Apparently, AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is determined to spend the next four years whitewashing Arizona schools. According to the Arizona Republic, his office is “crafting a proposal to change the A-F school grading formula to reflect whether schools take part in values-based [CRT in GOP-speak] teaching standards”. Of course, these values-based teaching standards will be defined by his administration.
Arizona’s current school grading formula, the A-F school Accountability System, was adopted by the State Board of Education in 2017. It awards 30% of the grade for elementary schools based on how students performed on the AzMERIT test and 50% on test score improvement. Another 10% is based on how well English-language learners (ELL) performed, and a final 10% on “acceleration and readiness” measures such as chronic absenteeism and how many third-graders a school moves out of the lowest performance level. High school grading is based on: 30% AzMERIT, 20% AzMERIT improvement, 10% ELL performance, 20% “college and career readiness indicators” and 20% graduation rates.
With up to 90% of the school letter grade dependent on a standardized test score, the system has plenty of critics. Education officials have said that growth should be valued more than proficiency to lessen the correlation between grades and student poverty. Tim Carter, one of the system’s architects and education board vice-president at the time of implementation said, “We simply don’t have some of those data points that we need” to use more grading measures that aren’t tied to AzMERIT. The test itself though, is a big part of the problem, taking way too much class time to administer and providing results after the academic year is over leaving no time to adjust teaching in response.
The AzMERIT test is now gone, with the following tests constituting the assessments in use as of the 2022-2023 school year:
- Arizona’s Academic Standards Assessment (AASA) for grades 3-8;
- AZSCI (Science Assessment) for grades 5, 8, and 11;
- ACT Aspire for 9th graders and ACT for 11th graders;
- AZELLA (English Proficiency based on English Language need) for grades 3-12.
Time will tell if these tests are more useful for our educators and educational leaders. There can be no doubt though, that making our school accountability system more subjective, particularly in a highly partisan way, will not bode well for our students and the professionals who educate them. After all, in a world where funding is tied to performance (whether via special funding programs, or forcing schools to compete with each other for students), he who decides what to count, ultimately decides what matters.
At least the decision isn’t up to Horne alone. The AZ State Board of Education must approve the adoption of any changes to the accountability system. From the AZ State Board of Education website:
The Board is composed of eleven members: the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the president of a state university or state college, four lay members, a president or chancellor of a community college district, a person who is an owner or administrator of a charter school, a superintendent of a high school district, a classroom teacher, and a county school superintendent. Other than the superintendent of public instruction, each member is appointed to a four-year term by the governor with the consent of the Senate. State law allows an incumbent to continue to serve until his successor has been confirmed by the senate; nominees are prohibited from serving longer than one year after nomination without Senate consent.
And although Governor Hobbs appoints the members, she won’t have a chance to do much of that until next year when three members’ terms expire in 2024. Four more expire in 2025, two in 2026, as well as Horne’s in 2027. One seat, for a public member, is currently vacant to be filled by a Hobb’s appointment this year. Let’s hope the majority of the existing members can see beyond Horne’s “I don’t see color” trope. Truth is, as articulated by Jeremy Helligar on Medium.com, “If you look at me and don’t see the color of my skin, you don’t see me at all”.
We need to “see” all our students and, understand where barriers to opportunity exist. Statistics show, over and over, that barriers are real, and exist in terms of poverty, race, education level of parents, etc. Ideally yes, we would be able to give every single student an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that would compensate for the existence of these barriers, but that’s just not practical when we don’t even have enough teachers or funding for our current system. Let’s face it, Horne’s “individuals are primary and race is irrelevant” is just more dog whistle politics designed to keep the GOP in power, and the rest of us in our place.