For the first time in two decades Arizona is being honest about what it takes to be job and college ready.
Today’s unanimous vote by the state Board of Education to adopt assessment cut scores that accurately reflect grade level proficiency along the path to graduating college and emerging career-ready was the culmination of a long process to install high academic standards and then accurately measure and report results.
Our high school end-of-course assessments are now aligned to what it actually takes to enroll in entry level college coursework without remediation and to be comparable – for the first time- to such measures as ACT and other national assessments used by employers exploring expansion and relocation to Arizona. The chasm between our own previous assessments and other measures left business leaders, parents and others from around the country to believe that Arizona not only underperformed, but wasn’t being honest about what it took to overcome mediocrity.
Today that ended in what was a somewhat celebratory Board meeting, where everyone from staff to board members stayed faithful to the goal established in 2010 to give our students higher standards and an honest way of communicating proficiency.
We know we have outstanding public schools that are already voluntarily benchmarking themselves against international standards. But now we are applying a reliable measurement to all of our public schools.
In the 1990s, former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan started us off on the right foot by establishing good standards and insisting we measure success. Today her original vision came closer to reality as parents testified that the more rigorous pass scores didn’t scare them, that they understood what was at stake and that they wanted to stay the course. Teachers stepped up, too, by not letting what low test scores might mean for them corrupt what they saw as their responsibility to keep the deal made with parents five years ago to set and keep the bar high.
No doubt challenges remain. For example, we will likely have to go back to the Legislature and raise the bar on our Move on When Reading law, as that bar is now substantially lower in statute than the level at which teachers set the new cut scores for proficiency. And we have yet to see what will occur when supportive parents find out their child is not as on-track as once thought. But overall, the battle of the last three years to maintain rigorous standards has hardened the resolve of parents and teachers to march towards continuous improvement no matter how uncomfortable these first few years might be and to honor that process with accurate, informative cut scores.
There were lots of opportunities for staff, the committees of teachers setting the cut scores and the Board to water down the pass scores, but they mostly avoided that, consistent with the Chamber’s advocacy efforts in April and May to ensure that the cut scores process was focused on rigorous grade-level expectations.
A lot has to happen from here, but I believe what the Board of Education accomplished today will help us tell a new Arizona story to business leaders going forward. This improved rigor and comparability will make it easier for us to demonstrate improvement, help parents trust the letter grades at the schools they send their kids to, and give businesses around the country a reliable way to gauge the quality of the educational offerings in the Arizona communities they are exploring for investment.