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Arizona Approves a 'Menu' of Test Options, But Feds Are Concerned

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Arizona has approved a new testing plan that lets school districts choose from a variety of high school assessment options, even though it appears to violate the main federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Arizona state board of education approved the "menu of options" system Monday. It was developed in response to a 2016 state law that requires the board to build more choice into testing. 

Under the new plan, which begins in 2018-19, districts can offer the SAT or ACT college-admissions exams, Advanced Placement tests, or tests associated with the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge programs instead of the state's own accountability test, the AzMERIT.

The federal education law requires, however, that states administer one test statewide to all students. As Arizona was discussing the plan, in late 2016, officials at the U.S. Department of Education told Education Week that they were "concerned" about the state's plans.

The Arizona department of education's spokesman said told EdWeek that the approach "would appear to be in conflict" with ESSA.

ESSA does permit districts to offer more choice of tests at the high school level. But that flexibility comes in a specific form: The law says that states can give individual districts permission to substitute the SAT or ACT for the state's main high school test. Before they proceed with that option, they must submit to a detailed federal review of the substitute tests they'd like to use.

Arizona didn't include the "menu of options" system in its ESSA plan. The plan was approved last September.

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