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Arizona Department Seeks Moratorium on A-F Accountability, Reading Retention

The Arizona education department wants the state legislature to let it institute a one-year moratorium on its A-F school ratings and on retaining 3rd graders with weak reading skills. It says it needs to time to transition to its next assessment system.

As many states face similar testing transitions, the Arizona department's request could presage several more in other states that might want to "reset" the data used in their accountability systems, and revisit the way they make certain decisions about students. 

If the department gets its wish, according to azcentral.com, a moratorium would go into place for the reading and school-grading policies for the 2014-15 school year.

What's the impetus for the request? This is the last year the state will be giving its Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) assessment to students. It will be moving to a different test for 2014-15 that will measure students' grasp of the Common Core State Standards. 

With that upcoming test in mind, state education officials say it makes sense to take a break from the A-F accountability and the 3rd grade reading retention policies while the state gets used to the performance cutoff scores on new tests. 

"It would be erroneous to try to measure growth between two very different assessments," Mary Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Arizona department, told the news website. "It is necessary to establish a new baseline, which requires a 'zero' year."

Marshall doesn't say how the state will make school accountability work for the state in 2014-15 if the moratorium is approved by Arizona lawmakers. Would schools simply get a year without the state reporting any accountability ratings? And would students who previously would have been retained for poor reading performance simply get promoted to the 4th grade? Or is it more complicated than that? I've called the department to ask about those issues, and will update this post when I get a response.

It's important to point out that, although Arizona is a member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, it isn't firmly committed to those group's upcoming exams for 2014-15 and beyond—as the article notes, the state is "reviewing information" from various test vendors and is slated to pick a test for 2014-15 this coming spring. Despite sniffing around for another test, Arizona remains a governing board member of PARCC and is committed (as of now) to field-testing the PARCC exam during the 2013-14 school year.

Arizona adopted A-F letter grades in 2010, and they've been publishing grades for at least some schools since the 2010-11 school year. The state first implemented retention for 3rd graders unable to demonstrate reading proficiency for the 2013-14 school year. 

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