As Arizona high school students take AIMS writing and reading tests this week, the Arizona State Board of Education will be writing a request for proposals for a new assessment aligned with Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.
AIMS tests students on earlier academic standards, not the new math and language arts standards that were adopted by the state board in 2010 and have been in use in classrooms since the 2013-14 school year.
“This school year is the last year for AIMS, except for those students who need to pass one or more portions in order to graduate,” said Stacey Morley, director of policy development and government relations for the Arizona Department of Education.
Current high school sophomores in the Class of 2016 will be the last students who must pass AIMS to graduate high school.
“The number of re-tests will gradually diminish as those students graduate or leave the system,” Morley said. “We are planning for a full implementation on the new assessment for school year 2014-15.”
With Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards under fire from conservative Arizona legislators, there is concern the new assessment could be another target.
Last Thursday, the Arizona Legislature Senate education committee passed bills that would prevent the State Board of Education from implementing standards similar to Common Core, require each school district to adopt its own academic standards and create a minimum course of study incorporating those standards, and allow districts to opt out of any competency requirement like AIMS or the new assessment.
The Senate education committee also discussed bills that would withdraw Arizona from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium of 18 states that developed the standards and ban using any exam it develops. Another bill would ban high-stakes testing that would be required for high school graduation for the next three years.
Still, a request for proposals and scope of work for the new assessment will be sent out to testing companies in March, said Christine M. Thompson, executive director of the Arizona State Board of Education.
This summer, after the state-mandated procurement process, the board will select “the test that best suits Arizona’s needs,” Thompson said.
Educators will know before the school year starts which assessment they’ll use to measure students’ mastery of the standards. Key education reforms – Move On When Reading, school accountability letter grades, and teacher/principal evaluations – are dependent on the results of a valid and reliable state assessment.
“We recognize it’s a very aggressive timeline, but we must have a test to replace AIMS,” Thompson said. “We want to make sure it’s right. We’re not trying to rush the process. We want to make sure we’re selecting the best test for Arizona as we adopt a test aligned to board-adopted standards.”
The board is sensitive to “how quickly schools are going to have to implement this once it’s selected,” especially since there is much to do as a new school year begins, Thompson said.
Late last year, the board issued a request for information to look at available assessment options before developing their request for proposals. It received responses from Cambridge International Examinations, College Entrance Examination Board, CTB/McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Riverside, PARCC, and Pearson.<
The vendor selected to provide the new assessment may or may not be among them. Vendors who didn’t reply to the request for information might be interested in submitting proposals after they see the scope of work; those who did might determine their products don’t meet the final requirements, Thompson said.
“The board is committed to having a very open, and to the extent possible, public procurement process for the new assessment,” Thompson said. “We are not committed to any one assessment. We want to select an assessment that best aligns with Arizona’s values and needs.”
While the Arizona Department of Education has been involved in the governing board of PARCC and its test development, “the State Board of Education is doing its best to ensure that our RFP process is independent, it’s free from conflict, and that when we select an assessment it’s going to be because it’s aligned with Arizona’s needs and values,” Thompson said.
In the meantime, 100,000 students, or about 10 percent of Arizona students, in 529 Arizona public district and charter schools, or about one-fourth of all Arizona schools, will take a field test of PARCC’s Performance-Based Assessment from March 24 through April 25 or End of Year Assessment from May 5 through June 6, Morley said.
Arizona’s participation in the PARCC field testing will not be considered as part of the selection process should PARCC submit a proposal for consideration. However, general field testing of any test is considered a best practice in test development and may be a consideration in the procurement process.
The board’s main criteria for the new assessment are how well it aligns with board-adopted standards, its rigor, and its reliability and validity for education-based accountability reforms in Arizona statute, Thompson said.
“The assessment is going to inform all the state’s accountability measures, and is going to have to provide information to educators to help advance the academic success of Arizona’s students,” Thompson said. “At the root of all of this is a rigorous assessment that is aligned to our standards that have been adopted by the board.”
While the goal is to administer the test through technology to make results more quickly available, another consideration will be whether the selected vendor offers a pencil-and-paper option since not all schools have enough computers or bandwidth, Thompson said.
“The board is committed to using technology as the infrastructure allows for it,” Thompson said. “The board recognizes that not everyone is going to have the tools that they need – that there are bandwidth issues and those type of things. The board is interested in the use of technology, but also recognizes the need to use pencil and paper as the (technology) infrastructure is built to schools.”
In Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s proposed budget, there is a $13.5 million increase in fiscal year 2015 for the new assessment aligned to the new standards on top of the $14.7 million set aside in FY 2014. There is also $5 million budgeted for ongoing AIMS costs, and a $15-per-student annual fee assessed each year to school districts and charters over the next six years by the Arizona Department of Administration to support an Internet broadband development project the governor said is needed.
“The new assessment will not be a multiple choice exam,” Morley said. “The questions will be far more complex and multi-step, allowing for students to demonstrate their knowledge through the entire question, not just coming to the right answer. It requires critical thinking and a deeper understanding of concepts.”
The board and department have developed a phase-out plan for AIMS and a timeline for the new assessment, and once the board adopts the new assessment the department will “have firm (testing) dates for the upcoming year,” Morley said.
The board plans to use end-of-course assessments, but may not have money to buy tests given earlier in the year that measure students’ progress, so teachers may have to use other tools, Thompson said.
Three key education reforms – Move On When Reading, school district letter grades and teacher/principal evaluations – rely on students achievement test data and there are plans to use current data to meet those requirements, Morley said.
“School accountability (A-F letter grades) and teacher/principal evaluations require the use of student assessment data, but do not specify that it must be the most recent year,” Morley said.
Because of the standard-setting process, which occurs in the first year of any new assessment, test data will most likely not be available until Fall 2015, Morley said.
“The board adopts the calculation for A-F letter grades annually, and the department will most likely propose an alternate calculation for the first year of the new assessment,” Morley said.
The board has the authority over the framework for teacher/principal evaluations, districts and charters over their adopted model, and can make adjustments to account for the delay in data, Morley said.
“If legislation is found to be needed, the Arizona Department of Education will run it in the 2015 legislative session,” Morley said.
The department has included the Move On When Reading issue in House Bill 2637 – which would require testing data to be available during the same school year (before the end of third grade) in order to retain a student, Morley said.
Parents and students can use several resources on the Arizona Department of Education website to learn more about the new assessment, and the National Parent Teacher Association website has information about standards and assessments by grade level, Morley said.
“Although this will be a difficult transition for everyone – students, parents, teachers, and more – the growing pains will be worth it in terms of the human capital our public school students represent,” Morley said. “They are the future of this state. By raising expectations, they will rise to the challenge and improve their futures, as well as their families’ futures and the economic outlook for Arizona.”