Three Ways to Improve Student Test Performance in Arizona.


The 2018/19 AZ Merit scores in Language Arts and Mathematics were recently released.

Arizona Students improved their performance in 13 of the 22 test areas.

That is good news. Students and their instructors are to be commended.

The bad news is about half of the Arizona students (and others in states that have an end of the year testing) failed both the reading and math exams.

Please click here to see how your child’s school performed.

Having tests to measure whether students are mastering education standards is a sound policy that all educators embrace.

However, educators and school leaders need more assistance from both public servant and family stakeholders to take student performance to the next level.

What can be done to build on the incremental progress in performance from last year?

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, speaking on both Sunday Square Off and the Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes radio show, praised the improvement of the students but called for measures to attack the teacher shortage (recruitment and retention) in the state and provide educators added training (professional development) on how to teach the rigorous standards to the students.

What are two other steps that can be taken?

There are two other steps that can be taken to raise student scores on the AZ Merit Exams.

The first step is to fully invest more funds in public education that will attract highly qualified education leaders, instructors, counselors, teacher’s aides, and additional support staff.

Arizona is still below the 2008 pre-recession funding levels. 2020 is a little more than two months away. Schools need to be funded for 2020 levels.

Funding at 2020 levels will help reduce class sizes and provide greater individualized attention for students who need greater assistance in mastering the standards.

The second step is for students to have more incentive to perform well on the test.

Currently, other than random offers of rewards depending on the school, there are no incentives for students to do well on AZ Merit.

In Arizona, thanks to the moves of the current Governor and the Arizona Legislature, students can still graduate from high school even if they do not pass the AZ Merit tests.

Furthermore, state and out of state universities do not look to an applicant’s  AZ Merit performance as criteria for deciding whether or not to accept a prospective student for admission.

Finally, passing from one grade level to the next is not primarily determined by performance on the AZ Merit.

This situation puts all the pressure on traditional and charter (the ones that cannot afford to “cherry-pick” their students) public school educators and none on students who have nothing to lose if they do not perform well on the test.

The legislature and Governor should consider mandating some sort of graduation or grade advancement minimum (without dumbing down any of the standards or exams) score for students (while providing exceptions for those with special needs.)

State Universities should consider adding an AZ Merit testing score level elective option for admission in case students do not fully satisfy one of the other selection criteria (graduating grade average, school ranking, or score on the SAT/ACT.)

Otherwise, educators, even with more school funding, will be working with “one hand behind their backs” to get the desired results everyone wants for these assessments.

Having a well-informed and prepared citizenry is essential in having a thriving democracy and republic.

Congratulations to the students and their teachers for making progress last year.

However, a lot more is needed to get to the next higher level of student achievement.

Everyone who cares about children should agree on this.

Featured Image from Arizona Daily Independent.











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David Gordon
Living in Arizona since his family moved to Tempe from New York in 1982, David Gordon has three degrees from Arizona State University and the University of Phoenix in History, Political Science, and Secondary School Administration. A highly qualified Social Studies instructor and Certified School Principal, Mr. Gordon owned his own charter school, Grand Canyon College Preparatory Academy from 1997-2016. The school served students in grades 6-12 in the East Valley of Maricopa County. Many of the graduates of GCP earned college credit for free while still attending high school, some completing the first year of college before graduating. Among the speakers at the school's graduations were noted figures in Arizona Politics like Harry Mitchell, David Schweikert, Juan Mendes, Andrew Sherwood, and John Huppenthal. Mr. Gordon also participated in the revisions of the Arizona History and Social Studies standards. In January 2017, Mr. Gordon started the political blog Twenty-First Century Progressive Bull Moose. It has a global following and routinely comments on the political events of the day. Mr. Gordon also helps administer the Facebook page Living Blue in Arizona. He is also currently writing a series of Young Adult science fiction novels which incorporate the themes of time travel and its impact on history. Mr. Gordon is very happy to be asked to join the Blog for Arizona team and hopes to spread the progressive word to make Arizona a better place for everyone.


  1. Teacher retention would be aided by better pay, but also by changing the political correctness attitude of the schools; the inability of many administrators to stand behind educators; the philosophy that it is not possible to fail, that students must feel good about themselves whether or not they have done anything to feel good about. Our society is shifting and it is not shifting toward education: parents have no problem texting their students while they are in class; multiple trips to the state fair and none to a museum or bookstore. Students need to be held accountable, teachers need to be help accountable; parents need to be held accountable.

    • What exactly do you mean by political correctness?

      Generally, politically correct just means don’t be a jerk to other people. How is that an issue?

      In Japan, students are not allowed to fail. Not failing should be the goal of education. How is not allowing children to fail an issue?

      What is wrong with self esteem? In what ways do you want children to feel bad about themselves?

      Our society is indeed shifting towards education, not away, on what do you base this assertion?

      You make statements with nothing to back them up. This is common from the right, where feelings matter more than facts.

      Better teacher pay will not only aid in retention, it will help recruit better teachers.

      We seem to agree that we need to pay teachers more, so we have that in common.


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