Arizona is pulling out of a controversial multi-state consortium that is crafting tests for students.
But beefed-up standardized tests are coming next spring — possibly crafted by the same organization known as the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career. The Common Core standards that will be the basis for those tests are not going away.
The move comes just months after a bid by some lawmakers to kill Common Core and require Arizona to withdraw from the consortium. Proponents argued that both represent a loss of local control and what Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, called “further nationalization of the educational system.”
But Stacey Morley, director of policy development for the state Department of Education, said the move — and the timing — is totally unrelated.
She said while the state benefitted from its involvement until now with PARCC, it was time to change course. Morley also said it would have been inappropriate for Arizona to remain involved with the organization which is expected to be one of several bidding for what could be a lucrative contract with the state for new tests.
Jaime Molera, a member of the state Board of Education, said he doubts that the withdrawal, announced Friday, will placate foes.
“But I think it shows the public that this is transparent,” he said, and that both the Common Core standards and the testing of them are not part of some secret plan.
The controversy not only remains but has become an issue in this year's political contests.
Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, is running for governor at least in part on the legislation he sponsored to scrap both the Common Core standards and the state's involvement in PARCC. State School Superintendent John Huppenthal, a supporter of the standards, faces a Republican primary challenge from Sun City West resident Diane Douglas who opposes them.
Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association as a set of standards of the skills students should have at each stage of their education to show they are learning what they need to either enter college or start a career on graduation. The tests that Arizona wants to buy are designed to measure that.
They replace what has been Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards. Morley said there were numerous problems with those tests — and not just that high schoolers had to pass all three sections to get a diploma.
For one, she said, AIMS was composed largely of multiple choice and true-false questions. Any new test will be more open-ended, particularly in showing off writing skills.
She also said AIMS does not provide the kind of feedback teachers need to know which students “get it” and which do not. Morley said this next generation of tests, ideally administered by computer and graded quickly, will fill that hole.
Finally — and this is crucial — any new test will be aligned with the Common Core standards which remain.
Gov. Jan Brewer has been a strong proponent of the standards, but the controversy over them as some national mandate has remained, even after she renamed them Arizona's College and Career Ready Standards.
In a letter to Mitchell Chester, chairman of the PARCC governing board, state officials took pains to say they have no problem with the consortium — and with the field testing of the exam by about 100,000 Arizona students.
“Arizona's participation ... has been very beneficial to the state and its education community,” reads the letter signed by Brewer along with Huppenthal and Tom Tyree, president of the state Board of Education. They said it has allowed the state to test its own technical capabilities to give an online test and “experience next generation assessment tools that better measure critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.”
But they also noted that the bid request for a new test, going out next week, requires Arizona to separate itself from PARC to “prevent any perception of favoritism.”
“To be a part of that consortium I think would have given PARCC an unfair advantage,” he said.