New school test gets time extension

2013-10-07T00:00:00Z New school test gets time extensionBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The Arizona Department of Education will allow extra time for school districts and charter schools to assess a new online assessment that might replace the AIMS test, after receiving complaints about the timing of the assessment.

The PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test, created by Pearson, an education-services company, is designed to align with the new Common Core standards. But district and charter-school officials said the timing of the test conflicted with the AIMS test, which is still used as a graduation requirement for students and an accountability measure for schools.

The PARCC pilot assessment will be tested in the spring, although it may not be the final version of the test Arizona students will take.

About 80 percent of schools statewide are expected to participate, with a typical school testing two classes from two grade levels, according to a Department of Education spokeswoman.

The test has two components: a Performance-Based Assessment and an End of Year Test.

The time extension applies only to the Performance-Based Test, which can now be administered between March 24 and April 25 after the state extended the testing window by two weeks.

Districts and charter schools that are giving the End of Year test will have to administer it between May 5 and June 6, although the school year ends in late May for most schools.

Most students take the AIMS test in April.

Officials of the Department of Education and the State Board of Education expect to start evaluating potential permanent assessment tests within the next few months.

The state expects to start using the new test it chooses in spring 2015.

For now, school officials place a higher priority on the AIMS test because teachers receive performance pay based on their students’ AIMS results, while districts and charters receive letter grades based on the scores.

As a result, many schools wanted to give the AIMS test first, so students could focus their energy on that test.

“Our charters support participating in field tests, but just as long as it happens after AIMS,” said Eileen Sigmund, president of the Arizona Charter Schools Association. “Now, we need to make sure the test aligns with what we’ve been teaching.”

The upcoming AIMS tests are increasingly important for 41 charter schools that received D ratings from the Department of Education in 2012 and 2013.

If those schools receive a D for third consecutive year in 2014, that will equal a F grade and the state can close those schools, Sigmund said.

“These test scores are important to those schools,” she said.

Although school districts don’t face the same risk, some have similar concerns about the PARCC assessment’s interfering with classroom preparation for the AIMS test.

“Will they take it seriously? Will they see it as relevant?,” said Doug Price, Tanque Verde Unified School District superintendent, referring to students.

Unlike most districts and charter schools, Tanque Verde wanted to give the PARCC test in early March.

The district wanted to give the test before its spring break, so students could focus on AIMS and other tests given near the end of the year, Price said.

Some district students are also scheduled to take a trip to Washington, D.C., in early May, he said.

“We thought that, by giving the test ahead of time, before our spring break, before any of the trips, before any of the other testing, that we would probably get a better performance from our students,” he said.

Tanque Verde officials also wanted to separate the PARCC test from the other tests so students would have ample time to prepare for those exams.

“If AIMS is still a high stakes test, we don’t want to diminish that,” he said.

District officials have requested an earlier test date from the state, but haven’t received a response, he said.

Other districts, such as Catalina Foothills, will administer the test after AIMS, said Superintendent Mary Kamerzell.

Students also take a separate assessment test that measures many of the same skills as the Common Core standards, Kamerzell said.

Kamerzell is more concerned about whether the pilot assessment will become permanent.

“If we’ve done field testing with kids and they’re not seeing it again, I’m not OK with that,” she said.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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