Q & A on Student Testing in Arizona

Posted on June 11, 2007 | Type: Press Release
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Q: What tests do Arizona students take?
A: In Arizona students take the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) and a modified version of the TerraNova exam. Some students also take the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also called the Nations Report Card.

Q: Why do students in Arizona take all these tests?
A: These tests are given to try to help parents, teachers, and policymakers understand how well students are learning. The AIMS test measures how well students master specific concepts and standards and the TerraNova and NAEP tests measure Arizona students against students in the same grade in other states. The AIMS test is the test Arizona students are required to take under the No Child Left Behind law. They must also pass AIMS in order to graduate from high school.

Q: Some media reports say that Arizona students test above the national average, and some media reports say that Arizona students test below the national average. Which is correct?
A: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nations Report Card, found Arizona students below the national average 29 out of 29 times since 1992, while the TerraNova test administered by the state of Arizona finds Arizona students score above the national average.

Q: How much above the national average do Arizona students score on the TerraNova?
A: The Arizona Department of Education says Arizona students score eight percent above the national average on Terra Nova.

Q: Does eight percent represent a large difference?
A: Yes. For example, on the most recent fourth grade NAEP reading test, the highest performing state does not score eight percent above the national average.

Q: Is it likely that Arizona students would score above the national average?
A: No. Arizona has a fairly large student population of low-income students and English language learners. These two demographic groups statistically perform poorly on national tests.

Q: What might account for the difference between student results on the NAEP and the TerraNova?
A: The Arizona Department of Education administers a fundamentally different TerraNova test than what is given in other states. The state hand-picks some of the TerraNova questions given to Arizona students and includes them in the AIMS test. So, when a student takes AIMS, they take the TerraNova test too. Because the questions on the AIMS test are designed to measure whether or not students have mastered certain ideas and concepts, questions on the test are geared to those concepts and ideas. By selecting TerraNova questions that match those concepts and ideas, the state is selecting questions our students have been taught to answer. Essentially, students are taught how to pass the AIMS/TerraNova test. The NAEP exam, however, is designed to test students across the country and is not aligned to state curriculum. Therefore, it is a better measure of how well Arizona students are doing in comparison to students in other states.

Q: How does this affect our ability to compare Arizonas TerraNova results with other states?
A: A team of scholars from the University of Arizona expressed deep reservations about the reliability of the TerraNova exam as the state administers it. Because Arizona students take a fundamentally different TerraNova test, psychometrician Dr. Gregory Stone has concluded that we cant compare our results to those of other states.

Q: NAEP is only given to a sample of students. Does this make Terra Nova more reliable than NAEP?
A: No. The National Center for Education Statistics uses a statistically representative sample for each NAEP exam.

Q: Can I trust the NAEP scores?
A: Yes. NAEP is the most comprehensive, longest-running test that compares students across states. The NAEP is managed by the U.S. Department of Education, and is less subject to political changes.

Q: What should be done with regards to student testing?
A: The state should return to administering a stand-alone, national norm-referenced test, like the Stanford 9, and should guard the integrity of that test by regularly rotating questions. Arizona parents, school administrators and policymakers need valid performance data and the current administration of TerraNova does not provide it.

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