Scottsdale Schools sees gradual improvements to AzMERIT scores

(File photo)

The third year of AzMERIT — Arizona’s state assessment for third-11th graders — results show Scottsdale’s students are incrementally improving in their reading, writing and math skills, district officials contend.

Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching, most commonly known as AzMERIT, replaced the former Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS tests.

Scores for Scottsdale Unified School District students show mostly positive gains from 2015 to 2017, Assistant Superintendent of Accountability and Instruction Dr. Anna McCauley says.

Third through eighth graders are tested on English language arts and math; while ninth, 10th and 11th grades take assessments in English, Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II.

The differences between the two tests include assessing Arizona academic standards vs, assessing college readiness standards, and not needing to pass the state test to be awarded a diploma.

Additionally, students used conventional pencil and paper to fill out a multiple choice answer sheet for the AIMS, while AzMERIT utilizes technology and multiple answering methods.

“It’s a very different way of assessing, it’s multidimensional,” Dr. McCauley explained. “Before you’d have your question and your four answer choices. Now you have your question, and you may select all that apply, or drag and drop. It became computer-based.”

The change in tests came after then-President Barack Obama announced a United States Department of Education initiative in 2009 called Race to the Top.

“Once Race to the Top happened, in order to qualify for those funds states had to adopt these other standards,” she said.

The school implementation of AzMERIT started in 2011 with kindergarten students, and incrementally continued until those kindergarten students enrolled in third grade in 2013.

Scottsdale Schools began using AzMERIT scores for assessment in 2015, following a grace period.

“They were giving school districts this grace period — on the paper version, it would be more like draw the lines (to the answer) — so it’s all these different kinds of skills,” Dr. McCauley explained.

“It wasn’t just teaching kids new content that they’re going to be assessed on, it was teaching them even the new way of being assessed.”

The 2017 scores posted on SUSD.org are based on preliminary, raw data from the Arizona Department of Education that is still being verified by the district, the assistant superintendent says.

The available data shows most grades have improved at least 1 percent from the 2015 scores.

The largest gains include Hohokam Traditional School’s fifth grade math improvement from 20 percent to 68 percent; and Sequoya and Yavapai elementary schools fifth grade math scores, both with a 40 percent improvement.

“We’re moving the needle,” Dr. McCauley said of the newest scores.

“I think the better we get with the data, and using that data, and improving instruction and aligning instruction to assessment, I think we’ll see the needle just keep going and going — not just AzMERIT but looking at all these factors.”

Compared to the state scores, SUSD exceeded at most grade levels and content areas.

The district is setting its student-achievement goals at the national level, and often compare themselves to a top education state: Massachusetts.

“I don’t believe Arizona is our comparable group,” Dr. McCauley said.

“What’s nice is that Arizona decided not to have a low bar on the cut scores, we can now compare to other states and see how we’re doing. We’re always aiming for whatever the top state is — typically it’s Massachusetts.”

Overall, the AzMERIT scores can help identify areas for improvement and trends within the classrooms. Dr. McCauley says SUSD uses the annual test scores, in addition to AP scores, ACT scores and myriad results to ensure students are given the best experience.

“Our success is well beyond our gates. How successful kids are when they leave us is our true mark of being successful,” she explained.

“We see incremental gains and we are using that data to really help improve instruction to find out where we see issues. That’s what we use the data for, really is to improve and make sure teachers are given the right support, right resources, and right development.”

Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg says she sees the public education entity heading down the right path.

“My overall reaction to the data is a strong sense SUSD is headed in the right direction,” President Perleberg said in a July 27 emailed response to questions.

Barbara Perleberg

“As district leadership and the Governing Board examines the data in meaningful context, I look forward to discussing the ways our teachers and principals will use AzMERIT scores as a tool to improve classroom instruction and how the overall results will shape the goals of our district moving forward.”

As Scottsdale prepares for a new school year, beginning Aug. 7, President Perleberg says she sees a lot of excitement in the education community.

“The school year is starting off with a lot of excitement over this strong momentum and a positive focus on the work ahead as we move student achievement to the next level of success,” she explained.

“Along with teacher assessments, AzMERIT can identify a student’s strengths and possible gaps in learning, so first and foremost our parents will want to know what their student’s individual scores mean to their progress. As our district looks at the overall trends and performance at our schools, our community will be eager to understand how these results will affect learning on their campus.”

SUSD is preparing for a shorter time frame to be able to complete the test in future years, which Dr. McCauley says will force the district to be creative in their testing.

“We have this long window of time — you don’t just have one device per kid — so you can’t test every kid at the same time like you could with AIMS,” Dr. McCauley explained.

“But a law just got passed that is forcing the state to shorten the window, so now all those AzMERIT dates are in flux. We’re going to have to get even more creative to get everyone tested in time.”

Parents can view their child’s individual AzMERIT scores, school scores and state scores at SUSD.org.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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