Arizona House Bill Would Require High School Juniors to Take ACT or SAT

Photo Credit: Ken Lund (CC-By-SA 2.0)

This week, HB 2037, a bill filed in the Arizona House of Representatives, if passed would not require high school juniors to take AzMerit or the AIMS Science test. Instead, they would take a college-readiness exam like ACT or SAT.

The bill sponsor is Arizona State Representative Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek) who represents Arizona Legislative District 15. He serves on the Arizona House Appropriations Committee, the vice-chairman for the Arizona House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and the Chair of the Arizona House Health Committee.

The pertinent bill language reads:

E.  NOTWITHSTANDING SUBSECTIONS A AND B OF THIS SECTION, BEGINNING IN THE 2018‑2019 SCHOOL YEAR, THE STATE BOARD:

1.  SHALL NOT ADMINISTER THE STATEWIDE ASSESSMENT PRESCRIBED IN SUBSECTION A, PARAGRAPH 2 OF THIS SECTION TO PUPILS IN ELEVENTH GRADE.

2.  SHALL NOT ADMINISTER THE ASSESSMENTS OF THE ACADEMIC STANDARDS IN SCIENCE PRESCRIBED IN SUBSECTION A, PARAGRAPH 2 OF THIS SECTION TO HIGH SCHOOL PUPILS.

3.  SHALL ADMINISTER TO ALL HIGH SCHOOL PUPILS A STATEWIDE COLLEGE READINESS EXAMINATION THAT INCLUDES A SCIENCE COMPONENT.

The bill has been assigned to the Arizona House Rules Committee.

AZCentral.com reported on the bill prior to it being filed:

House Bill 2037, introduced on Dec. 18 by Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, would eliminate the state requirements that juniors take the AzMERIT test and the science portion of the AIMS test. Instead, they would have to take the SAT or ACT during school hours.

Students wouldn’t have to get a certain score on the tests in order to graduate.

Carter said the low stakes of AzMERIT result in students not trying very hard on the tests, and believes requiringcollege-readiness exams insteadwould set them up for success.

“Universities and scholarship programs seek out those students that do well,” she said.

The goal of AzMERIT is to provide insight into a student’s educational growth.Carter said such a goal is wasted on students taking the test during their junior year since they typically receive results their senior year.

At that point, she said,the college-readiness exams would serve them better.

Furthermore, she said,providing the ACT or SAT tests free to students during school hours and making them compulsory would dramatically increase the number of students who take the test.

The bill itself does not specify which exam juniors would have to take. Presumably the state board would create rules outlining which assessments are allowed. The SAT, run by the College Board, has fully aligned their test to the Common Core State Standards.

ACT initially announced they would align to the Common Core, but has not done so as of yet with their college-entrance exam. In a 2012 white paper they would not make the claim ACT was aligned to Common Core, only that they shared research with those developing Common Core. ACT also developed an assessment, ACT Aspire, for use as a statewide assessment for use with states that use Common Core. They have also developed a social-emotional learning assessment. Interestingly enough, in 2016, ACT critiqued Common Core saying it did not reflect college readiness in some aspects.

Even so, may parents and activists are leery of ACT because of their initial involvement with the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

It’s unclear whether students could use alternatives like The Classic Learning Test or Vector ARC instead of SAT or ACT. If it has to be a choice between SAT or ACT, I’d encourage parents to choose ACT. ACT is still somewhat a wild card, but we know the SAT is all in with Common Core.

All of this is a moot point if the bill doesn’t pass though.

New Arizona Standards?

Activists on the ground are calling the new Arizona standards just approved by the Arizona State Board of Education a rebranding of Common Core.

They are also concerned about the lack of transparency since they had the understanding there would be another month to review standards.

The Common Core has been revised in Arizona, and unfortunately whenever Common Core is the starting point for new standards what you will get is a rebranding. That’s not to say there are not significant changes, as there were with New York’s rewrite. Unfortunately New York’s changes appear to be more comprehensive than what we see in Arizona.

The Arizona Republic reports about some of the changes:

Cursive writing appears to be the biggest change in terms of what things kids will be required to learn. There’s been unanimous support for making cursive writing a requirement.

Beyond that, many of the revisions had to do with changing the phrasing of the actual standards that, while unassuming to the average person, are meant to give teachers more freedom over how to teach their students.

Some phrases that appear to instruct teachers how to teach a certain standard were changed. As were phrasings that appeared too vague or unclear.

For example, one phrase in the first-grade reading standards that said students should know how to ask and answer questions about key details in a text was expanded to include the “who, what, when, why and how about key details in a text.”

Educators who worked on the revisions said parts of them have been restructured so that parents can clearly see how the reading and math skills learned in one grade are expanded on in the next.

The revisions will be reflected on AzMERIT, the state’s standardized test, in 2018.

Most of the actual requirements in the standards remain unchanged.

Standards to learn time and money, the high school standards are ordered differently to reflect Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. There are also additional standards added to the high school standards that are not required for graduation so I assume they will not end up on AZMerit.

So there has been some technical changes, but as far as I can see most of the foundational problems still exist. The early elementary standards are still age-inappropriate. There is still an over emphasis on informational text. The math standards still do not adequately prepare students for STEM programs in college.

It’s unfortunate that Superintendent Diane Douglas, who campaigned on ending Common Core, put her stamp of approval on this process and these standards. It is also disconcerting that these standards were voted on instead of allowing an additional month of review and public comment. Arizona can do better than this.

Read the final draft of Arizona’s ELA and Math standards.

AZMerit’s Stagnant Scores

arizona-state-flag

The Arizona Republic reported that Arizona students did not see much improvement in their AZMerit assessment scores from the 2014-2015 school year. AZMerit is the Common Core-aligned assessment that the state of Arizona has used for the last two school years.

They write:

Most grade levels improved their statewide reading and math passing percentages by single digits — and the overall positive trajectory shows Arizona did well to raise its bar, educators said.

But the second year of AzMerit scores, which were released Monday by the Arizona Department of Education, also brought more of the same as the 2014-15 school year.

More than 60 percent of the state’s students failed the math and reading portions of AzMERIT in 2015-16. In the inaugural year, nearly two-thirds of Arizona pupils failed the test.

In math, six out of the nine grade levels tested had most of their students score “minimally proficient.” In English language arts, eight out of nine grades mostly scored at the test’s lowest performance level.

AzMERIT scores are divided into four performance levels: minimally proficient, partially proficient, proficient and highly proficient. The latter two categories are considered passing. The test is given to students in grades 3-11.

Arizonans Against Common Core founder and parent activist Jennifer Reynolds said in a statement to supporters:

The Arizona Department of Education released the preliminary results from the 2016 AzMERIT exam as compared to the 2015 results. As you can see below there is no stark improvement in test scores and this is no surprise! This test has never been validated nor field tested that it will assess the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards (ACCRS), and is in fact Utah’s Common Core Assessment or the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) test that we bought from them in December of 2014! Opt out Arizona, this is our natural right to do so on an invalid test!

Below is a comparison of the scores:

Screenshot 2016-06-29 22.54.02

Common Core Replacement Bill Advances in the Arizona House

arizona-state-flagHB 2190  was introduced by State Representative Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) passed in the Arizona House Education Committee on a 5-2 party-line vote.  The bill if passed would block the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and prohibit the use of PARCC or any other assessment aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

The bill would establish a committee made up of teachers, parents and community members who would determine the new english, math and American History standards.  It also establishes a timeline for public comment and hearings to be held prior.  The bill also includes several student data privacy protections.

Voting for the bill were State Representatives Paul Boyer (R-Phoenix), Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale), Jill Norgaard (R-Phoenix), Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) and Doug Coleman (R-Apache Junction). Voting against State Representatives Reginald Bolding (D-Phoenix) and Lisa Otondo (D-Yuma).

You can read the bill below.

In related news, the Arizona House Education Committee also voted 5-2 in favor of HB 2246 sponsored by State Representative John Ackerley (R-Sahuarita) allows parents to opt-out of any statewide assessment.  The full House voted in favor of HB 2180 sponsored by Boyer on a 35-22 vote.  This bill if passed in the Senate and signed into law would require the Arizona State Board of Education to develop alternatives to the AzMerit Assessment which is aligned with the Common Core.  Local school boards would be able to choose the assessment that works best for their district.

Arizona State School Chief Blasts Common Core

Diane Douglas

Diane Douglas

Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas was elected on a anti-Common Core platform so it’s no surprise that she would blast it during her 2015 State of Education address before the Arizona Legislature on Wednesday.

She’s probably the only state school chief talking like this, and she didn’t mince any words. She called the state of Arizona’s public education poor and then she turned her sights to Common Core and its assessment.

Our Arizona state standards were discarded and replaced with the unproven Common Core Standards, which came to Arizona as a de facto federal mandate―only to be renamed Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.

The continual disruption of standards, accountability, assessment, and educator evaluations has caused uncertainty and stress in the education community as well as among Arizona parents. This is not the first time Arizona has changed its entire education system to reflect the latest fad, top-down approach, or cure-all sold as the solution for student achievement.

Common Core is just the latest, and it was implemented virtually without public communication, input or support. This constant roller coaster of dramatic changes has shifted the focus away from educating children and placed it on change for the sake of change itself.

Parents, students and teachers are exhausted and districts are broke from rewriting curricula and lesson plans every seven to ten years. Just as some stability is reached, everything is changed once again.

And now we will be subjecting our children to the brand new, unproven, inaptly named AzMERIT test―the name is the only thing Arizonan about the test―which was hastily chosen just 11 short weeks ago behind closed doors, once again without public discussion or vetting.

It was created by a self-identified, self-described behavioral and social research organization―not by education experts.

Our dedicated assessment staff at ADE has the daunting task of rolling out this new test in the next 10 weeks. Make no mistake, that team and districts all across the state are working diligently to fulfill this mandate.

A mere 21 weeks from adoption to implementation―let me repeat, 21 weeks, less than half a year, to prepare a test for students at almost every grade level. Once again, our precious children are being used as guinea pigs to advance some education agenda.

I call on this Legislature and the Governor to stop the madness and put our children first.