We need to truly measure students’ knowledge and skills

Above: Chad Heinrich is vice president of public affairs for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Business Leaders | 17 Sep, 2014 |

In the business world, when something isn’t working, we work hard to change and adapt it to better meet the needs of the market. The same should be expected of our education system in Arizona.

For years we’ve been operating off a system that isn’t hitting the mark and meeting the needs of future employers. Extremely low standards coupled with a test that told students they were graduation-eligible at merely a ninth- or tenth-grade level have left Arizona behind in the dust. A system that resulted in nearly 53 percent of high school graduates who do not qualify for admission to our state public universities along with 59 percent of community college students requiring remediation. Worse yet, the old system didn’t prepare students for employment. Local businesses have stated many times that newly hired high school graduates are deficient in reading, writing and math and lack basic communications skills.

So where do we go from here? The Arizona Legislature made a bold move in retiring Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) during the 2013 session, a decision that was strongly supported by the business community. In implementing Arizona’s higher, more rigorous K-12 standards, there is a clear need for a new assessment that measures those standards and skills needed for employment.

The State Board of Education is in the process of selecting a new assessment; however, there are some basic things we know to be true about the configuration of a new test. First, the test selected will align with the new standards, while providing students with an opportunity to go beyond rote memorization and demonstrate their critical thinking skills. The new test will give teachers and parents a clearer picture that students are on track for college and career, something AIMS did not do. Importantly, the test will help students measure the skills demanded by today’s employers.

Instead of a high stakes “pass or fail” determination that required a student to pass the AIMS test to graduate, high school students will get a “college or career readiness” score that might eventually be factored into their course grades. Students and families will have a score that is worth paying attention to, instead of an ambiguous “pass” that only tells them they have mastered the skills of a tenth grader.

Additionally, these tests will likely be the same across much of the country, meaning students will be held to the same expectations in each grade across schools, districts and states in a way that has not been possible until now. As they prepare for life beyond high school, this will create an environment where Arizona students will know if they are competitive with their peers across the country and around the world.

As business leaders, we have supported the accountability systems the legislature has moved forward over the past several years, including school A-F letter grades, teacher and principal evaluations, as well as Move on When Reading, Arizona’s third-grade, reading-retention law. These accountability measures are all dependent on data that monitors how students are doing and how much they are progressing from year to year, which requires a meaningful assessment.

The business community will continue to strongly advocate for the adoption and funding of a high-quality, aligned assessment. It is critical that we better prepare our students for college and career, and this starts by adopting a functional assessment that students, families, teachers and employers can rely on to truly measure knowledge and skills.

Chad Heinrich is vice president of public affairs for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

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