Is there Any Merit to the AzMERIT?

By Amanda Bertsch

Note: the opinions expressed in this article are not those of Denobis staff, Tri-City College Prep, or any other body except the author.

 

On April fourth to the seventh, more than three quarters of Tri-City’s students will be taking the new AzMERIT. Why? No one seems to know.

Nearly everyone agrees that last year’s limited AzMERIT testing was an unmitigated disaster, paralleled only by Common Core’s PARCC test. Students complained that the test was far too easy but strangely worded, with questions that didn’t make sense and answers that, well, didn’t answer the questions. Teachers fretted about the time adapting to a new test would take away from lessons.

The result? We now have the AzMERIT here to stay, and teachers took time away from their classes in the past week to administer practice tests. Yet the time needed to adjust to an entirely new test would be worthwhile if the test actually improved on the hated AIMS. Different, however, does not equate to better.

The AzMERIT’s high school tests are End-Of-Course (EOC) assessments. This means that instead of taking the test once or twice to test benchmarks, a separate test is taken at the end of each language arts and math course (through 11th grade English and algebra 2). Now, comparing scores from year to year will no longer be a valid way to see if students are improving overall. A high score in geometry, for instance, does not mean the student understands algebra.

A brief pop quiz: What will the EOC exams be used for? A), graduation requirements; B), a way to award funding to schools with high-achieving students; C), students with failing scores will have to repeat the course; or D) absolutely nothing.

The answer is D)—yes, absolutely nothing! The AzMERIT website recommends the tests be factored in to a student’s semester grade, but if schools are hesitant to base their students’ performance on this one test, then the test is useless.

And here’s the real kicker: the state hasn’t decided how to score these tests yet! According to the AzMERIT website, “the number of score levels for AzMERIT and what they will be called is still under discussion”. Students and teachers have been left to guess at their grades with a scoring key that lacks details, to say the very least.

The new high school tests are supposed to determine if students are college-ready. Unfortunately for Arizona, the state had to spend millions to develop this test because there are no other tests for college readiness out there…right?

Wrong. The ACT and SAT have been measuring college readiness since their original development, and their test scores have been shown to correlate fairly well with success in college. For years, Illinois has contracted with the ACT program to offer the ACT for free to all of its juniors, instead of developing a test that is only relevant within the state. Surprise, surprise: Illinois has the highest number of ACT perfect scorers of any state. If Arizona decided the ACT was not its jive, that would be fine too: Michigan just signed a contract with College Board, the company that produces the SAT.

Arizona’s school system is 48th in the nation. Could it be that the state is unwilling to adopt a test that would allow its students to be compared to the rest of the nation? Hiding from the problem in this way saves Arizona face, but it does nothing for students. In fact, for low income students who can’t afford to take expensive standardized tests multiple times to improve their scores, this system is hurting their admissions chances.

This raises another point: why are students who have consistently tested well on standardized tests asked to take more and more of them? If the AzMERIT is truly proctored only to test college readiness, as its creators claim, then students with sufficiently high ACT or SAT scores should be able to opt out of sections. A student with a score within the national top 10% on the SAT’s critical reading should not be required to take another test to prove that she can read at a high school level.

What is the AzMERIT attempting to show, exactly? That students who have already proved they are college ready can read and do math? It’ll be a miracle if the confusing questions and unspecified grading can even show that.

As sophomore Patricia Azevedo put it: “perhaps it prepares you for other poorly written tests, but poorly written tests shouldn’t exist.”

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