Guest Column: Is Arizona just spinning its educational wheels?

It got my attention! Bold newspaper headline - the lead story of the day: "GUESS WHAT'S ON THE NEW STATE TEST?" (Daily Miner, Oct. 30, 2014.) I have prided myself at keeping up with Common Core/Partnership discussions since Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) was declared "a disaster." And, I must admit, the first paragraph of the news article was solid. But, I wasn't disappointed - I was curious.

The proposed assessment, under tight wraps for months was to be unwrapped next Monday! There was other background information, but it all sounded like progress might be made. I waited, expectantly, for news of Monday's important announcement.

So, what happened on Monday? "Arizona picks company to replace AIMS tests" (Daily Miner, Nov. 6, 2014). The state board selected a vendor to create "the test." There was a great deal more information but I didn't quite know what happened. I re-read both articles several times before I realized there was a real mystery here! Only one thing was reported to have actually happened on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014: "During a special meeting, the state board awarded a contract to American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., to come up with a test for students in grades three through high school..." - a vendor recommended by a seven member (appointed) committee created to evaluate "proposals" received from six vendors.

In 2010, the state board of education adopted Common Core State Standards for Arizona. In Sept. 2013, the governor re-named the standards as the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards (ACCRS). As far as Arizona was concerned, Common Core no longer existed.

As of March 2013, Arizona was an active, participating state in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). PARCC was developing a complete system for public school student academic assessment and reporting. In June 2014, Arizona withdrew from the PARCC. In March 2014, the state board adopted a list of values as the basis for assessment purposes. On Nov. 6, 2014, the state board awarded a contract for a new test to be called Arizona's Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching (AzMERT).

I did, however, find significant data amongst lots of information. There is a sense of a Wizard of Oz situation here!

Arizona is in need of an assessment system (AIMS) based on academic standards existing prior to ACCRS. AIMS is more than a test. What can the Wizard (education experts in this case) do for Arizona? Arizona can issue a contract to a specific vendor for a unique product that does not exist. In addition, the vendor is known primarily for delivering or signing contracts to deliver assessments. Will the Wizard deliver a test? An assessment system? Or, will the Wizard actually create a uniquely Arizona test? We can only wait for an answer!

I am beginning to believe that 20 years of listening to expert educational leaders have been wasted. We seem to be going around in circles. The Arizona legislature must insert a great number of common sense experts into educational leadership positions. We absolutely need new blood. And we desperately need active oversight.