There’s good news and bad news in the most recent results from AzMERIT, the annual statewide test that measures how students are performing in English language arts and math.
The good news: Arizona students did better in 2016 than in 2015, the first year of AzMERIT, when nearly two-thirds of students in grades 3 through 11 failed both the English and math exams.
The bad news: Although most grade levels showed improvement, it was slight, with only 38 percent of students overall passing both exams.
“This year, Arizona students in several grade levels show increased proficiency … when compared to benchmark scores from last year,” says Heidi Vega, communications director for the Arizona School Boards Association. “The percentage of students scoring proficient on reading and English-language arts rose in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 this year, while those scoring proficient in mathematics increased in Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, algebra I and geometry.”
Because of a new Arizona law known as “Move on When Reading,” there were lots of eyes on the English results for third-graders.
Vega explained: “Third-graders who are not proficient in reading may be held back from fourth grade until they are reading at grade level. This past test score remained steady at 41 percent” of third-graders passing.
One area where scores declined was in the eighth grade, but that’s likely because higher-achieving eighth-graders took a high-school level test and weren’t included in the grade’s cumulative this year.
So what should parents be doing? Christie Silverstein with the nonprofit Expect More Arizona says the key is communication.
“Parents should be their student’s best advocates. They should be talking to teachers throughout the year. They should be going to parent-teacher conferences and really asking key questions: ‘How is my child doing?’ ‘How are they performing compared to other students?’ ‘What should they be working on?’”
Silverstein points out students and teachers have been working very hard in the classrooms across the state to bring up test scores, and she’s happy to see improvement. She doesn’t think parents should be discouraged if their child didn’t do well, but advises there are things they can be doing at home at each grade level to help improve these scores.
ExpectMoreArizona.org offers activities for parents to help a third-grader improve his or her math scores, such as explaining what everything costs on trips to the grocery store, and having them add up totals, or using multiplication and division to double a recipe or cut one in half.
There’s also the anxiety factor of test taking. Although parents may feel it, try not to pass it on, Silverstein says.
“Really sitting down trying to alleviate some of that anxiety before (they take the test) is a good idea,” she says. “Letting your child know, ‘Yes, this is important, but it’s (not) the end-all-be-all. Just do your best; that’s all we want from you.’”
It’s also important for parents to remember AzMERIT is holding our students to a new standard, Silverstein says, adding, “It is a better comparison to the nation than the AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards) test was.”
According to Vega of the school-boards association, “The test measures real-world skills by asking students to perform tasks, do multi-step assignments, apply their knowledge, defend their reasoning, read complex passages, analyze them and write thoughtful responses, which is different from previous tests.”
While the AzMERIT was being implemented, A-F letter-grade scores for schools were suspended, but that’s about to change.
“In 2017, we will be seeing letter grades again,” Silverstein says. “What’s being looked at is, what are those letter grades based on? That could include multiple measures and not just test scores.”
High-school students do not have to pass the AzMERIT exams in order to graduate. And while educators work on a future measure of proficiency for them, there is one new requirement for parents to note. In 2015, the Legislature passed the American Civics Act, which will require students beginning with the class of 2017 to pass a civics test identical to the civics component of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization test.
AzMERIT is based on what’s being taught in the classroom, and the tests continue to be evaluated.
“English and math standards in Arizona are under review,” Silverstein says. “There are 200 teachers who have been working 5,000 hours plus so far just to look at making them even better, and making them Arizona’s own standards. Those should be rolled out and adopted by the State Board of Education in the spring.”
This all is intended to help your child succeed. To see how your school performed overall on AzMERIT, visit the Arizona Department of Education website, azed.gov, or the Arizona School Boards Association website, azednews.com.