TUSD votes against AzMERIT testing in high schools this year

Updated: Jul. 2, 2018 at 9:03 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - In a 4-1 decision by the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board members, the district will not be holding AzMERIT standardized tests for its high school students in the upcoming 2018-2019 school year.

Board member Kristel Ann Foster confirmed the vote to Tucson News Now, saying board member Mark Stegeman was the only opposing voice when they voted June 26. The decision by the board will make the ACT test the only standardized test for high schoolers in TUSD schools, being offered to 11th graders.

Prior to the vote, the AzMERIT test was taken by grades 9-11 in TUSD as an end-of-course standardized exam, used to grade each school in the state of Arizona.

"I've been educator over 20 years and I've seen how our practice has been so drastically changed to focus on standardized testing," Foster told Tucson News Now. "Every school district in the state will likely take the same move. We just have the fortune of moving earlier because we have funding available."

According to a presentation given to the board by the TUSD Assessment and Evaluation Department, TUSD juniors already take the ACT, funded 70 percent by the Helios Foundation through 2018-19.

TUSD would be forced to cover the cost of the extra 30 percent, which comes to about $40,000 combined for the entire junior class, Foster said. It's uncertain if or how much the state will reimburse for ACT costs in 2018-19.

Foster explained that the district is trying to lead the way to take a step away from schools being graded solely by their standardized testing.

The ACT test provides accountability to the state from 11th grade only each year and when surveyed, TUSD high school principals preferred the ACT option to AzMERIT testing, the presentation to the board explained. ACT also serves as a college entrance exam.

Foster stated that other districts around southern Arizona are also following suit, saying that Flowing Wells district high schools have decided to switch to the ACT in the upcoming school year, and Sunnyside Unified School District will switch to the ACT at its online school, Sunnyside Online Success Academy, and its alternative schools.

The ACT is a "common denominator" among all schools, Foster said. AzMERIT testing will still be performed at K-8 schools in the Tucson Unified School District. She said nothing is being discussed at the moment about changes for the K-8 grades.

At the 9th grade level, the AIMS test will no longer be presented because the subject matter is covered by the ACT, Foster explained. Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards Alternate (AIMS A), administered by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), measures what students know and are able to do in the content area of science.

"We're not doing anything that the state is not offering," Foster said.

AzMERIT was crafted to measure yearly standards at state level.

ACT is preferred by most Arizona educators, including Foster, because it takes about 3.5 hours to complete with four subtests including English, Reading, Math, and Science. The ACT option reduces the number of tests from seven to one, according to the TUSD presentation.

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