Broad Measure Of Achievement Aired in Arizona

By Robert Rothman — October 11, 1989 2 min read

Arizona would join the growing list of states that are moving away from reliance on standardized tests as the sole measure of student achievement, under a proposal developed by the state education department.

Under the plan, which is being submitted this month to the legislature, the state would continue to administer a standardized test to every student in grades 2-12 to retain the ability to compare Arizona students with those in other states.

But it would reduce the amount of such testing by two-thirds, make the tests more useful to teachers, and require the collection and reporting of more data on factors contributing to student performance.

In addition, the state would also administer a new test in grades 3, 8, and 12 to assess students’ mastery of state-determined “essential skills.” The new assessment would contain a “performance-based” component that would measure a broader range of abilities than traditional multiple-choice tests.

Proposal’s Aim

The proposal is aimed at helping Arizona officials determine whether the state has met its goal of raising educational standards, according to Lois Easton, director of curriculum and instruction in the education department.

“The state has set goals for educational excellence, and inspired districts to raise standards,” she said. “But we have been operating on very little data. We publish nothing but standardized-test scores. That’s all anyone knows about schools and districts.”

In addition to providing greater information about student performance, she said, the new system would also encourage schools to shift their curriculum to emphasize the higher-level abilities contained in the “essential skills.”

“We’ve had a curriculum, through the essential-skills documents, that requires higher levels of performance, thinking skills,” and the ability to apply knowledge, she said. “But that never had any teeth to it.”

In the past, she said, schools have overemphasized the material on standardized tests, which only measured a fourth of the required curriculum.

Ms. Easton predicted that the legislature would approve the new program, which would cost slightly more than the $1 million the state currently pays for its testing program.

“We think there is enough public disagreement” with the current system, she said. “In public forums, we have gotten strong feedback that a change must be made.”

The legislature is expected to consider the proposal early in its next session, which begins in January. If it is approved, the system could take effect in the 1990-91 school year, Ms. Easton said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 1989 edition of Education Week as Broad Measure Of Achievement Aired in Arizona