Testing

Arizona students performed slightly better on a statewide standardized test in the 2015-2016 school year, but more than half still failed, new results show. 

Preliminary state-level AzMERIT test results showing proficiency levels for math and English language arts in grades three through eight and high school-level math for the 2015-2016 school year, were released Monday by the Arizona Department of Education.

"I think we saw, in general, an improvement across most of the subjects and grade levels, which is a positive thing," said Charles Tack, an ADE spokesman. 

AzMERIT replaced Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS, as the statewide achievement test. The state partnered with the American Institutes for Research to develop the test. 

The categories for proficiency are highly proficient, proficient, partially proficient and minimally proficient.

Final results, which would include data for individual schools, districts and charter schools, will be made available in late August. They would also include demographic breakdowns such as such as students’ status as English language learners.

Some findings in the results released Monday compared with the 2014-2015 school year include:

• More than half of 10th and 11th graders in Arizona were minimally proficient in English language arts. Generally, ninth, 10th and 11th graders fared worse in ELA this year.

• More than half of eighth graders were minimally proficient in math. The percentage of eighth graders who are highly proficient in math also went from 14 percent last year to 9 percent. That could be attributed to eighth graders who are taking high school level math course no longer having to take eighth grade math test for AzMERIT.

• Third graders improved slightly in English language arts (reading and writing), though the percentage of minimally proficient students increased. Tack of ADE said that's because a large number of students who were in a specialized category for having limited English proficiency moved up into the minimally proficient category.

• Some of the biggest increases were seen in fourth and fifth grade English. The percentage of fourth graders highly proficient in English went from 6 to 12 percent, while the percentage for fifth graders went from 4 to 13 percent.

Last year's AzMERIT results were a "bit of a wake-up call" to the department, Tack said. The scores were very low and many students were failing. 

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As the state transitioned into the new testing platform, educators expected to see big drops compared to AIMS scores, he said. The scores are still low and there is a long way to go, but he said the education department sees the slight overall increases in the scores as a positive sign.

These scores will not be factored into schools' letter grades, Tack said. The state is in its second year of a two-year moratorium on releasing letter grades, as the education system adjusts to the new test.

Expect More Arizona, a state education advocacy organization, attributed the slight gains in test scores to the "hard work of Arizona's teachers and students."

"We weren't really expecting a huge jump to happen," said Selena Llamas, a Southern Arizona mobilization and outreach coordinator for the organization. "I would say because this is a relatively new test and students really need to gain more practice with the key skills."

AzMERIT challenges students to show their work and how they got their answers, she said. 

"Students really need to become familiar with the AzMERIT test format," she said. "When that happens, scores will increase over time."