to compare scores? The loudest proponents of the menu of assessments are also among the strongest proponents for rigor and accountability. It’s critical that assessment choice work seamlessly in evaluating school success in educating students and to be able to compare this performance. The goal of all these exams is to measure student readiness for training and college after high school. This is the standard for comparability.
Finally, there’s the question of how the new state law squares with federal education policy, specifically the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA actually outlines its own menu of assessments, but on a slightly smaller scale that’s taking too long to implement. ESSA’s crafters wanted more state flexibility.
Arizona should insist the intent of the law be respected here. Our expectation is that the U.S Department of Education will allow us to exercise that flexibility in a way that serves students at a very high level, brings innovation, and respects parent choice.
This is not the first time Arizona has been out front on innovative education delivery. As early adopters of district open enrollment, accountability for student success, career and technical education, and public charter authorization, Arizona has a history of making bold moves. Today we are seeing those moves pay dividends.
For a decade, Arizona students and schools have been outperforming their peers in achievement gains and growing our graduation rate. We also see more students than ever enrolling in college or job training.
Arizona’s trailblazing ways of the past have proven successful. We’re moving in the right direction and accelerating excellence.
Menu of assessments is the next chapter of Arizona’s legacy of embracing bold and innovative education approaches that honor student outcomes and respect local control.