A Lack of Professional and Public Concern Over the AZMerit Scores

Tim Ihms Uncategorized

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Not too long ago, my wife and I went searching for a music school to provide our three children with music lessons for piano, guitar, and violin. After a week of meeting with instructors and schools within a 30-mile radius, we both ended our week frustrated and unsure of what to do.


We found while visiting school after school and instructor after instructor, each could only say to us if we enrolled our children with them, our children had a less than 50% chance of successfully playing an instrument. Those percentages came from tests given at the end of each year.


We went home and eventually decided we were not going to send our three children to any of the music schools. Why would we pay money and spend the effort providing our children with a music education that had a less than 50% chance of allowing our children to be musicians.


Of course, the above scenario is an allegory. It is a story reflecting the current state of affairs in Arizona’s public and charter schools. A current state that begs the question, “Why is anyone sending their child to an Arizona school in the grades kindergarten through twelve?”


I don’t think I am being a negative person, a glass half empty guy. Just look at the stats from the state AZMerit scores this past spring. The information quoted is from the unofficial results released earlier this summer.


No grade between third and sixth scored with over 50% of the students in the state passing either the math or the language arts tests. The results get worse the older the students get. The seventh grade state average for language arts was less than 45% and math was less than 40% passing. Eighth graders were less than 40% passing in language arts and less than 35% in math.


And for those students who are hoping to do something with their education after they graduate, it looks really bleak, actually downright depressing. Less than 30% of the 11thgrade students passed the language arts test. Not less than 50%. Not less than 40%. But less than 30%. After up to thirteen years in our publically funded education, less than 30% meet the standards the state of Arizona has set to graduate with.


Math is no better for our graduates to be. Less than 45% passed the state’s expectations for Algebra 1.


Some minorities did better than others on the state test. Here is a quick run down of the percentage of students passing the AZMerit by ethnicity as reported in the August 7thissue of the Arizona Republic. Language Arts – White (55%), Asian (68%), Black (28%),  Hispanic (30%), Native American (21%). Math – White (55%), Asian (73%), Black (26%), Hispanic (31%), Native American (22%).


Even the result of 73% for Asian students in math isn’t that hot. I mean, 27% of the Asian students did not meet state expectations.


It looks to me like if anyone were to look at these test results they should have a few questions and thoughts running through their head.


First, Arizona is spending over $4 billion on K-12 education this year. Why can’t we get the state average close to 75% for all students, not just a select few?


Second, it looks to me like the present educational system is racist. Can anyone disagree with me?


Third, where are the leaders of those institutions responsible for the present educational system supporting the children and parents of Arizona speaking out on the urgency to make drastic changes to a system that so horribly serves its families – the governor’s office, the state legislature, the Arizona Education Association, the state’s three universities.


Actually, the one comment I have read shows something different. Here is a comment reported in the June 18, 2018 issue of the Arizona Republic.


“To see that we’re doing better over four years is heartening,” said Christine Thompson, president and CEO of the Expect More Arizona nonprofit. “That being said, there’s still a lot of room to grow. We are not where we need to be.”

Heartening? I do not think heartening is the word most Arizona families are using to describe their child’s results on the AZ Merit

Is there any hope for a better future for the K-12 education in Arizona? I think so. It will take a strong leader with strong public support.


How can it be done? Maybe scrap the monopoly of one school district in a region system. Maybe create competing districts within a region with five-year contracts that are renewed by meeting state goals. Maybe create education regions that encompass rural, poor, and wealthy neighborhoods all in one region.



The Arizona Republic published the official AZMerit results on Tuesday, August 7th and the unofficial results on June 18th. You can also look up your district/school scores on the KJZZ website.


I am an educator with 41 years of experience. An experience that includes teaching regular education kindergarten through twelfth grades; special education K-12 with the labels of mentally handicapped, learning disabilities, behavior disorder and multi-category; public and private schools; three states; started three private schools; board member at four schools; principal for eighteen years and custodian off and on throughout. I earned a Bachelor degree from ASU in Special Education and a Masters Degree from UNC in Learning Disabilities and Emotional Disturbed. Teaching certificates are in regular education k-8; principal; special education- learning disabilities, mentally handicapped, emotionally disturbed.

Comments 4

  1. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    I like your analogy, too. Our principal told us before school started that the state was not going to re-authorize AZMerit, so that’s food for thought.

    Another thought I have is that instead of accusing our schools of being racist, maybe we could look at the other socioeconomic factors that lead to lower test scores. For one example, at my junior high we have a lot of students who have, within the last two years, passed AZELLA, and have moved into mainstream classes. However, those students still have learning gaps from the years that they spent mastering English enough to use English to learn academic concepts. I would argue that our students make very good progress at our school, and we are implementing major systemic changes within our schools that I would challenge you to find at most schools, charter or otherwise, which should result in students being known, supported and challenged to meet the standards, instead of just refusing to do the work and being passed through. It could take several years for any kinds of test scores to show the results of our work, and by then those students will be in a different school. And we are battling serious economic problems and other obstacles the children face.

    The most interesting thing about this whole conversation is that you and your wife (in the analogy) irrationally choose to remove your kids from the area schools and invest your own time and money in efforts that have an even lower chance of succeeding, which is indeed the case for most charter situations (with money invested in additional transportation, sports opportunities, etc., usually). There really are not many good alternatives to our public schools for the vast majority of Arizonans. So I think what we do, then, is work together to get those schools funded and make them work for a greater proportion of our students. I have to agree with Christine Thompson– lots of good work is happening, but there’s lots left to do.

  2. Jaime Festa-Daigle

    My son got his AZ Merit scores back three weeks ago. I just tonight asked him for them. He’s a 9th grader. I am an educator and yet I even don’t value what these scores say about my own, personal kid’s performance. That right there tells me there is an issue. I am a helicopter mom. He also randomly took the AIMS Science test. I taught through AIMS, I took Arizona’s first shot at standardized tests (ASAP?) in the 90’s, but I don’t see that through any of it, education has improved because of it. What I do see is more kids entering college and graduating, more kids doing well on the ACT, more kids excelling in CTE fields in spite of the testing AZ and other states have dumped so much time into.

    1. James King

      I have to agree with this take. The AIMS has no “teeth.” No one seems to place any importance on it, from parents to students to teachers. It is just the task we endure because the government makes us. With that atmosphere, I don’t think we can expect performance to be any higher…

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