I Can See Clearly Now

As Arizona transitions to a new high-stakes test, the AzMERIT, a few of us are hopeful. Will this test be better than AIMS? Will it test what we really want kids to know and be able to do? The jury will be out on that one for quite some time. Regardless of where any of us fall on the pessimism-optimism continuum, one thing has been made clear: The AzMERIT will, like AIMS, be a high stakes test that will eventually contribute to school, teacher, and maybe even student evaluations.

Yes. The overall intent of this new test is clear, but what will that look like? When will the real accountability begin? Who will be held accountable? I’m so grateful that even at my tiny school, we have someone on staff to research and disseminate all of this crucial information.

Meet Sarah Bromer, City High School’s Testing Coordinator. With a background in broadcast journalism and science, she knows how to ask the right questions. Here’s how her AzMERIT investigation is going so far:

Me: What have you tried to find out from the Department of Education about the new AzMERIT test?

Sarah: I’ve been trying to answer one question: What’s at stake for students? AIMS was a “high stakes test.” If kids failed AIMS, they didn’t graduate. According to ADE, AzMERIT will not be a graduation requirement. So what is at stake now?

Me: And…?

Sarah: Months ago, before AzMERIT existed, I talked to a woman in Assessments at ADE. She said the new state test scores would be associated with particular courses rather than with graduation. All students in Algebra I, for example, would have to take the state’s Algebra1 test. Eventually, scores on the tests would probably become part of a student’s final grade.  Teachers were finally going to be held accountable for the standards, the woman at Assessments said, and “no more bringing in a can of soup for the homeless and getting an A.” I was shocked.

Me: Why were you shocked?

Sarah: It seemed like a slap in the face. Like, wow, you really don’t trust teachers. You’re going to take away a core piece of our job—designing assessments to measure student growth in the courses we teach. And the suggestion that teachers give As for soup cans was insulting, to say the least.

Me: Is that really happening?

Sarah: I have no idea. There’s a document on the AzMERIT portal titled “Accountability.” It reads, “The State Board of Education will decide how End-of-Course test scores will be included in course grades,” so I started calling around to see exactly what that meant.

Me: Who else at ADE have you called?

Sarah: At Assessments I ended up talking to the same woman who made the soup can comment. This time she said she knew nothing about end of course scores and said I should call Accountability. At Accountability a man said he’d never heard anything about AzMERIT impacting student grades. He’d never even seen the “Accountability” publication on the portal. When I shared it with him, he said I should call Assessments, or maybe the State Board. The woman at the Board said, “The test is an instrument to measure the standards. And it is for accountability.” I said, “I get that, but what are the consequences for students? Will it affect their grades?” She said, “It’s for accountability.”

Me: Isn’t there a special AzMERIT Help Desk?

Sarah: They knew nothing. I said, “Listen, I think I’m calling the wrong department. But for future reference, what should I call you about?” She said, “Well, we help teachers reset their passwords.”

Sounds clear to me. Clear as mud.


Eve Rifkin

Eve Rifkin

Tucson, Arizona

I have been an educator for over 20 years. As a founding co-director of City High School, I have held a variety of leadership and teaching roles, including academic director, humanities teacher, and principal. I am currently the Director of College Access and support students as they envision their lives after high school.

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