AzMERIT does Not Merit A Panicked Response

By Evan Bolick, Rose Law Group litigation and education law attorney

Today, the State publicly released the results of Arizona schools’ AzMERIT test scores and the results were… uninspiring. And soon to follow, will be mandatorily required grades (on an A-F scale) for every charter school and school district that will be predicated in large part on the results of AzMerit. Given the lackluster overall outcome of our schools’ performance, we shouldn’t expect the letter grades to shine. But it’s not yet time to panic.

It’s worth bearing in mind that AzMERIT is still a relatively new assessment, and its rollout and implementation has been anything but smooth. Many students, particularly in low-income schools, lacked experience taking computerized tests such as AzMERIT. The standards that must be met to be considered “passing” remain unclear. Even the public disclosure of information has been rocky as the State Board of Education delayed disclosure to account and adjust for various issues. And of course, AzMERIT was designed to be more rigorous and challenging, making near-universal initial success unlikely (and indeed, we should praise even the modest growth already made by the majority of Arizona schools). But the bottom line is that AzMERIT is a flawed test that will lead to equally flawed results when the letter grades are released.

But don’t take my word for it. Even State Superintendent Diane Douglas herself cast skepticism on the results borne out of the test. Nor is she the only voice opposing standardized testing. Universities across the nation are abandoning required SAT, ACT, or other entrance examinations as a part of the college application process. Given the great expense incurred by Arizona in creating, administering, and reviewing these tests, and the dubious nature of the results, perhaps we should consider following this collegiate trend and deemphasize standardized testing as the primary measure of achievement as well.

But more to the point, we collectively should not place supreme importance on standardized testing. Indeed, who of us reflects back upon our school days and concludes that it was the testing that inspired us, helped us grow as a person or student, or cemented our commitment to higher learning? Rather, it was the ability of teachers to inspire, the curriculum to induce critical thinking, and the extracurricular experiences offered by our schools that shaped the school-going experience. Indeed, many children could grow exponentially (both academically and socially) without such growth being reflected by the AzMERIT examination. Thus, before adding a voice to a chorus of boos, parents should reflect on the totality of the education being provided by their child’s school, and should not focus only on the outcome of one examination and the letter grade derived therefrom.

But of course, that’s the great thing about our State. If AzMERIT performance and the accompanying letter grade is the driving factor for a parent, our education system allows parents to identify and enroll their child in a school or district that excels at test-based results. And for those parents with different educational priorities, a plethora of options are available to them.