Unsigned: AzMERIT’s lack of purpose leaves students frustrated

Each year as spring break comes to a close, the dreadful fourth quarter testing bonanza begins. Standardized tests have been apart of the Arizona educational system for as long as anyone in the post-millennial generation can remember, but what do the statewide tests do for students and teachers other than interrupt traditional school days?

Back in the days of Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) testing, students were at least held accountable to pass the tests in order to graduate. Now, with the Arizona Measurement of Educational Readiness to Form Teaching (AzMERIT), the tests have no effect on whether you pass or fail, graduate or not. This can undoubtedly raise questions as to the value of such tests, especially surrounding an exam whose irrelevance has caused students to try everything from “opting out” to avoiding the makeup days. All in all, whether students choose to come for the three day testing period or stay home, the valuable time in classrooms learning curriculum and preparing for tests that do matter — like the American College Testing (ACT) — is detrimental to the students who are putting their effort into something for no return, and for faculty members who must find a way to teach around a half-wasted week.

AzMERIT not only takes time out of the already hectic end-of-year schedule, but it also allows for the kids who simply choose not to take it to come into school later than normal or not at all. Students refuse to take the test because of a mere lack of reward for their efforts. Why endure a three hour test for multiple days if you will neither benefit nor be faulted for the results? Although the testing scores show up on the official transcript of every student that takes part in them.
Fourth quarter also sees the ACT for every junior, as well as the beast that is Advanced Placement (AP) testing in early May. The couple of weeks already lost to AP testing, finals, and the ACT leaves little time for true instruction in a crucial part of the year, and spending three important days proctoring the AzMERIT takes away days for teachers to prep students for AP tests and even just the basic curriculum students are supposed to get through in the course of the year. The testing messes up the whole schedule for the week, and not only wastes valuable time for teachers, but students as well.

Sure, giving a baseline exam for students across the state are beneficial to understanding the growth or shortcomings of specific schools and districts compared to each other, but the holes in its execution hurts the test as a whole. Even if students do sit for the test, is there any reason to believe that students are trying their best? Why would they if they will never have to answer for their performance?

Let us not forget that — until this year — juniors who reached a certain score on their writing portion of the AzMERIT were exempt from Writing On Demand assignments during their senior year. Finally, some semblance of purpose for the tests, especially for seniors who would do anything to get out of WODs. Now, even that small incentive is gone with the introduction of Document Based Questions, DBQs. A different name for the same monster. We are back to square one.

Finding something to get students to show up and try on the tests is the only way to improve the outcome of the otherwise pointless exams. If we as a state cannot find another way to make the AzMERIT relevant for students and teachers, we should move to abolish the test and the time we waste on proctoring it.