Looking back at the first year of Menu of Assessments

This school year Arizona public schools had the opportunity to opt in to a “menu of assessments,” which allowed school districts and charter schools to choose to administer a test other than the state’s current student proficiency assessment, AzMERIT.

The option to choose an alternative exam followed passage of legislation in 2016, which established the “menu of assessments” and authorized the Arizona State Board of Education to approve eligible exams that meet or exceed the level of rigor of the state academic standards.

Schools that opted for an exam other than AzMERIT selected tests like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT), allowing high school students to focus on a test that leads to college entrance.

During the first year districts and charters throughout the state jumped at the opportunity to choose an exam that best aligned with their curriculum.

Chandler Unified School District administered the ACT for its eleventh grade students.

“We’re working to make them college and career-bound and we have an assessment that helps us determine if we’re on the right track and provide students access to the opportunity to apply for colleges and look at those career opportunities,” said Amber Stouard, director of research and assessment at Chandler Unified School District.

Great Hearts Academies in Arizona, a network of public charter schools, also opted in to Menu of Assessments and administered the SAT.

“The SAT or the ACT is something that if you want to go on to the next stage or college that is the test that the universities are going to look at. They’re not going to look at your AzMERIT scores,” said Erik Twist, Arizona President of Great Hearts Academies.

He said college is “top of mind” for Great Hearts students in eleventh and twelfth grade, so it is important for them to focus on tests that lead them down that path.

“It’s much more important for us to know whether or not they are at a level where they are competing with their peers across the country,” Twist said.

The Arizona school districts and charters that forwent the AzMERIT and chose a different test were able to give their students more class time and instruction.

“Because the ACT was delivered on one day, they were able to gain six days back of instruction that normally would’ve been taken up with AzMERIT,” said Dr. Wendy Nance, assistant superintendent for K through 12 educational services at Chandler Unified.

Twist explained that students should be tested on the material they learn in class. The tests high school students take should streamline to their next chapter in life, which is college for many Great Hearts students.

“Kids should be taking tests. But, the fact of the matter is [AzMERIT] isn’t aligned to our scope and sequence, it isn’t aligned to the promise we’ve made to parents about the focus that we will give in the classroom throughout the day and it is not a test that is meaningful or useful to our teachers,” Twist explained.

Achieve60AZ, a non-profit, community-based alliance that focuses on Arizona education aims to see 60 percent of Arizona adults ages 25 to 64 obtain a postsecondary credential or degree by 2030.

A number of organizations and leaders, including Governor Doug Ducey, support this goal and work to make it a reality.

Because Menu of Assessments allows districts and charters to deliver tests like the ACT and the SAT, it helps students prepare for postsecondary attainment.

“That’ll help our teachers determine if we truly are having college and career-ready students leave our district and going out into our community,” Stouard said.

She added, “So, I think it’s one key factor in terms of putting good instruction in place, informing students and teachers where we fall nationally in that category to make sure we’re pursuing that goal.”

Sierra Ciaramella

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