The Arizona Department of Education wants to suspend its school letter grades and third-grade reading requirement for one year as the state transitions to a new student assessment test.
The state’s A-F grades for school districts and charter schools usually serve as an indicator of student achievement on the AIMS test, the state’s current assessment exam.
However, the state is about to ditch AIMS for a new exam that will align with the new Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, formerly known as the Common Core, which took effect this year.
State officials hope to find a lawmaker who will sponsor a bill to suspend the grades and third-grade reading requirement in the upcoming legislative session.
If a bill is passed, the state would not issue new grades or enforce the reading requirement for the 2014-15 school year. Schools would retain their grades from the previous year, according to the Department of Education.
The state has not chosen a new assessment test, but many school districts will give a pilot test, the PARCC (Partnership or Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test, in the spring.
That test could ultimately serve as the new assessment.
The new test, which officials expect to give in spring 2015, will present a logistical challenge for officials who have to evaluate how students score on the test, said Stacey Morley, director of policy development and government relations for the Department of Education.
Officials will need to assess the scores on the new test before revising the letter grades to correspond with the new standards.
It usually takes two months to evaluate the AIMS scores and calculate the school grades.
But that will likely expand by an extra two or three months after the new test is given for the first time, Morley said.
That’s because officials will have to undergo a “standard-setting” process to determine which scores will serve as the cutoff for passing the test, she said.
If the state released letter grades, the marks wouldn’t be ready until the fall.
“It would cause a lot of chaos. We want our A-F grades to be meaningful,” she said. “We want to get an idea of where we are with the new standards.”
The process would also delay the release of reading scores for third-graders, who could be retained if they fail to achieve a strong-enough score on the assessment test.
Currently, third-graders have to achieve at least an “approaches” score on the AIMS test in order to be promoted to the fourth grade.
The requirement is a result of the state’s new “Move on When Reading” law, which was implemented this school year.
The suspension of letter grades and transition to a new test will also affect teacher evaluations, which are connected to AIMS test scores and, in some cases, the grade for the teacher’s school.
State officials would rather receive two years of data from the new assessment test before implementing a new school grading system.
“You can’t get valid, reliable test scores. There’s no way to calculate that for at least a year,” said Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.
Calvin Baker, Vail School District superintendent, said he understands the reason for wanting to delay the grades, but the grades help Vail define its goals.
“Our system is so tied to those letter grades with incentive programs and teacher evaluation criteria, the public expects those letter grades and some kind of accountability,” Baker said.
Vail has been routinely recognized as one of the highest achieving school districts in the state because of its grades, with every district school receiving an ‘A’ in 2012-13.
Baker, however, is more concerned about the state choosing a new assessment test, he said.
“The unfortunate thing in this transition is we should know what the new test is going to be, right now,” he said. “We should’ve known it months ago.”