Many Arizona schools kicked off the new school year this week with some bleak news: The majority of their students last year failed the state AzMERIT test. 

State testing data shows the same trend lines in students’ performance that schools have seen every year since the AzMERIT test debuted four years ago. There was incremental growth in overall reading and math scores, but the majority of kids failed.

Fifty-six percent of Arizona’s 85,000 third-graders failed the reading portion of the high-stakes standardized test, and 43 percent tested in the bottom category of “minimally proficient.”

The test also revealed dramatic demographic splits. White and Asian students passed the exam at about twice the rate of black, Hispanic and Native American students.

The Arizona Republic has compiled the 2017-18 testing data publicly released by the Arizona Department of Education below. The searchable database includes all district and charter schools’ results in English language arts and math, as well as their passing rates for the 2016-17 school year

MOBILE USERS: Search for AzMERIT scores by clicking here

41 percent passed math and reading

The AzMERIT exam has two portions: reading and math, and is based on Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards. It is given to students in grades 3-11.

Scores are divided into four performance levels: “minimally proficient,” “partially proficient,” “proficient” and “highly proficient.” Students earn a passing score if they test proficient or above.

This year, 41 percent of Arizona students passed the math and reading portions of the test.

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White students (55 percent passing in both reading and math) and Asian students (68 percent in reading; 73 percent in math) fared better than Black students (28 percent in reading; 26 percent in math) and Hispanic students (30 percent in reading; 31 percent in math).

Native American students (18 percent passing in reading; 21 percent in math) and homeless students (21 percent in reading; 22 percent in math) had among the lowest passing rates on the exam.

The AzMERIT exam is considered high-stakes because of the outsize significance it has in determining the school letter-grade rankings schools receive each year, as well as how much extra state funding is given to the best-performing schools. 


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Failure to meet goals

The passing rates, particularly in third-grade reading, are not climbing at the rate necessary to meet the lofty goals supported by state leaders and education advocates and officials.

For example, an education non-profit set a widely supported target of 72 percent AzMERIT proficiency rate in third-grade reading. There remains a difference of 28 percentage points between that goal and the current passing rate of 44 percent.

AzMERIT and the state’s A-F school accountability system have been criticized by all seven candidates running for state superintendent of public instruction.

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Some of the candidates — Republicans Diane Douglas, Bob Branch, Jonathan Gelbart, Tracy Livingston and Frank Riggs and Democrats David Schapira and Kathy Hoffman — called the school grading system incomplete or unfair toward schools with mostly poor students.

Others expressed support for the new “menu of assessments” law that is supposed to allow schools to use other exams — such as the ACT or SAT at the high-school level — instead of AzMERIT.

While some Arizona high schools have decided to use alternative exams this school year, most have stuck with AzMERIT as the State Board of Education is still deciding how to fully implement the law. 


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