Goodbye To AIMS, Hello To AzMERIT

The Arizona Department of Education has decided to change the state test from the AIMS test, which has been a part of Arizona Education for over ten years, to AzMERIT.

Kelleigh Hogan, Editor of Sports and Student Life

Implemented since 1999, the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) testing program has been considered a hallmark of the Arizona education. It is likely that many of our readers took the test since third grade on. The AIMS programs were based on the education standards adopted in 1996. However, the Arizona Department of Education (AZED) has changed their standards and along with that, their testing program. Their new program AzMERIT (Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching) will be adopted for the 2014-2015 school year, after a decision made in November 2014.

The Arizona School Board was required by Arizona Revised Statute §15-741 to implement a new test, which eventually became the AzMERIT. It would supposedly measure the new standards implemented in 2010. On March 6, 2014, the Board adopted criteria for the test, ranging from providing timely data to educators, parents, and students to using modern technology in these assessments. The Arizona Board released a Request for Proposals in June 2014 for a new testing program based on the above criteria, and all vendor proposals were due July 2014. An independent group reviewed vendor proposals, first narrowing down the six options to four unanimously and then unanimously recommending the testing program by American Institutes for Research (AIR) to the Board. The program from AIR became AzMERIT. According to Leila Williams, Associate Superintendent of Quality Assessment and Adult Education, it “was a very a thorough process to make the decision.”

The AzMERIT test is aptly updated for the modern education system. A key and convenient feature of the assessment program would be the fact that these new and incredibly valuable tests are online, allowing it to have interactive testing items, give flexible scheduling to schools, be cost-effective, have audio features, give more timely feedback, and have greater accessibility features. It will still have a paper edition available for schools who don’t have the resources, which – according to Williams – are minimal, mainly being enough available computers. In addition to that, the test is solely an Arizona exam, which allows for Arizona educators to have full control in test design, test content, scoring, and reporting. Furthermore, this test will be able to measure students more suitably prepared for their future. This test can better demonstrate weak spots in the education of students, providing more meaningful scores. In addition, AIR, the company that created AzMERIT, will guarantee students’ privacy in their accordance to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). The subjects will be similar to AIMS, measuring students third through eighth grade in Mathematics, English, and Language Arts and high school students in English and Mathematics. The AzMERIT has strong benefits that are up-to-date for the modern world.

The transition from AIMS to AzMERIT is the primary focus of the assessment staff. As Williams stated, “The assessment staff began focusing on working with the vendor and communicating with the field immediately after the announcement. They are operating under a very short timeline to ensure we have an assessment that meets Arizona’s values.” These include a focus on the readiness of students for their future, provision of timely data, establishment of the involvement of Arizona stakeholders (educators, students, parents, institutions of higher education, and businesses), and availability of the test for all students, including English language learners and students with special needs. “It will be critical that schools and/or districts select curriculum that helps them align instruction to the State Standards,” continued Williams. Schools and districts may need to change their curriculum to make sure it aligns with state standards. Williams acknowledged that there will be work to prepare for the AzMERIT.

The Arizona Board of Education will have to evaluate several aspects in their transition. According to Williams, “state laws requires the statewide assessment to be used in various mandated accountability measures. Meaningful accountability systems require time to publicly develop and adopt, further time to locally implement changes in response to a new system.” The Arizona Board of Education will discuss the possibility of establishing a “safe harbor year” for accountability measures, which would mean there’d be a harmless result while data is being collected along with discussions about policies. Whether or not there is a harmless period, policies – including A-F School Letter Grades, Teacher and Principal Evaluations, and the potential use of End-of-Course assessments in high school course grades – will be discussed. If interested in preparing for AzMERIT, students can visit: https://cms.azed.gov/ContentCache/546e5257aadec213c4e165dc/index.htm.